The State of India’s Birds 2020 is the first comprehensive assessment of the distribution range, trends in abundance, and conservation status for most of the bird species that regularly occur in India. With their ubiquity and ecological importance, birds are excellent indicators of the state of our natural world and are potent cultural symbols of nature.
Among the key findings is the dramatic increase in numbers of India’s national bird, the Indian Peafowl, over the past decades. The once ubiquitous House Sparrow was also found to be doing well, contrary to popular perception based on dwindling numbers in urban settings. A total of 867 species of birds were assessed and the populations of 126 species have stable or increasing trends over the past twenty five years.
Another welcome finding is the fact that a few globally Near Threatened species of birds including the Black-headed Ibis and Oriental Darter were found to have stable or increasing populations and therefore are classified as of Low Conservation Concern for India.
On the other hand, fifty percent of Indian species of birds have declined over the assessed time period. These include raptors, migratory shorebirds and common species like the Small Minivet, Common Greenshank and Oriental Skylark. It was found that all bird species endemic to the Western Ghats have declined considerably. Similarly, birds that eat invertebrates have declined as a group.
In all, 101 species have been classified as of high conservation concern. The overall decline in species demands research into the causes, and action to protect the high concern species. This calls for attention from conservation policy, management and funding.
The State of India’s Birds 2020 is the culmination of a collaboration between ten research and conservation organisations within the country including the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), Foundation for Ecological Security (FES), National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS-TIFR), Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), Sálim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON), Wetlands International South Asia (WI-SA), Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and World Wide Fund for Nature India (WWF-India).
The report relies on more than 10 million observations contributed by over 15,500 birdwatchers, which is a testament to the passion of nature-lovers in the country, and suggests there is massive potential for increased public involvement in conservation monitoring. This is especially important in light of the insufficient data on some species, and the report calls for greater collaboration between researchers and the larger public.
The State of India’s Birds report was created to assess the conservation status of the majority of species that regularly occur in the country. Worldwide, common and widespread species are declining; but in India, lack of information has meant that conservation attention has been focussed on only a few usually large, charismatic and threatened species.
The report is remarkable for utilising citizen science data to assess the distribution and trends in abundance of birds that regularly occur in India. It is a significant step forward in our understanding of India’s rich and varied biodiversity and its conservation. It is also a step toward utilising more citizen science with a sound scientific approach in the conservation space the report.