BY PAUL FERNANDES
Amidst a worrisome decline in bird populations in India and globally, ten avian species have been listed as being species of highest conservation priority (HCP) for Goa in the report State of India’s Birds 2023.
The latest assessment report released by ATREE (Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment), BNHS (Bombay Natural History Society), WWF (World Wildlife Fund) and other organisations evaluated the conservation status of 942 birds found in India, mainly relying on data uploaded by birdwatchers on the eBird portal.
Out of these, 178 were classified as high-priority species for various states and union territories, 323 moderate and 441 low. On the positive side, 217 species were stable or showing growth in population during the last eight years, as per the report.
“In all, 178 species are categorised as of High Conservation Priority: 94 based on both abundance trends and range, 45 based on range being Very Restricted, and an additional 39 based on a combination of their range and IUCN Red List status,” the report states.
Goa’s list includes the Malabar grey hornbill, the black-capped kingfisher and the white-bellied blue flycatcher, among seven other species.
The Goa Bird Conservation Network (GBCN) is studying the report, but other birders and experts while appreciating the status report opined that more comprehensive surveys could be done while determining the HCP list for Goa.
“The bird watchers from Goa who uploaded the data concentrated on a few locations. But having information that is uniformly spread across the state would strengthen the State of India’s Birds (report) for Goa,” Pronoy Baidya, a birder and head of research division, Arannya Environment Research Organisation (AERO), Goa, says.
From shore birds to wetlands and forest species, the state has amazing avian biodiversity and more than 450 species have been documented by birders in Goa. AERO along with 24 partner organisations, including the Goa Forest Department, the Goa State Wetlands Authority, the Centre for Environment Education, Goa University, BNHS and others is in the process of compiling an atlas of Goan birds.
“There is surely great scope to enlarge the HCP list as many more species are facing severe threats or are being seen less and less. Among these are the Indian grey hornbill, the crab plover, the pied avocet, flamingos, the great knot, the jacksnipe and the Eurasian bittern, to name a few,” Justino Rebello, a Verna-based birder says.
“If you go to any birding spot in Goa, especially near wildlife sanctuaries, you can easily spot 25 to 30 species of birds or even more. It can be a rewarding experience," says Rebello.
The status report itself concedes that insufficient data is a setback and monitoring “is needed to understand the trends of these species with small range sizes”.
On the positive side, the report says that 217 out of 942 species have been stable or increasing in the last eight years.
But the significant decline in arrivals of migratory ducks has been ruffling feathers in Goa for many years. In one of the findings, it was noted that the average population of migratory ducks had dropped sharply.
From 44,000 individuals in 1987-1990, the population had reduced to a mere 5,000 individuals in 2013-2018, as per the findings of an All Goa Waterbird Count 2018 by Baidya, who was then Goa state coordinator, Asian Waterbird Census – Wetlands International.
Development impacts on habitats, influx of pollutants, stoppage of agricultural activities and changes in land use patterns were identified as some of the factors responsible for the fall in bird population.
An important bird and biodiversity area like Carambolim, which once boasted of a plentiful bird population of different species, has been impacted by haphazard development on its periphery.
Confirming the drop in migratory bird arrivals, Mandar Bhagat, the president of GBCN, said that a rough analysis of data in citizens’ science platforms like ebird indicates this serious decline.
“This decline is endorsed by the latest State of India’s Birds report. Although climate change is one of the factors for the decline, a comprehensive study on this aspect is yet to be done in Goa. There might be regional-level factors, too,” Mandar Bhagat says.
Raptors, migratory shorebirds, and ducks have declined the most, while birds that live in key habitats like open ecosystems, rivers, and coasts have declined, according to the report.
“A majority of species in this criterion (178) is declining in both long-term and current annual trends, and there is an urgent need to research the reasons in order to formulate mitigation strategies to arrest the declines,” the report also states.