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Which Bird species in India are of high conservation concern?

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In addition to the Tiger & Elephant, India is home to hundreds of Bird species. In a first of its kind, ten different organizations have come together to launch the ‘State of India’s Birds – 2020 Report’. But what does the report say about India’s bird species? Here is a detailed analysis of the report.

Data is an important tool for any conservation initiative. Data helps ascertain the current situation, past trends and enables to chalk out a better conservation strategy.

The Quadra annual Status of Tiger report is an essential part of the efforts towards Tiger Conservation in India. Similarly, ‘Synchronized Elephant Population Estimation India 2017’ report throws light on the status of Indian Elephant which is considered as endangered. The Ministry of Environment and Forests oversees the conservation efforts of the Tiger and Indian Elephant through Project Tiger and Project Elephant programmes.

Apart from Tigers and Elephants, India is home to a wide variety of Flora and Fauna. As per Biodiversity in India Report, published by Indian Statistical Institute, India is home to around 7% of the total species of Mammals in the world and 12% of the total world bird species.

State of India’s Birds report is a first attempt towards understanding Birds’ conservation in India.

There are estimated to be around 1200 different species of birds in India. As on date, there is no formal effort from the government of India to ascertain the numbers relating to the avian species in India.

Over the past two to three decades, there are apprehensions about the fall in bird numbers due to anthropogenic and other factors. However, apart from isolated observations, there has been no cohesive effort in this direction.  In this context, State of India’s Birds Report -2020 comes as a welcome step towards monitoring and conservation of bird species in India. This report is the result of a combined effort and partnership of 10 different organizations.

It was released on 17 February 2020 at the 13th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Migratory Species. This was held in Gandhinagar, Gujarat.

The observations of more than 15,500 bird watchers is used as the primary data

More than 10 million observations were uploaded by 15,500 + bird watchers on eBird Platform. eBird is a collaborative platform run by Bird Count India, wherein birders can upload their bird sightings.

The State of India’s Birds Report-2020 used this information to understand the distribution, abundance and population trends of Indian birds. The observations were made with respect to 867 Indian birds.

Based on this information, analysis was made on the trends in abundance of the bird species in both the long term (i.e 25 + years) and the current i.e past 5 years.  These two trends form two of the three indices used for assessment, with the third index being ‘Measure of Distribution range size’.  This analysis was corroborated with IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species for categorization of Conservation concern.

The report came up with its own categorization with all the bird species categorized into three: Low, Moderate & High

The detailed methodology followed in the collation of the data, trend analysis, criteria for categorization etc. can be read in ‘Background and Methodology’ part of this report.

The idea of this report was conceived in 2018

The idea for such a report was conceived in the year 2018. Here are some major milestones in the preparation of this report.

  • Initial idea conceived in May 2018
  • The 10 collaborative partner organizations met in August 2018
  • Workshop on methodology conducted in November 2018
  • Final Meeting of the partners in April 2019
  • Online collaboration of the various collaborators at different levels.
  • Release of the Final Report on 17 February 2020

101 species have been identified as of ‘High Conservation Concern’

The analysis of the trends relating to the distribution of birds was done for 867 species (five bird species have been included under one larger species; therefore, the categorization is done for 862 birds).

Out of these, 101 species have been categorized as ‘High Conservation Concern’. 319 species of birds are categorized as Medium Conservation Concern and the rest 442 as Low Conservation Concern.

  • Raptors (predators like Eagles, Hawks, Kites etc.), Migratory Shorebirds (migratory birds that live on the shores of lakes & other water bodies) and birds which are endemic especially to the Western Ghats (found only in Western Ghats) have been identified as the species which have seen declining trends in population and are a matter of high concern.
  • The decline of numbers is also observed in common species like – Small Minivet, Common Greenshank and Oriental Skylark, Cotton Teal, Red-Necked Falcon, Short Toed Snake Eagle etc.
  • Black Headed Ibis & Oriental Darter which are categorized as ‘Globally Neat threatened Species’ have seen an increase in their population in India and are categorized as Least Conservative Concern for India.
  • In contrast to the general notion of fall in the population of House Sparrow, the data shows that they have stable populations.
  • Indian Peafowl (Peacock), which is the national bird of India has an increase in its population across the country.
  • Around 52 % of the bird species have shown a declining population over the years.
  • Range Size refers to the extent of distribution of a bird species. 27 species have been reported to have very restricted Range Size, while another 152 species are categorized as restricted.
  • 58 species have shown a strong decline in their population in the long run, while over the past five years 72 species have a strong decline. 15 species have recorded a recent strong increase in their population.

Need for creating awareness of Bird Conservation

Birds play an important role in maintaining ecological balance. Their role as pollinators and dispersers of seeds is critical in the propagation of plant population. The places occupied by various species of birds in the food chain as prey for other species as well as predators & scavengers strikes a key ecological balance.

However, as the report shows, there has been a decline in population and distribution of bird species over a period of time. More worrisome is the decline of the endemic species in the Western Ghats. The population of raptors which are the apex predators in the respective food chain can lead to unchecked growth of the prey. 

Trapping of birds for trade as exotic pets, destruction of habitats including lakes and forests, usage of chemicals (one of the main reasons for fall in Vulture populations in India) etc. are some of the reasons for the decline.

Creation of awareness among the public to create empathy and interest in birds coupled with government measures in bringing strict laws to curb illegal trade and destruction of habitats would act as initial steps towards conservation. In addition, special focus on critically endangered species is also the need of the hour. Organizations working on Bird conservation should be actively involved by the government in all these efforts.

Featured Image: Nest India Birding

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