New India birds report highlight many losses, few gains

178 avian species classified as of High Conservation Priority, requiring immediate attention, many species like Pea Fowl thriving


August 30, 2023

The State of India’s Birds report has painted a positive as well as grim picture of the country’s avian species. This is the crux of the comprehensive second edition of the assessment report released on Friday. The first edition was released in 2020.

A total of 944 species of Indian birds were assessed in this report. Out of 348 species that could be assessed for long-term trends, 60 % of species showed long-term declines, whereas out of 359 species assessed for the current annual trend, 40 % of species were found to be declining currently.

Many bird species, however, are thriving even as a 150% increase has been witnessed in the abundance of peafowl across the country over the past decade, the report points out. Likewise, the report has classified 178 species of wild birds as of “High Conservation Priority”, highlighting these require “immediate attention “for conservation.

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 species (usually large, charismatic and threatened).

Based on more than 30m field observations, made by nearly 30,000 birdwatchers in India and logged in the online database eBird, researchers from these organisations analysed the 942 species for which they had enough data to determine their conservation priority as either high, moderate or low.

The researchers evaluate the distribution range size of 942 Indian birds, and their trends in abundance in both the long term (over 25+ years) and currently (since 2015), the report states. Using these three measures, plus information from the IUCN Red List of global threat status, this report places Indian species into Low, Moderate and High categories of Conservation Priority for India. A large number of species that are thought to be common and widespread find themselves as of High Conservation Priority.

As for threats, the Birds in India are known to be affected by factors including (but not limited to) land-use change, urbanisation, ecosystem degradation, monocultures, disease, infrastructure development, pet trade, hunting, pollution, and climate change, the report has pointed out. Wild bird populations and assemblages can be impacted by these threats in complex ways and at different spatial scales, it states.

The report – a partnership between the 13 conservation and research organisations including WWF and Wildlife Trust of India, has recommended an urgent reassessment of the status of 14 of these species, including the Indian roller, which is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as being of “least concern”.

The report states that the researchers found that nearly 60% of the 348 species studied over a period of 25 years showed long-term declines, whereas 40% of the 359 species assessed over the short term (since 2015) had also declined.

As per the report, raptor and duck populations had declined the most, while as numbers of several common species, such as the great grey shrike, were also falling. It pointed out that migratory birds were declining more rapidly than non-migratory ones.

Categorised by diet, carnivorous, insectivorous and grain-eating birds were found to have declined more rapidly than fruit- and nectar-eating types, the report has pointed out. The declines however are not spread uniformly across different types of species as some groups such as grassland specialists and migratory birds are particularly hard hit.

As per the report, 217 species were found to be stable or increasing in numbers. Like Feral rock pigeons, Asian koel and Indian peafowl were found to be doing well, but the impact of their increasing numbers on other, more vulnerable species is not known. Likewise, common birds like the Baya weaver and pied bushchat were also found to be relatively stable.

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