Millennium Post

Taking stock

Taking stock

The first-of-its-kind report drawing estimates on birds in India is a brave effort to underscore the concerns that revolve around them. For a country having more than 50 bird sanctuaries, a broad study of their condition is welcome. The State of India's Birds report compiled by ten organisations such including the WWF, Nature Conservation Foundation and National Biodiversity Authority, India is based on more than 10 million observations made by around 15,000 birdwatchers across the country on the e-bird platform. The e-bird app is hosted by Cornell University's Laboratory of Ornithology while a portal specific to India is curated and customised by Bird Count India — an informal group of birdwatching enthusiasts, ornithologists, naturalists and conservationists. Like animals, even birds are susceptible to anthropogenic impacts. The harmonious co-existence has been significantly tipped off balance due to humankind's vast exploitation of nature in broad ways. For instance, the rapid urbanisation, which involves the eradication of vegetation cover, proves largely disadvantageous for birds. Afforestation is perhaps the convenient human answer yet it is not necessary that afforestation would lead to complete restoration of bird habitats as it was. Encroaching on pristine habitats, humankind's thirst for development and urbanisation often trumps sensitivity towards inferior species of our planet such as birds and animals. Ardent environmentalists have repeatedly argued that afforestation does not completely replace the loss of vegetation. Thus, on average, anthropogenic activities do lead to distortions in natural habitats of birds. It is for this reason that the country takes pride in a vast number of wildlife sanctuaries and reserved forests where human encroachment is prohibited. While numerous reports have been formulated for a lot of animal species, a novel report on the state of birds in the country was perhaps needed. The report is an overall assessment of the distribution range, trends in abundance and conservation status for most of the bird species common in India. The report is a significant step in the monitoring and conservation of India's rich and varied biodiversity. It strikes a balance between positive and negative outcomes. As per the report, out of the 867 Indian bird species in India, 126 have shown stable or rather increasing trends over the past 25 years. It specifically points out the well-being of popular species such as peafowls and sparrows, showing a steep rise in abundance and distribution across the country. The report allays apprehensions that Sparrows were endangered owing to their absence from urban centres in India. But healthy signs of their existence point to how the urban settlements became unpopular habitats for sparrows owing to lack of nesting area and insects to feed upon. It further notes that global near-threatened species such as Black-headed Ibis and Oriental Darter have stable numbers in India and are, thus, classified as Low Conservation Concern for India. However, awareness of positive numbers must not make us any less sensitive about them. If anything, it should motivate us to secure their habitats. The report serves well to apprise us about the negative trends. Both current and long-term negative trends are crucial for us as information regarding the same will allow us to make amends in time. There is no joy in losing species to extinction. As per the report, raptors, migratory shorebirds and other endemics to the Western Ghats have considerably declined. Further, common species like Small Minivet, Common Greenshank and Oriental

Skylark and birds that eat invertebrates have declined. With 72 species in the "Strongly Decline" category currently, and 58 more predicted to join them as per long-term trends, the report rings alarm bells.

While presenting a fair assessment of the current and future trends, the report also observes certain recommendations towards a prudent outcome. Recommendations are not limited to government and non-government organisations but rather researchers as well as common public. Just as in every aspect of our environment, it requires a concerted effort. The government can make use of the report to shift their priorities regarding conservation and ensure deep assessment of habitats, checking for encroachment or illicit incursions by people. Further, the government should expectedly promote monitoring efforts to empower citizens and researchers to conduct independent observations and increase the data for the development of future reports. Researchers can be instrumental in bringing out negative trends for species. While their investigations on birds are valuable, they can serve as bridges between the government and people at large in terms of bird awareness. Lastly, the citizenry also happens to be inevitably inter-woven to the environmental concerns of the land. An active citizenry, both rural and urban spheres, will help in assimilating data for researchers. Citizens can also submit their findings to the government, allowing the latter to take cognisance of any alarming situation. Not everyone may be a birdwatcher, yet almost everyone has at least on some occasions observed the melodious birds with their unique patterns and mystic appearances. They are indispensable to our environment. The citizenry can, by its own force, create bird awareness in the public and allow for a dramatic rise in sensitivity towards birds. The social forums discussing the disappearance of sparrows from urban spheres is a case in point.

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