With rampant urbanisation and expansion of metropolitan cities, birds are constantly decreasing in number and the number of endangered bird species are rising at a disturbing rate.
Year after year, the condition of birds, which are one of the indicators of the state of the environment, is deteriorating further, due to factors like habitat destruction and unsustainable development. The latest Red List of birds released by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) for 2015 shows that a total of 180 bird species in India are now threatened, as against 173 last year. Only one species has moved out of the Red List. The latest addition to the list, based on studies conducted by BNHS-India, BirdLife International (UK-based) and other partner organisations, reveal that bird habitats like grasslands and wetlands are under threat.
“The list of threatened species keeps on increasing with every assessment. That itself symbolises that our efforts for conservation of species are not adequate. We need to logically rethink the developmental agenda, especially for the habitats and areas where these species exist. Some of the neglected habitats should therefore be a part of protected areas or marked as ecologically sensitive sites,” says Dr Deepak Apte, Director BNHS.
Habitat loss and other threats
Birds face a range of threats in today’s times, among which habitat loss is
common to most species in the Red List. Grasslands, wetlands, forests and other habitats are getting destroyed at an alarming rate, primarily due to unsustainable developmental activities. For instance, Red Knot, which is usually found in coastal areas, mudflats and sandy beaches, is facing several threats like destruction of coastal ecosystems, land reclamation, pollution, over-exploitation of its main prey – shellfish – and illegal hunting. Similarly, Great Knot is threatened by degradation and loss of wetland habitat. Another wetland bird – Curlew Sandpiper – is under threat due to factors like reservoir and marshland alteration by commercial salt works, habitat degradation because of diminishing rainfall and hunting, particularly along the south-east coast of India near Point Calimere.
“Animals and birds are designed for a particular habitat where there is a particular kind of food. They can’t survive in any other environment. So if that environment is lost, they disappear. This is how they become extinct,” says M Shafaat Ullah, secretary, Bird Watchers’ Society of Andhra Pradesh (BSAP).
The status of vultures in India continues to be precarious, even as efforts are on at various levels to conserve them, such as captive breeding, carcass surveys, advocacy, ban on veterinary diclofenac, reduction in vial size of human diclofenac and identification of vulture safe zones for future release of captive birds.
Drastic reduction of birds in Hyderabad
Much like the rest of the country, Hyderabad too has witnessed an alarming reduction in birds over the last few years due to rampant expansion and climate change. Even the seasonal birds that would normally migrate to the city, have disappeared in recent times.
“This year, rains have been very scarce. Lot of migrant birds would come from Central Asia, to places like Gandipet and Himayath Sagar. But if there is no water at all, they will go somewhere else. Even if there is excess rains and when there is muddy water, there is nothing to eat for the birds so they don’t come. In peninsular India, lot of migration of birds depends upon weather conditions,” Shafaat Ullah observes.
Giving an example of one such rare breed disappearing from the city’s landscape, he says, “The great Indian Bustard would often be seen at bird sanctuaries. However, over the last two to three years, none of us have been able to see this bird. This is either due to too many black bucks coming up or because the cropping pattern has changed since dams have come up. About ten to twelve years ago, we used to see eight to ten Bustards wherever we went. But now we aren’t seeing the Bustards. So this is a very dangerous trend.”
The BSAP secretary also laments the fact that politicians are doing little to preserve natural resources in the country.
“We are constantly expanding. We require more land for factories, universities, housing, etc. For this to happen, forests and sanctuaries are disappearing,” he rues.” To give you an example, Kolleru Lake is the largest freshwater lake system in Asia. It has been declared as a sanctuary upto five feet contour. Now Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu wants it to be reduced from five ft Contour to three ft Contour, which means half the sanctuary will disappear. There are millions of birds coming here every year. What will happen to them?
The AP CM wants to take away the reserve forests around Amaravati for building the capital city. If the Chief Minister himself does this, then what will happen to the plight of the birds?,” Shafaat furiously questions.
Shafaat, an avid bird watcher, reflects back to two decades ago in Hyderabad and says there has been a drastic change in the number of birds spotted on a daily basis.
“I live in Road number 3, Banjara hills, we built our house in 1992. At the time there were so many open spaces around our house that atleast 16 to 18 species of birds I used to count in our neighbourhood. Today, there are hardly four or five species of birds. This is because all the open spaces are all filled up. There is no place for them to come,” he says, with a heavy heart. Many bird watchers in the city feel that even birds that were once commonly seen, have now become a rare sight on city roads.
“Even crows and sparrows are becoming a rarity on Hyderabad roads. Pigeons have totally taken over our city’s landscape. This could also be harmful to our human health as they are likely carry a lot of pests, which can impact human health. There are some species of birds which are in huge numbers, whereas there are some species which you do not see at all,” laments Farida Tampal, director, WWF Hyderabad.
While the advancement of technology has often been criticised for damaging natural species, Farida feels that it’s mainly due to loss of habitat and fluctuating climate that is affecting the bird population. “A lot of people say it is because of cell phone towers but that is incorrect. It is primarily due to loss of habitat. Some birds require the presence of tall trees, but we don’t have tall trees. So even that has an impact on the diversity of birds that we see in a city like Hyderabad,” she adds.
Species added to Red List
Among eight species newly added to the Red List, five have been uplisted (a sign of increased threat) from Least Concerned to Near Threatened category. These include Northern Lapwing, a grassland bird and four wetland birds – Red Knot, Curlew Sandpiper, Eurasian Oystercatcher and Bar-Tailed Godwit. Two other wetland birds – Horned Grebe and Common Pochard have been uplisted from Least Concerned to Vulnerable. Steppe Eagle, a raptor from grasslands and a regular winter visitor to the sub-continent, has been uplisted from Least Concerned to Endangered. Amidst this negative news, there is positive news that the passage migrant – European Roller – has been downlisted from Near Threatened to Least Concerned. In 2014, eight new species were added to the Red List – Woolly-necked Stork, Andaman Teal, Andaman Green Pigeon, Ashy-headed Green Pigeon, Red-headed Falcon, Himalayan Griffon, Bearded Vulture and Yunnan Nuthatch.