Nikhil Devasar is a convert. Though he had never intended to cross over, Delhi made it inevitable, he says. The transformation from being a tiger-lover to a bird -watcher happened almost a decade ago.
“Wildlife has always interested me. Earlier, I had an inexplicable fascination for tigers. However, since Delhi doesn’t have an impressive population of big cats, I chose to appreciate what the Capital is actually rich in — birds,” Devasar explains. He turned into an inveterate crusader for avian life seven years ago when he founded ‘Delhibird — The Northern India Bird Network’ with just two members. Currently, the club boasts of a membership of over 2,000.
The dense and diverse population of our feathered friends here has had a troubling hold over many like Devasar. Well positioned along the North-South flowing Yamuna on one of the major Asian flyways, the Capital’s avian list includes more than 400 species and is claimed to be the second richest in the world after Nairobi. In brief, it’s a birdwatcher’s paradise.
Journalist and writer Ranjit Lal, who took to bird-watching at the age of 18, explains why people like him inevitably fall in love with the city, “The avian activity here is striking enough to be noticed by a layperson. A place like Singapore, with all its cleanliness and greenery, rarely displays bird activity. But here, you just need to keep your eyes and ears open to spot them and enjoy their beauty.”
Bulbul Sharma couldn’t agree more. “My interest in bird-watching was kindled during a holiday in Shimla. On my return, I realised how lucky I was to be living in Delhi. An hour in any garden is good enough to spot at least 20 different varieties of birds. That’s why this city is so special to any bird-lover,” the artiste says. Sharma has been into the sport for about two decades and often drops in at the Nehru Park, Deer Park, the ridge and banks of Yamuna to visit her feathered friends.
The diversity in flora here is another advantage that gives it an edge over other cities like Jaipur and Agra, which are also home to a large number of birds. “The habitat is varied. Delhi is dotted with gardens as well as parks and greenery attracts birdlife. Places like the ridge area, Lodhi Gardens and Asola are a boon,” Samar Singh, former Secretary-General, WWF for Nature-India and author of Garden Birds of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, explains.
Though bird-watchers are short of breath when it comes to raving about the city, they do have a grouse against Delhiites and the authorities. The obliviousness of city dwellers towards the rich avian population here irks them. “This is akin to being a millionaire but not knowing it. People abroad are excited over the presence of even a few species and based on that, they start a club or a newsletter. It’s ironic that most of us are not even aware of the birdlife we are blessed with,” Sharma laments.
However, a ray of hope exists: the young generation which is showing an increasing interest in this aspect. “Once while bird-watching with friends at the ridge, a few cops, who suspected that we are up to no good, asked what we were doing. We told them ‘hum chidiya dekh rahe hain.’ To this their retort was, ‘Toh woh chidiya ghar mein ja ke dekho,’ ” says Lal.
The advent of technology also seems to be helping their cause. “The Internet has helped greatly in spreading awareness. Now even if not interested, people are at least aware of bird-watching and kinds of birds here,” he signs off.