Birds in India and Conservation Efforts: A Feathered Legacy
INDIA IS A LAND of unparalleled avian diversity, boasting a kaleidoscope of bird species that call its diverse landscapes home. From the snow-capped Himalayas in the north to the pristine forests of the Western Ghats in the south, and from the arid deserts of Rajasthan in the west to the lush wetlands of the northeast, India's avian inhabitants are as varied as its geography.
The State of India’s Birds (SoIB) 2023 Report reveals that the nation is home to more than 1,300 bird species, which represents approximately 12.40% of global bird diversity. Of these 1,353 bird species, 78 (5%) are endemic to the country. However, this vibrant flock faces an increasingly perilous future, as habitat destruction, pollution, and climate change threaten their very existence.
Birds in the region are currently confronted with many threats, the most important of which are habitat loss and degradation, followed by human wildlife conflict. Root causes of damage to and loss of habitats are complex and interlinked. These include urbanization, infrastructural development, current agricultural practices, threat to natural forest cover due to over exploitation, high overseas demand for resources, and inadequate legal enforcement of pro-conservation policies.
Climate change is another looming threat - changing weather patterns, altered migration routes, and disruptions in food availability impact the survival of many bird species. Rising temperatures affect breeding and nesting patterns, making it challenging for some birds to adapt. The introduction and spread of invasive species can also negatively impact native bird populations by competing for resources and altering ecosystems.
To combat these threats, India has taken significant steps in avian conservation. A 10-year plan proposed by the Indian government - the “Visionary Perspective Plan (2020-2030) for the conservation of avian diversity, their ecosystems, habitats and landscapes in the country” hopes to advance action on the conservation of birds and their habitats in India. This is an addition to India’s National Wildlife Action Plan (2017 to 2031) which too has several conservation actions for the protection of birds and their habitats.
The plan proposes a series of short, medium and long-term plans to protect the rare and endangered species of birds, start species recovery programmes of critically endangered ones, introduce landscape approach to control their declining population. The plan also notes that anthropogenic activities leading to increased levels of GHG emissions are also impacting the environment on a global scale and thus, and urges scientific interventions to minimise and mitigate such impacts on avifauna.
India has forever prioritized efforts to protect critical habitats. The restoration of wetlands, reforestation initiatives, and the promotion of organic farming practices are some strategies being employed. Furthermore, strict laws against poaching and the illegal wildlife trade are essential for the protection of India's birds.
India unveiled the third National Wildlife Action Plan for 2017-2031 in 2016, spelling out the future road map for wildlife conservation. This plan is unique as this is the first time India has recognized the concerns relating to climate change impact on wildlife and stressed on integrating actions that need to be taken for its mitigation and adaptation into wildlife management planning processes.
The plan adopts a “landscape approach” in conservation of all wildlife that has an ecological value.
India's diverse avian population is a testament to the country's natural richness. However, these beautiful birds face multiple threats, ranging from habitat loss to climate change. Conservation efforts are essential to safeguard their future. Through protected areas, legal measures, habitat restoration, and public awareness, India is working tirelessly to protect its feathered legacy.
Every individual can contribute by supporting and participating in these efforts, ensuring that India's skies continue to be filled with the colours and songs of its precious birds for generations to come.
(Writer has been Additional Director General of Forests (Wildlife), Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India)
October 08 2023