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India’s bird population is declining sharply

A major study reveals that much of India’s bird population has sharply declined in the past few decades. The report was made based on observations of more than 15,000 bird watchers who helped assess the status of 867 types of birds.

The decline was greatest in the numbers of eagles, vultures, warblers and migrating shorebirds. Only peacock, the national bird of India managed to increase their number significantly according to the report.

Experts point out that hunting and habitat loss are the two main reasons behind this decline. “Collision” with electricity lines, according to the study, is a “prime current threat” to birds. This report happens to be the first-ever comprehensive study made in this field.

The study focused on two parameters: the drop in bird population over the last 25 years, and over the last five years. The final report was made based on more than 10 million observations, drawn from sightings and meticulous notes made by professional birdwatchers. This data was then combined on a global crowdsourced database called eBird. eBird has real-time data on the distribution and abundance of birds.

“In the long-term trend assessment, there was appropriate data available only for 261 species, of which 52% had declined [in numbers]. For current trends, there was data only for 146 species, of which nearly 80% were declining,” said MD Madhusudan, co-founder of Nature Conservation Foundation.

The study reports that species such as White-rumped Vulture, Richard’s Pipit, Indian Vulture, Large-billed Leaf Warbler, Pacific Golden Plover, Curlew Sandpiper has suffered a larger decline in numbers while the numbers of Rosy Starling, Feral Pigeon, Glossy Ibis, Plain Prinia, Ashy Prinia, Indian Peafowl has increased.

The Jerdon’s Courser, an endangered bird which was rediscovered in 1986 after a gap of 138 years, has not been seen since 2008. Similarly, species such as Green Munia is reported to be at “dangerously low” numbers. On the other hand, the Forest Owlet, another endangered bird that was rediscovered in 1997, has been sighted at many more locations.

The study has cautioned that the research is focused on individual species rather than the overall health of India’s birds. It doesn’t account for species that are considered common. While certain bird species are relatively thriving, especially from the more “obviously threatened” category the rest are facing a decline. This is an issue that requires care and attention before it reaches a point of no return.

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