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New report finds India’s birds in overall decline, “in some cases catastrophically so”

A first-of-its-kind nationwide study of India’s birds has found that among the species for which long-term trends could be established, over half have declined since 2000, of which 22% were declining strongly. Among the 146 species for which annual trends could be estimated, 80% were found to be declining, with close to 50% declining strongly. The assessment of nearly 867species of birds, titled “State of India’s Birds 2020”, concludes that very clearly, “our birds are in overall decline, in some cases catastrophically so”. The report was released on Monday at the 13th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Migratory Species in Gandhinagar, inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi over video-conference.

Using data from over 10 million records from lists uploaded by over 15,500 birders from around 2 lakh locations, the report is a pioneering effort in marshalling citizen science resources. The birdwatchers uploaded the data online to the eBird India platform, part of the global internet-based platform eBird, housed in Cornell University’s Laboratory of Ornithology. The report also involved collaboration among 10 research and conservation organisations, such as National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF). “In a huge country like India, without the participation of birdwatchers, it’s impossible to really understand birds,” said Ashwin Viswanathan, research associate at NCF who worked on the report.

The study found that groups that show the greatest decline are raptors (which hunt prey and also includes vultures), migratory shorebirds, and habitat specialists, among others. The findings were combined with the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and 101 species were categorised as “high concern”, 319 as “moderate concern” and 442 into “low concern”. Out of the species categorised as high concern, 26% are classified globally by IUCN as “least concern”.

Among the species that have shown an upward trend is the Indian peafowl, the numbers of which has risen sharply in the last decade. The increase is attributed to a combination of the expansion of its range and a population increase throughout its distribution. In 2016, there was a furore when it was reported that Goa was considering reclassifying the peacock as “vermin”, which would have paved the way for its culling. The outrage this sparked might have led to a rethink because the proposal was not formalised. The “State of India’s Birds 2020” also found that contrary to assumptions, the population of the house sparrow had stabilised though it is declining in major cities.

“We hope that this information translates into many voices being raised forbird conservation, both among conservation bodies, and the general public,” Dr Mousumi Ghosh of NCBS, who was part of the team who worked on the report, said in a statement. On February 3, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change released in the public domaina draft 10-year plan (2020-2030)to conserve avian diversity, for which comments are invited. “The main objective of the visionary perspective plan is to prepare a long-term perspective plan on priority areas for conservation of avian diversity, habitats, ecosystems and landscapes in the country,” it says.


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