Recently, the auditorium of the Goa Science Centre at Miramar, Panjim, was buzzing with varied bird calls, giving one the illusion of being in a forest. However, it was the wonder created by environment educator and bird expert, Kiran Purandare. He is noted for mimicking the calls of 70 different species of birds.
Purandare, who has been studying birds for more than three decades, was delivering a lecture on the topic, ‘Benefits of watching birds’ during the 8th Carl D’Silva Memorial Lecture organised by the Goa Bird Conservation Network (GBCN).
MORE THAN A HOBBY
During his lecture, he spoke about birds and various facets of nature, since studying birds can help to learn about seasonal changes, weather, nature conservation, the overall ecosystem of a place, ornithology (study of birds), languages (by way of studying local names), and even poetry.
He noted that bird watching was an inexpensive hobby, where one requires just binoculars and a notepad.
He advised that it is always necessary to keep a diary for bird watchers as documentation is a very important exercise. He stated this by narrating his interaction with Dr Salim Ali, the birdman of India, when he was just 17.
“When I met him, he asked me whether I keep a diary. When I showed it to him, he was very happy. He told me, whenever you see a bird’, make a note of it. Write the name, place, date, etc,” said Purandare, further pointing out that such notes can help in citizen science, as well as while writing research papers, etc.
Speaking further about bird-watching, Purandare maintained that it makes you good listeners as bird watching is mainly the art of listening to bird calls. It also makes you patient and can take you places, literally.
He informed that it was a hobby that one could do even while sitting at home, and gave the example of his friend who documented 150 species of birds by watching them outside his window. He was staying at Panchagani, the habitat-rich place.
ON THE DECLINE
He elaborated about the overall decline of backyard birds. He opined that this is due to a decline in the insect population, which is the main food of these birds. He said the best way to bring birds back to our backyards is by planting native plants and trees.
Speaking of birds, he gave the example of kingfishers, hornbills and eagles, since they are biological indicators. Kingfishers, all over the world, are declining due to the overall pollution of aquatic habitat which affects the fish population, and in turn, the kingfishers since they mainly feed on fish.
Hornbills are indicators of rich rainforests along the Western Ghats, Eastern Ghats and some parts of the Himalayas. As they feed mainly on fruiting trees, they need to migrate to various places.
“There is a clear cut decline in larger hornbills across the sub-continent. It is mainly due to habitat destruction and fragmentation of a habitat.”
He said that it was important to protect large trees like ficus trees, which mainly consists of banyan and peepal trees. They provide a lot of food to birds, including hornbills. He informed that there was a group in Pune, which was working on protecting and mapping of such large trees and convincing people not to cut them, since such trees are keystone species.
Speaking of bald eagles he said that their population was declining due to the use of insecticides and pesticides.
CHALLENGES & SUGGESTIONS
Purandare suggested that birdwatchers could start by observing areas of birds throughout the year to know what’s happening in terms of habitat, population, etc. and note down these changes.
Elaborating on different aspects related to birds, he spoke about bird tourism. He said that this was an emerging industry, but there is a need to follow some ethics. He suggested involving the local population who have been living there for ages.
He gave the example of the Gond tribe with whom he has been working for many years at a place called Nagzirah in Maharashtra. He informed that they watch birds with naked eyes without any gadgets, and identify them based on their calls. He termed them as ‘natural bird watchers.’
Speaking of ethics in bird watching, he spoke about bird watchers who play back recorded bird calls, which is highly unethical and one should not participate in such activities.
He said, “Playing back bird calls disturbs the daily activities of birds, especially their foraging pattern. Sometimes those calls are challenging to them. If territorial calls are played, birds become very attentive and can get into a different type of a mode altogether. If you keep challenging those birds again and again, their foraging pattern shortens.”
“Also, using flashlights at night, to watch owls, is very disturbing to other species which are around. Then, while walking on the forest floor at night, you may be hampering so many species on ground. So, one should not indulge in such activities,” elaborated Purandare.
Regarding owls, he pointed out that one can help these species by saving old trees, houses and the remains of hill forts. He gave the example of a group in Bengaluru, which is working with INTACH as they work towards protecting owls and heritage monuments, respectively.
He then spoke about individual bird species by mimicking their calls – such as the Greater coucal, common iora, copper smith barbet, Indian pitta, Laughing dove, common hawk cuckoo, rocket tail drongo, to name a few.
During his talk, Purandare also spoke about the construction of natural water holes that have helped in reducing man-animal conflicts in many parts of Maharashtra, and have become a safe haven for many species of birds, insects, mammals, etc. There are now 4,500 such water holes all over Maharashtra and also one in Sirsi, Karnataka.
These ponds are made from hay, stones, gravel and a thick plastic sheet to arrest the evaporation of water. They are built at a specific places between a village and a forest. Thus, animals like leopards do not venture into villages in search of water, and so, reduce the man-animal conflict.
It was noted that constructing water ponds, using concrete, is becoming extremely dangerous for birds, especially when the water level decreases. This leads in drowning and eventual death of birds.
Concrete also heats up with sunlight, which in turn, increases the temperature of the water, too. And so, such natural water holes are required which does not disturb the habitat. These water holes are an ideal place to map and document various species of birds and other animals.
Purandare suggested building a hideout near such water bodies. It can encourage bird watchers, bird photographers, and in turn the local population by paying a certain fee for its usage. He informed that he once stayed in one such hideout for 51 hours at a stretch, studying birds and other creatures.
Speaking of urban spaces and birds, he noted that it was necessary to have open spaces and open soils as water percolation is very important. Many insects are found in such open soils, which are food for birds. He suggested that one should not concretize any such spaces, especially in one’s garden.
Have a space in one’s garden, where wild and native shrubs are allowed to grow. He added that one should not feed birds as they get ample food in the wild and every bird’s food is different. He gave the example of feeding pigeons, whose population is very high in urban areas and their excreta is the reason for many respiratory diseases among humans.
He added that one should not have a bird bath where there are feral cats or dogs are around. It would drastically reduce the bird population in that area.
In general, he encouraged people to watch birds and the overall habitat in order to have a healthy ecology which in turn also helps our well-being.