By Priyal Shah*

In previous editions, we shared an overview about birding as a hobby and now we dive a little deeper to explore different ways in which birds bring joy in our lives. People often have different interests but sometimes those different interests collide to form a new interest.For me, my love for nature and passion for photography led me to ‘bird photography’.The power of social media further led to discovery of the hobby of birdwatching and various other ways in which birds influence our lives and bring joy.Unlike tigers, lions or other wildlife, birds are around us almost wherever we go; we see them in concrete jungles, dense forests, deserts, wetlands, snow-covered mountains and even in middle of oceans.This is the reason,it is easy as well as exciting to take up birding; on one hand you don’t necessarily have to travel a lot to see birds, and on the other, they open up possibilities of some thrilling adventures of travelling and exploring different kinds of habitats.

Birds have been an integral part of humans’ lives in various ways – the most important being the ecological relationship. Humans depend on birds for pollination; about 5% of plants we use for food or medicine are pollinated by them.In addition to that, birds are sentinel species; their behaviour can provide advance warnings to potential risks to humans. For instance, in the absence of technology,canary birds used to be taken to mines and their behaviour would help detect rising levels of carbon monoxide or other toxic gases in the mine before they reached levels that could cause harm to miners.Apart from these, birds have influenced our lives in various ways and if you’ve just gotten interested in birds, you can know there’s a whole lot for you to explore, experience, and enjoy.

Chasing Birds

Birds are fascinatingbeings for various reasons and different peopleengage with them in their own different ways.There are different species of birdwatchers itself, to name prominent categories, there are Ornithologists, birders, listers, and twitchers.Ornithologists are experts who study birds scientifically and have related qualifications.Birders on the other hand,observe birds in their natural habitats.They are usuallycommon citizens with an interest in birds; they have different levels of experience, from being amateurs to seasoned birders.Different individuals also integrate other things while birding, such as bird photography and illustration.With increasing access to affordable cameras, the focus these days has shifted to photography rather than observing through binoculars.

The other type is called a lister, they make a list of birds they see and growing their life list or kinds of birds observed in an individual’slifetimeis always on their mind. Lastly, there are twitchers – they tend to drop everything they’re doing to travel to where a rare bird would’ve been spotted, in the hope of seeing it.There’salways a risk of missing the bird by the time they reach the spot, it’s all part of the thrill!

Most birders andin case of non-birders, those who must have watched the movie ‘The Big Year’, must be familiar withwhat ‘Big Year’ means.It’s when an individual decides to see maximumnumber of species in a single year, either in their country or around the world. The first person to complete the Big Year in India was Shashank Dalvi, who observed 1128 species in 2015, out of around 1300+ found in India. It’s quite fascinatingto think thathe was observing birds in one Indian state in the morning andin anotherby evening.

One of the things about birding, I’m drawn to the most,is the surprise element it has.Every birding trip has its own big and small surprisesand all of themfeel rewarding, some more than others.There are times when you get to see all the species you wished for, on one of those lucky days you can get unexpected sightings of rare migrantsor of birds that are difficult to see in the open. If you get a chance to go birding with seasoned birders, their knowledge about birds and their habitats,usually happens tobe the reward. The biggest reward of all is that you connect with nature and get to marvel at some wonderful birds of all kinds.

We have a growing number of birders in India, and social media platforms such as Facebook have made it extremely easy to connect with like-minded individuals to learn and exchange knowledge about birds. It is worthmentioning that individuals like you and Ican play an important role in helping advance science and research by documenting bird life and sharing our observations on platforms such as eBird India.Our data can be used to study bird populations, local migration patterns, etc. If your question is how to get involved in birding, then you can check out Facebook groups, one of the most popular in India iscalled‘Indian Birds’.Some cities also have active sub-groups, members often organize bird walks over weekends, and you can keep track of announcements on these Facebook groups to join them – Mumbai: Mumbai Birdwatchers Club,Delhi: Indian Birds,Bhubaneswar: The Bhubaneswar Bird Walks,and Hyderabad: Hyderabad Birding Pals.

Birds & Art

Birds have been an inspiration for all kinds of art forms like sketching, painting, music, photography, and more.The beauty of birds cannot escape an artist’s eye and that’s why there have been subjects of artwork since around 14,000 BC,that’s whenthe oldest known bird art dates back.The purpose of bird art has evolved over the years;few decades ago, bird illustrations played an important role in documenting bird life in the absence of cameras that could capture birds in their natural environment.Not all paintingswere scientific and accuratebut contributed to our understanding of bird life in a certain era and the significance they held in the lives of humans. Inthe absence of high shutter-speed camera, scientific bird illustrations played an important role in documenting bird life andtoday they are prized possessionsand commanda high monetary value.Bird art is still alive and we continue to see some brilliant artists who capture the beauty of birds in their habitat.

The art of photography has become more affordableand accessible than ever before and bird photography has gained popularity in recent years.Bird photography is done in different ways depending on who is behind the camera.Advanced cameras today can help document some bird behaviour never seen before,such as kingfisher catching a fish under water.Photography can also be looked at in a more creative way; fine art bird photography can help capture some stunningvisuals of birds in their natural habitat that can effectively draw interest of the viewer towards birds. All these different forms of art show how fascinating birds are and how they capture our fancy.Today, asbird habitats are under threat, we should know that any decline or disappearance of bird populations is an indication of what our fate could be. Therefore, in our own little ways,documenting birds, understanding them or sharing awareness about them can sensitize people around us to act in ways that protect birdsand their habitats.

*Priyal Shah is a business graduate working at an environment research organization to address climate change through business action. She got introduced to birding when she was in school and continues to chase birds in her free time with a pair of binoculars, a camera, and a field guide.

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