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Birds of a feather

Whether or not you are a bird watcher, do you have at least a passing acquaintance with Delhi's birds? Well, here's your chance to begin. Earlier, information on bird species was only available in a scattered form. Nivedita Khandekar reports.

india Updated: Apr 30, 2011 00:37 IST
Nivedita Khandekar

Whether or not you are a bird watcher, do you have at least a passing acquaintance with Delhi's birds? Well, here's your chance to begin. Earlier, information on bird species was only available in a scattered form. Now, for the first time, a new compilation, available on the site - created by the Bombay Natural History Society, in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment and Forests - gives a state-wise national comparison at the click of a button. It reveals Delhi has a whopping 450 species of birds of all categories, including migratory ones.

There are a number of spots in the national capital region, fairly accessible, that give you opportunities for bird-spotting, adventure treks, photography and family outings (see graphic).

Considering the size of our city-state, the number of bird species is encouraging, especially when compared to our bigger-sized neighbours, states several times the size of Delhi. For instance, Haryana has 522 varieties of birds; Rajasthan has 496 and Uttar Pradesh 500. Even bigger states away from Delhi have comparable numbers such as Maharashtra (493) and Karnataka (492).

Our avian friends can be categorised into two major categories: migratory and resident species. Migratory birds are mostly found in winters, few of them coming miles away from north while few of them are local migrants coming from one part of the country to other. Says Manu Bhatnagar of conservation NGO Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage, "The strength of the bird population shows the quality of life in a city. As the green cover increases on the ground accompanied by the greening of Yamuna flood plains, the number of birds increases."

Why birds love Delhi
Says Nikhil Debsar of Delhi Birds Club, "We have almost every type of landscape. There are grasslands, forests, dry lands, gardens, Yamuna waterfront, agriculture fields and even scrubland as found at Asola and Tughlaqabad. All this offers a natural habitat for variety of birds to home in here." Ample food availability and suitable climatic conditions add to the positives for the city.

Adds Tarun K Roy, Delhi state coordinator for Wetlands International - South Asia, "Apart from the resident and migratory birds, there is a third category - the passage birds - which too adds to the diversity of bird life. Delhi happens to lie on the birds' flyways. Several species make a brief halt while crossing over, say, from south-east Asia to terrains in the north-west of India."

But does the encouraging variety of species mean an increase in the overall bird population? Not necessarily, say experts. A few species have seen a steady growth while others have seen a steady decline. "We have lost 99 per cent of the vulture population in last 10 years," adds Debsar.

Greater Flamingo, the count for which had earlier reached 500, has not been seen for the last 10 years. The Spot billed duck and Brahmini duck, too, have seen dwindling numbers, says Roy and adds, "(But) among the resident species, the number for Purple Moorhen is steadily rising." The white-rump Vulture is on the 'critical' list while Oriental Stork is endangered. The Indian Spotted Eagle, Greater Spotted Eagle, Sarus Crane and Indian Skimmer are few of the vulnerable birds, while Lesser Flamingo and Black-tailed Godwit are nearly threatened species.

Habitat destruction
Apart from global climate change factors, local factors too affect birds' habitat. The pollution in Yamuna is an increasing cause of worry for the bird lovers. "Habitat disturbance such as cutting of a large number of trees, human thoroughfare, air pollution and now-a-days, mobile tower radiation, affect bird life in an adverse way," Roy says.

"Fast declining surface water bodies and missing soft embankments around the existing ponds/lakes - which favour emergent vegetation like weeds - too add to the woes of the winged species," warns Bhatnagar.

Before they become extinct, brace up to train your binoculars on your favourite bird species.