Do You Know The Birds Living In Your Backyard?

What is the most common bird species in India? You may have an answer, but how sure are you? Think about it for a minute.

Fig.1. From GBBC 2019. Top 5 species (in terms of how often they are observed) for different regions.

It is immediately obvious that different species show up in different regions. But we are now confident that the Red-vented Bulbul and Common Myna are the most common species across the entire country. Such a map would not have been possible until a few years ago when Indian birdwatchers started participating in an event called the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC).

The GBBC was launched in February 1988 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, USA, to obtain a snapshot of bird distributions just before the spring migration happened in March. Originally, the event was restricted to USA and Canada but it went global in 2013 with many countries (including India) participating. Now, this four day fun-event happens each year in February with birdwatchers across the world engaging in watching, listening and listing birds through a free initiative called eBird. This is also accompanied by regional birding events- bird walks, talks, games to introduce the uninitiated to this wonderful hobby of bird watching.

eBird, managed by Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is the world’s largest biodiversity-related citizen science project, with more that 100 million bird sightings contributed each year by birders around the world. GBBC participants count birds by spending at least 15 min at a location and uploading the ensuing bird checklist on ebird website/ mobile app. If you’re spending more than 15 min at a location, consider submitting separate checklists each time. In India, the eBird portal is managed by Bird Count India and goes by the name ebird.org/india.

But how does all this help? Birds are excellent indicators of the state of our natural world. Events like GBBC help us understand our birds better. By looking at a snapshot of where the birds are distributed for a few days in February, across multiple years, we can understand trends in distribution and abundance. With increasing pollution and rapid urbanization in large cities, one may also be able to figure out how birds are coping with poor air quality and decreasing habitat.

The GBBC is not merely a count, it is key to education and awareness to encourage and inspire a transformative change in the way we conserve nature,” says Abhishek Gulshan, Nature educator and founder of Ninox – Owl about Nature in Delhi. Explaining the rich diversity of bird habitats around Delhi, he says “Historically, Delhi’s habitat was mostly scrub but with the coming up of Lutyen’s Delhi, where a wide variety of fruiting trees were planted as a part of planning of the city, we see several fig-eating birds like Indian Grey Hornbill, Brown-headed and Coppersmith Barbet, and the likes. A lot of residential areas in Delhi are still connected to scrub forests and thus see a lot of scrub-based species like the Large Grey Babbler.

Coppersmith Barbet, a common frugivore found in cities. Photo by Abhishek Gulshan.
A group of school kids watching birds through a spotting scope. Photo by Abhishek Gulshan.

There is also Campus Bird Count, a sub-event aimed at documenting bird life on campuses, which runs along with GBBC. An excellent opportunity to engage students, teachers, ornithologists, naturalists, to come together and experience nature.

Spotted Owlet, a small bird of prey. Photo by Abhishek Gulshan.
Misha Bansal interacting with students of Miranda House, Delhi on the occasion of Campus Bird Count. Photo by Misha Bansal.

A lot of birders in Delhi have been volunteering regularly to lead walks. I guess it is sharing the basic yet highly underrated joy of observing nature closely that motivates us to do these walks. Delhi has always had a bustling bird diversity and there are some really beautiful Campuses with small forest patches like JNU or the North Campus. Students are surprisingly unaware of this and these walks open up a new world to them … I can never forget their expressions when they see a coppersmith barbet or the indian grey hornbill … these are extremely common birds everyone happily ignores,” says Misha Bansal, avid birdwatcher and Project Fellow, Cedar.

Interestingly, of the 13.7 million records from India on eBird, 1 million have been uploaded during the various GBBCs (2013 to 2019). One hopes that 2020 will see an even bigger participation and inspire people to protect nature through birds.

Fig. 2. GBBC India participation over the years (2013 – 2019).

Using eBird is very easy and it acts like a online digital diary that keeps a record of what birds you saw, where and how many. You can login to eBird.org/india and submit you bird sightings, however, it is recommended to use eBird mobile app. This free app can be downloaded on any smartphone from Playstore or App Store.
If you have an android device please follow these steps:

  • Download eBird
  • Create an account/ Log in
  • Install the India pack
  • Set preferences relevant to India
  • Submit a list.

To know more about the global event, click here. For the India event, click here. And for queries, write to skimmer@birdcount.in!

Featured Image courtesy of Abhishek Gulshan/Great Backyard Bird Count.
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