By Prabhat Verma*
The Covid-19 lockdown has seen a sharp increase in population of birders around the world. Silence around us has made even the not-so-observant ones hear chirps that they had never heard or paid attention to before. Birds have always been around us but in our haste and constant race, we never stopped to look for them. Their chirps were overpowered by noise pollution. Our hectic life and a super busy schedule deprived us of all the beauty around us.
But as life came to a standstill and nature enjoyed its revival, birds and animals had the last laugh. Never before has the grass been greener, sky been bluer, nature been happier, and birds been more active. People enjoyed clear views of Himalayas from hundreds of kilometers away and citizens can be seen out in the morning taking full advantage of empty roads by walking, running, cycling or observing birds.
This is how nature was always meant to be and this is how it should continue to be. As Sadguru says, if birds and insects die, the world will come to an end in a few years’ time, but if humans die, the world will flourish. As humans, it is high time we realize that we are irrelevant to the environment and it is foolish of us to think we are superior. We have been raping nature for centuries but hopefully, we have realized now, albeit quite late, that bio-diversity is to be preserved and not to be plundered. There could not be a better time than this to start observing birds, while we are still in a forced break from our busy routine.
One of the biggest advantages of taking birding as a hobby is that it provides an intimate connection between us and the natural environment. A keen eye and an observant nature makes us more focused as we pay attention to the minutest of sounds or movement around us, be it a tree, plant, bees, moths, butterflies, dragonflies or even amphibians & reptiles. People use birding to de-stress, bond with nature, take a break from mundane, and to simply soak up their colors, beauty, and songs. Birds too don’t live in isolation and make the eco chain complete by interacting with numerous other animals and plants, and maintain the ecological balance. They are pollinators and seed dispersers and help in plant reproductions. They also help maintain sustainable population level of their prey and predator species.
Birders may look serious but also have a funny bone, which can be confirmed by the names given to collective noun of different birds. Crows together are called a murder, whereas Doves are always in dules. Few owls together make a parliament while Eagles have their convocation. Our national bird, Peacocks are seen in an ostentation, whereas, Ravens in an unkindness. Lapwings have a deceit. Penguins walk in a parade and Sparrows are in a quarrel.
On any given day one can spot 15 to 20 species of common birds in any green patch. These are Lapwings that sound like “did did did you do it”, Mynas, House Pigeons, House Sparrows, Bulbuls, Spotted Owlets, Indian Robins, Crows. Prinias, Green Bee Eaters, Black Kites, Tailor Birds, Babblers etc. Noticing these common ones is a simple first step to gain an entry into the wonderful and colourful world of birding. There are seasonal birds too that are seen only in particular months and these draw a lot of birders who want to observe or click them. A pied Cuckoo is a harbinger of Rain and seen just before the monsoons; Yellow footed Green Pigeons, Indian Pitta, and Koels can be seen collecting building material in peak summers to construct nests; rain brings with it the Quails and Black Francolins; whereas its Grey cousins have the responsibility of waking us up early every day in every season. These flightless birds, known earlier as Partridges are extremely active in wee hours and work like an alarm clock.
Seen earlier as a pastime for retirees and elderly, the interest in birds, triggered recently during Corona house-arrest, has seen more takers in children, who will hopefully carry forward the baton of being a Singinawa, a protector of forest in times to come. It is heartening to see many of them spotting birds regularly using binoculars, taking help of guide books, going on weekend birding excursions, making notes, sketching birds, recording their chirping, and even clicking.
These youngsters and their new addiction to wildlife & birding is a ray of hope for the ones who are concerned about India’s shrinking green cover and limited conservation efforts. Few good lodges in some National Parks run Junior-Rangers program during summer vacations which offer a great introduction to India’s flora & fauna. W.W.F and B.N.H.S run short courses on Bird’s Taxonomy that anyone can join.
A community of birders exists in every country and they all are united with the common passion of observing birds. More and more online groups plan birding getaways in every area in the country. Birders also use platforms and applications like ‘eBird’ to share their findings or ‘Merlin’ to identify birds through images. Many countries now hold annual Birding Fairs, where locals come together to meet fellow birders, buy new equipment, attend sessions on birding by experts and book their next birding holiday through one of the Tour Operator there, specializing in worldwide bird escapes.
