Environment

How are the birds of India doing? Let’s find out!

The latest survey of Indian birds is out. The latest “State of India’s Birds 2023” edition, drawing from a large pool of data – 30 million observations by 30,000 enthusiasts nationwide – presents a comprehensive perspective on the country’s avian populations. Read full story to know more.

The “State of India’s Birds” report is a recurring evaluation of the distribution, abundance trends, and conservation status of India’s bird species. Birds, as vital ecological indicators and cultural symbols of nature, play a crucial role in reflecting the state of the natural world. This comprehensive national assessment guides the prioritisation of bird conservation efforts.

The inaugural 2020 report raised concerns about declining bird populations, leveraging a vast dataset of 10 million observations from committed birdwatchers.  Building on previous findings, this update delves deeper, revealing a more detailed and alarming portrait of the situation.

Key Findings

This latest report highlights critical trends that can’t be ignored. It singles out 178 bird species for “High Priority” conservation action, an urgent call that encompasses migratory wetland birds like the Ruddy Shelduck.

Ruddy Shelduck/ EBird

Analysing the data for long-term trends, the report reveals that 60% of the species are facing declines. A more detailed dive into the numbers uncovers that 204 species have experienced long-term declines, with 98 species rapidly declining, 98 species maintaining relative stability, and 36 species showing signs of recovery. For current annual trends, the distressing reality is that 40% of the species are on a downward spiral. Within this, 142 species are declining, including 64 that are in a “rapid decline,” while 189 species are stable and 28 species are showing positive growth.

A Closer Look at Species

The intricacies of the report reveal both winners and losers within the avian community. Generalist species like the Indian Peafowl and the Asian Koel find themselves in the winners’ circle, adapting well to diverse habitats.

Indian Peafowl/ EBird

In stark contrast, habitat specialists, particularly those dependent on grasslands and wetlands, are in a rapid decline. The revered Sarus Crane, renowned for their lifelong partnerships, have faced significant and ongoing decline. Equally concerning is the diminishing population of the Forest Wagtail, although the precise factors behind this decline remain elusive. Recent years have witnessed alarming declines in the numbers of the Pied Kingfisher, Common Crane, Sirkeer Malkoha, Grey Wagtail, and Spot-winged Starling. Immediate action is imperative to address these concerning trends and safeguard the vitality of these captivating avian inhabitants.

Asian Koel/Ebird    

Species that prey on vertebrates and carrion, including raptors and vultures, are also victims of this decline. The report underscores the vulnerability of insectivorous birds as well, indicating an ecosystem-wide crisis. 

 

 

 

Hotspots and Havocs: Regional Declines

The report underscores the challenges faced by endemic species in biodiverse hotspots like the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka. Iconic species such as the Great Grey Shrike and the Great Indian Bustard are facing alarming declines.

The Great Grey Shrike/EBird 

Great Indian Bustard/ Wikipedia

Equally concerning are the diminishing numbers of wetland species and shorebirds, exemplified by the dwindling population of the dainty Curlew Sandpiper, which was once abundant in key Indian wintering sites.

Curlew Sandpiper/EBird

Conservation Focus

The State of India’s Birds 2023 report does more than just paint a bleak picture; it offers concrete solutions. The classification of species into priority categories (High, Moderate, Low) serves as a roadmap for conservation efforts. With 178 species identified as “High Priority,” including the Ruddy Shelduck and the Indian Courser, targeted interventions can be implemented. Notably, the report stresses the necessity of protecting grassland ecosystems, home to numerous specialists that have declined drastically.

The report underscores the significance of long-term population monitoring, urging stakeholders to adopt a holistic approach towards avian conservation. It’s imperative to not just safeguard threatened species but also ensure the prosperity of common species. The intersection of policies, from river development to wasteland management, needs to be harnessed for comprehensive implementation.

Shikra Bird of Prey/ Wikipedia 

As we navigate the intricate details of the report, understanding key terms is essential. Ground-dwellers, generalists, endemics, and habitat specialists each play a unique role in the avian tapestry, illustrating the complexity of the ecosystems we must protect.

The State of India’s Birds 2023 report sounds a clarion call for conservation. Armed with hard data and a clear direction, we stand at a critical juncture to turn the tide for India’s avian residents. The responsibility lies not only with researchers and policymakers but also with each individual who cherishes the vibrant colors and harmonious melodies of our feathered companions. 

 

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Hemlata Chouhan

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