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Bird count 2018: India slips to fourth spot; last year it was second

India raked third globally for the number of checklists submitted by birders — 13,576 checklists as against 11,008 in 2017

mumbai Updated: Mar 21, 2018 11:45 IST
Badri Chatterjee
A black drongo perched atop a sack.
A black drongo perched atop a sack. (HT File Photo)

Indian birders spotted 838 species during the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) 2018 that was held between February 16 and 19 across the world.

Although the species count was higher than the 801 identified in 2017, India’s international ranking for the total number of species dropped from second to fourth, giving way to Ecuador and Brazil.

The bird types documented last month represents 64% of the total species found in the country. “However, India dropped in the species rankings from #2 to #4 because of the strong showing by Ecuador and Brazil, both super-rich countries in terms of bird species,” the GBBC report for India mentioned.

But India raked third globally for the number of checklists submitted by birders — 13,576 checklists as against 11,008 in 2017. Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra had the maximum participation, with maximum species observed in Uttarakhand and nine states reporting more than 300 species this year. While Tamil Nadu topped the list in 2018, Madhya Pradesh showed considerable improvement — from 15 last year to five this year, Maharashtra dropped from fourth to sixth.

“Overall, birding efforts in the GBBC in India showed a modest increase over the last year. Some states made huge strides. For example, in Madhya Pradesh, there was a lot of zeal among the naturalists working at wildlife resorts around Satpura Tiger Reserve (Hoshangabad district) and Kanha Tiger Reserve (Mandla district), which possibly contributed to its rise. It cannot be said why Maharashtra showed less participation this year,” said Suhel Quader from Bird Count India, a partnership of a large number of organizations and groups across India, who work towards generating knowledge for conserving birds.

In India, the house crow was the most frequently reported species, appearing on 46.8% of complete lists, very similar to last year’s figure of 48%, which is again a drop. The country was categorised into four broad regions (see box), different sets of species showed up as commonest in different regions. “Similar to the past two years, the common myna is the only species to occur in the top five for all four regions, with the rock-pigeon, red-vented bulbul and house crow all making the top five in three of the four regions,” the report said.

Around 1,500 birders covered 271 districts in 29 states and union territories across all kinds of ecosystems (forests, wetlands, grasslands, etc), from national parks and sanctuaries to agricultural regions, and urban habitats.

“Since the report is based on citizen participation, which can vary depending on the number of people participating, the results should not be viewed as scientific. For example, since more people participated from south India, the common birds pan India will have more influence from there rather than those spotted along the Himalayan or northeastern belt, and during the next count if the participation is reversed, the result would be completely different,” said Raju Kasambe, ornithologist from Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).

The report added that the only way to increase the species rankings would be to have specifically planned effort to find and report range-restricted species in India. “One of the striking things was how, in some places, birders banded together under some sort of umbrella such that their birding was also ‘credited’ to a larger group. For example, Ganeshwar S V and his friends in Salem, Tamil Nadu, banded together under the Salem Ornithological Foundation, and together birded for 210 hours over the four days of the GBBC. Similarly, Selva Ganesh, a schoolteacher in Valparai, Tamil Nadu, got his students together under Cinchona Govt High School, and birded collectively for 93 hours,” said Quader.

Experts said that the fall in India’s rank was not a matter of concern because overall, there has been an increase in awareness with the focus increasing in matters of animal cruelty, wildlife norm violations and different conservation enthusiasts coming together to help in improving numbers. “The trend has been positive in the past few years. There are more and more people getting into birdwatching now. Violations are being reported and there is a focus towards highlighting environmental degradation leading to loss of bird habitat,” said Deepak Apte, director, BNHS.

Sunjoy Monga, naturalist writer, and ornithologist said, “This is an interesting platform that can give citizens a basic idea of birdlife around their area. Once made consistent regarding the number of participants, teams, and variability of landscapes, it will develop a trend for further studies regarding distribution, population and bird habitats.”