Birding is one hobby where an excuse of not having a place nearby to go to doesn’t work. Birding sites are all around us, even in urban areas. If one is not close to a bird sanctuary, he can look for any green patch or water body like a wetland for water birds or a garbage dump for raptors. An India-wide friendly competition recently saw birders reporting birds that they saw or clicked from their balconies and terraces. Look for a park or any open area like grassland, a stream or even a grove of trees. A keen birder has his eyes on trees, electric poles, and wires even when he is waiting in his vehicle at a traffic light.
Birding has a positive impact on one’s lifestyle too as one begins to appreciate slow life. You even choose holiday destinations based on their bird population and quiet lodges that enrich your experience. Birding is seen as an eco-friendly activity in which you don’t leave any carbon footprint. Birders are responsible travellers who prefer quaint and tranquil trails and sanctuaries where they can walk and wait patiently without being disturbed by hordes of tourists. It is an ‘endorphin’ that boosts pleasure and results in feeling of wellbeing. Birders are also a disciplined lot who are first to be up in the morning as they know that only ‘an early bird catches the worm’.
A beautiful bird picture at the end of the day is very fulfilling experience for a photographer. Hundreds of facebook pages can be checked for joining short birding walks or just to enjoy and marvel at the stunning images being posted online every minute. These images can be used to identify the birds and learn more about their behaviour, colour, migration, shape of beaks, wings, flying pattern etc.
Birding is not confined to children or to elderly. It sees people from all age groups and walks of life come together that promotes camaraderie. A bunch of birders can easily be seen in small groups, looking quietly into the foliage or scanning the sky with their binoculars. Off lately, a few bird observers have evolved into bird clickers, and vice versa. Whatever is one’s area of interest, ‘birds of a feather always flock together’.
Unlike many hobbies that lead to monotony after a while, birding grows on one and gets more interesting by the day. This leads to one enjoying other aspects of a forest too as he begins to understand the complete circle of life. It gives us a clear picture of environment and climate changes, patterns, role of birds, migration routes, and complete eco-system where every microbe has a role to play.
It is a boon for birders to be out with the rising sun to inhale fresh air and immerse oneself in peaceful environs of a green belt. Birding brings people closer to nature as they forget the rush and chaos of a busy life momentarily. The laidback nature changes a birder and makes him more patient and composed. Unlike tiger-centric safaris where tourists are seen rushing from one spot to another to see a big cat, birders would rather wait patiently looking at one bird. They know that ‘a bird in hand is better than two in the bush’.
For the purpose of avifauna classification, India is divided into 13 bio-geographical zones: Trans Himalayan, Western Himalayas, Eastern Himalayas, Desert, Semi-arid, Gangetic Plain, Central India, Deccan Plateau, Western Ghats, Eastern Ghats, North East, Coasts, Andaman and Nicobar Islands. India is considered to be home to approx. 1350 species and more than 100 are endemic to India (found only in India). Birders step out to see resident (living in India), migrants (migrating from other countries to India in summer or winter), passage migrants (stopping in India in transit on the way to another place or on the way back) and vagrants (who end up here accidentally, beyond their migrant range).
There are many different patterns of migration for different birds. Rosy starlings for example are quite a photographer’s delight when they fly in thousands and make appealing patterns in the sky called a Murmuration. There are 9 flyways (sky routes) in the world that birds use for migrating from one place to another and 3 of them pass through India. The majority of birds migrate from northern breeding areas to southern wintering grounds. Some of them that breed in southern parts of Africa migrate to northern wintering grounds, or horizontally, to enjoy the milder coastal climates in winter. Other birds reside on lowlands during the winter months and move up towards mountains for the summer.
New Delhi boasts of 253 different species of birds too and is known to be the 2nd best capital in the world for observing birds, second only to Nairobi, Kenya’s capital.
The world of birds is really amazing. Every bird has a story to tell. Each day is a new learning and discovery. There are birds like Bar-headed Geese that fly above the Himalayas, Humming birds can fly backwards, Arctic Terns travel 2.4 million kilometers during a lifetime, Peregrine Falcons travel faster than a jet plane, Cuckoos lay their eggs in crow’s nests, Oriental Magpie Robins imitate other birds etc.
So while more and more people are getting up early these days and having a dialogue with birds, what are you waiting for? Next time you go to bed, make sure you keep your binoculars, notepad, and walking shoes handy. The morning will bring you joy like never before. Happy Birding!
*The author is an avid birder and wildlife photographer. He is a travel agent by profession organizing worldwide Safaris & nature centric holidays for niche travellers and can be reached at Prabhat@offbeat.travel