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Report shows dramatic rise in India’s peacock count in last 25 years; 50% of other birds record decline

The State of India's Bird 2020 report assesses the status of 867 Indian birds using a massive database of information contributed by at least 15,500 birdwatchers from across the country

Written by Esha Roy | New Delhi | Published: February 17, 2020 5:12:25 pm
In contrast to the Peafowl, 50% of other Indian species of birds have declined over this time period. (File Photo)

The numbers of India’s national bird, the Indian Peafowl/Peacock, has increased dramatically over the past few decades, while the numbers of vultures and eagles have decreased in the country, says the State of India’s Bird 2020 released at the 13th Conference of Parties of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (under the UN) taking place in Gandhinagar.

In contrast to the Peafowl, 50% of other Indian species of birds have declined over this time period. The State of India’s Bird 2020 report assesses the status of 867 Indian birds using a massive database of information contributed by at least 15,500 birdwatchers from across the country and has used `citizen science data’ to assess the distribution and trends in abundance of birds that regularly occur in the country.

The report identifies species that are high in conservation concern, and those that are doing relatively well. The analysis indicates 48% of species have remained stable or increasing in the long term, while 79% show declines in the last five years.

In all, 101 species have been classified as of high conservation concern. “The report highlights common species that are declining sharply; these need conservation attention before their numbers reduce further,” says Dr R Jayapal (SACON).

The groups that show the greatest decline are raptors, migratory shorebirds, and habitat specialists, including White-rumped Vulture, Richard’s Pipit, Indian Vulture, Large-billed Leaf Warbler, Pacific Golden Plover and Curlew Sandpiper.

The species that have shown an increase in numbers over the past 25 years include Rosy Starling, Feral Pigeon, Glossy Ibis, Plain Prinia and the Ashy Prinia.

Of the 261 species for which long-term trends could be determined, 52% have declined since the year 2000, with 22% declining strongly. In all, 43% of species showed a long-term trend that was stable and 5% showed an increasing trend. Current annual trends could be estimated for 146 species and of these, nearly 80% are declining, with almost
50% declining strongly. Just over 6% are stable and 14% increasing.

For instance, the House Sparrow has been found to be roughly stable across the country as a whole, although declining in the major cities. “Reasons for the supected decline of this species are a matter of much speculation and are believed to include decreasing insect populations (a key part of the diet of sparrow chicks) and paucity of
suitable nesting sites. The popular theory that radiation from mobile phone towers is a factor is not supported by current evidence. Despite the widespread notion that the House Sparrow is declining in India, the analysis presented in this report suggests that the species has been fairly stable overall during the past 25 years. Data from the six largest metro cities (Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Mumbai) do indicate a gradual decline in their abundance in urban centres,”says the report.

The Peafowl are spread across the plains and hills of India, except in extremely dry or wet regions. The increase in numbers of the species has been attributed to a combination of the bird expanding its range, for instance in to Kerala where it was formerly absent, and conservation efforts and associated penalties for poaching and poisoning under Schedule I of the Wildlife Act. Its expansion into Kerala has been attributed to the state’s “overall drying trend”.

The report points out that the Indian vultures have experienced catastrophic population declines starting in the early 1990s. The declines are almost entirely attributable to inadvertent poisoning by the livestock anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac. Surveys conducted by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has shown that White-rumped Vulture has suffered the most severe declines, followed by Indian Vulture and Egyptian Vulture.

The four species of bustards in India – the Great Indian Bustard, Macqueen’s Bustard, Lesser Florican and Bengal Florican, have all suffered continuous population declines because of historical hunting and widespread habitat loss, compounded with their slow growth and reproduction. The largest of them, the Great Indian Bustard, is classified as Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red List 2019 and has been included in the CMS list in the 13th COP, as announced by Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar earlier last week. Surveys carried out by different ornithologists, although not strictly comparable in methods, suggest a 90% decline in population size and distribution range over the past five decades.

Like most other groups, waterbirds show overall long-term declines, amongst which migratory shorebirds and gulls and terns appear to have declined the most, although waterfowl (ducks & geese) and other resident waterbirds (like swamphens, coots and storks) also show clearly discernible declines. Resident waterbirds have been showing
particularly severe declines in the past 5 years. Overall, migratory species (both long-distance and within-subcontinent) show steeper declines than residents.

“The 12 Western Ghats endemics included in this analysis are almost 75% lower in their abundance index today than before 2000, indicating a steep long-term decline. This is worrying, because these long-term declines are shown even by many common species like Crimson-backed Sunbird and Yellow-browed Bulbul,”says the report.

Apart from citizen data from birdwatchers, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), Foundation for Ecological Security (FES), National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), Sálim Ali Centre for
Ornithology and Natural History (SACON), Wetlands International South Asia (WI-SA), Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and World Wide Fund for Nature India (WWF-India) have worked on this report.

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