Highlights of the ‘State of India's Birds 2023’ Report

The "State of India's Birds 2023: Range, trends, and conservation status" report is a comprehensive assessment that offers insights into the distribution, population trends, and conservation status of bird species in India. This monumental effort, involving over 30 million bird observations contributed by a diverse community of more than 30,000 bird enthusiasts, researchers, and citizen scientists through the eBird platform, serves as a vital tool in understanding and addressing the challenges of India's avian populations. This report assesses the status of a total of 942 bird species, and fills a vast gap in information, as traditional conservation efforts have often centred on charismatic, endangered species, leaving many others overlooked and in need of urgent attention.

The report presents a blend of encouraging and concerning findings. Certain bird populations, such as the Asian Koel and Indian Peafowl, have shown notable increases over the past three decades. However, the report also raises concerns by highlighting the declining populations of birds in critical habitats like open ecosystems, rivers, and coasts, along with significant decline in population of raptors, migratory shorebirds, and ducks.

To understand the dynamics of bird populations, the report has strategically categorised species into different groups based on shared ecology, including factors such as habitat, diet, and behaviour. This allows for a more distinct analysis of population trends, shedding light on the underlying mechanisms driving these changes and facilitating the identification of specific conservation interventions needed.

In the report, this approach takes centre stage as it examines birds within specific groupings, offering a deeper understanding of the nuances within India's avian populations. These groupings encompass:

•    Ecological Groups: This category delves into the diverse dietary and habitat specialisations, migration and endemicity. 
•    Habitat Groups: The report also scrutinises birds based on their habitat affiliations, including those residing in open habitats, rivers and coast ecosystems.

•    Taxonomic Groups: Beyond ecology and habitat, the report considers taxonomic groupings. This includes the study of raptors, vultures, hornbills, woodpeckers, ducks, large waterbirds, and bustards.

This approach allows us to move beyond broad generalisations and enables conservationists to tailor their efforts to the unique requirements of each group, ensuring that interventions are both effective and precise. By recognising the ecological, habitat, and taxonomic factors at play, we can develop conservation strategies that address the specific challenges faced by different bird communities.

The report identifies eight major threats to Indian birds, encompassing a wide range of challenges including monoculture, environmental pollutants, forest degradation, urbanisation, energy infrastructure, avian disease, illegal hunting and trade and climate change.

To address these challenges effectively, concerted efforts are needed, including policies and actions that prioritise high priority species. Neglected habitats require immediate attention, and robust research and systematic monitoring are essential components of any successful conservation strategy.

The report serves as a clarion call for action, urging policymakers and conservationists to unite their efforts in safeguarding high priority species. It stresses the critical need to act proactively to prevent common species from deteriorating to a point where they require crisis management. 

The report goes beyond its comprehensive assessment by providing priority species lists tailored to Indian states, addressing unique conservation needs. Nagaland's list includes species like Naga Wren Babbler and Blyths Tragopan, ensuring precise and well-informed local conservation efforts.

Emphasising systematic, long-term bird population monitoring in India, the report recognises the need for in-depth investigation beyond citizen science data. It introduces six monitoring programs, focusing on various regions, ecosystems, and species. These initiatives aim to unravel the complexities of bird population changes, considering factors like land use and climate change.

These programs, such as the Hornbill Nest Adoption Program and Asian Waterbird Census, employ diverse methodologies to monitor bird populations over time. The report also raises questions about the causes of bird population declines, including land use changes and invasive species, stressing the importance of establishing a nationwide systematic bird monitoring program in India.

The report mentions a two-fold approach to conservation in India and globally: one focuses on endangered species groups, while the other aims to maintain common species populations to prevent crisis. It advocates for comprehensive conservation plans for 178 high-priority species, including monitoring, research, identifying causes of decline, and mitigation measures. For 323 moderately prioritised species, it suggests early warning systems and action plans. Additionally, it emphasises monitoring species groups vital to ecosystems and the urgency of saving critically threatened species.

Research holds immense significance in conservation, especially regarding species, habitats, and human impacts. The report calls for a supportive research environment, effective biodiversity monitoring, and encourages citizen science participation. It stresses the need for improved research funding, infrastructure, interdisciplinary collaboration, and favourable research policies to address regulatory challenges.

Laws and policies play a critical role in species and habitat conservation, providing a legal framework and regulating pollutants. The report highlights that many declining species inhabit areas beyond formal Protected Areas, necessitating policies involving local communities and governments. It suggests integrating bird conservation into water and wetland management policies and advocates for flexible, management-oriented conservation laws and policies to adapt to changing species circumstances.

The "State of India's Birds 2023" report is an exceptional undertaking that provides in-depth insights into India's avian populations. The report serves as a guiding beacon for conservation efforts, stressing on the critical importance of protecting both endangered and common species and addressing threats such as habitat loss, pollution, and climate change. Categorising bird species into distinct groups based on shared characteristics enhances our understanding and directs targeted conservation actions, reinforcing the urgency of preserving fragile ecosystems for the future. It is imperative that policies and actions align to prioritise the conservation of species in need, revitalising neglected habitats, and ensuring that robust research and systematic monitoring underpin conservation endeavours.

The Degree of Thought Column is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. The column explored contemporary social, cultural, political, and educational issues and challenges around us. However, the views expressed here do not reflect the opinion of the institution. Tetso College is a NAAC-accredited, UCG-recognized Commerce and Arts college. Currently, the Degree of Thought Column is managed by the department of Mass Communication, and the editorial team are Dr Jenny Lalmuanpuii, KC Gabriela and Rinsit Sareo. For feedback or comments, please email: dot@tetsocollege.org.