This Pongal, go bird watching with your family for at least 15 minutes, list and count all the species you see and contribute to scientific data
Bird-lovers in Pondicherry are hoping the rarely spotted red-necked falcon keeps its date during the annual Pongal Bird Count (PBC) which takes place January 14-17. “We have seen the bird regularly for the past five years. We hope to see a breeding pair this time around, ”says Surendhar Boobalan, a teacher at a government school in Pondicherry, who has been practicing birding for over eight years.
The PBC is an annual bird monitoring program in which the people of Tamil Nadu observe the birds for at least 15 minutes and upload sightings, lists and documentation to an online platform (ebird). The event is coordinated by Tamil Birders Network and Bird Count India. It was during the first annual PBC six years ago that Surendhar and his team first spotted hawks at Lake Bahour, the second largest lake in Pondicherry. “We documented the bird’s nesting on the palm trees. Ospreys can also be seen wintering here now, ”he says.
How to start?
- From January 14 to 17, look for birds around you for 15 minutes from anywhere, whether it’s by a pond or lake, on the patio or balcony of your home.
- List all the birds you see at ebird.org/india/home. You can also download the ebird app to your phone and submit your list there.
- To learn more, visit the Tamil Birders Network YouTube page
- To learn more about Bihu Bird Count, visit https://birdcount.in/event/bihu-bird-count-2021/
They plan to cover 40 lakes (out of the 86 lakes in Pondicherry) in four days. “We combine it with the Asian waterbird census and visit as many wetlands as possible where we also assess the health of the wetlands and the threat they face from plastic waste, encroachment, poaching and pollution. We record migratory birds like garganes, ducks, northern diggers, godwits and terns, as well as resident birds like egrets and herons. We also cover urban birds like house sparrows, house crows and mynahs en route to wetlands, ”adds Surendhar.
For the little story
Members of the Salem Ornithological Foundation will also do the same. “In the past, we have registered 185 species and submitted over 2,000 checklists which were the most of any district in Tamil Nadu. Due to the pandemic, we will split up into smaller teams of three to four bird watchers and count the whole district, ”says Angeline Mano, bird educator and executive coordinator of the foundation.
Naturalists say bird counting is a great way to encourage beginners in birding. The final data provides valuable information on the distribution and abundance of Tamil Nadu birds. It also covers a variety of habitats, including coastal regions, hilly terrain, and urban areas.
P Jeganathan, wildlife biologist at the Valparai-based Nature Conservation Foundation, draws a parallel with the holiday tradition of the annual Christmas bird counting in the United States, where birders begin to count birds in the neighborhood.
“It started in the early 1970s in the United States. Information gathered by citizens has made it possible to track and study the population of Eurasian Collared Doves which were not found in the early 1990s. Such regular monitoring still contributes to scientific data. It was the bird count of Onam in Kerala that inspired us to do something similar for Pongal in Tamil Nadu.
The citizen science initiative has now encouraged birders in Assam to organize the Bihu Bird Count (BBC). This is happening around the same time and documents the diversity of birds in Assam. “This is a great opportunity for people to understand birds in a systematic way,” says Assam-based bird watcher Jaydev Mandal as he prepares for the second edition of the BBC this year.
“Bihu is an important harvest festival for Assam. It is that time of year when the land is home to several species of migratory birds from around the world. Last year we recorded over 300 species. The spotted dove was the most frequently observed species. We also observed the little white-fronted goose after several decades. We want to promote the association of the festival with nature.
Jeganathan, who leads the activity across Tamil Nadu, says the goal is to encourage scientific research among the public. “It sparks interest and sets the tone for the next Global Backyard Bird Count in February. Ultimately, it makes them aware of conservation, ”he adds.