Birdwatching and its ecological footprint on bird’s habitat

Over the last decade or so there has been an exponential growth in the number of birdwatchers in India and abroad. The trend is especially evident amongst the millennial and the development of this nature-based tourism has indeed been dynamic. One of the major attractions for the birders is also “bird photography”. With the advent of sophisticated digital cameras, telephoto lenses, free access to photo-editing software and freedom to post and present pictures of rare birds to the rest of the world using social media platforms has resultantly made birding, bird photography, nature and wildlife photography the buzz of the day. Birding destinations and hotspots have developed across the globe. Some of the most popular ones being the rain forests in Costa Rica in Central America, Philippines, Bhutan, etc., where birders flock to for birdwatching.

Bird-based tourism and professional bird guides have grown in numbers in India as well especially in the north eastern states like Arunachal Pradesh where there is Mishmi Hills, Eagle Nest Wild Life Sanctuary and the Western Ghats, the two biodiversity hotspots of India. India’s ecosystem is diverse and thus is very rich in avifauna with more than 1,364 recorded species of which 81 are endemic. Today, many wildlife photography sites and groups have been established posting attractive photos and attracting more and more people to join the groups. With voluminous information about bird sighting, global bird databases are also being recorded that provides and archives valuable information about the behavior, migration patterns and nature of birds. An increasing overall awareness about protecting nature, environment and wildlife is being observed in all strata of society.

However, everything comes with a price! The trend today is not  just restricted to presenting a good photograph of a bird. There is an alarming level of competition growing among birders when it comes to posting better pictures than the rest. So much so that many a times in the process of taking good pictures the technique adopted to photograph a bird can have an adverse effect on the bird. Photographing birds in nests is strictly discouraged and has been banned in most of the photo competitions because birds have been found to desert their nests even with eggs or chicks if they are disturbed.

Another issue which is a concern is attracting birds by playing calls to photograph them. Several websites and phone apps are easily available that has a database of bird calls and bird songs. When one uses them through a smart phone or a bluetooth speaker then some of the birds get attracted and come very close to the birder. Not all birds respond to the calls but many of them do, especially the smaller birds in their habitat and more so during their breeding season.

Playing calls to attract a bird is controversial and the birding community is divided on this issue. Some believe that attracting a bird using its call may interfere with their social and community life and may have detrimental consequences during their real time of breeding when they communicate through calls and songs. Others however disagree. They argue that using bird calls have helped photographers to capture the photos of many small birds which otherwise would not have been photographed and known to mankind. These photographs enrich our knowledge about these small birds and give us an opportunity to appreciate their beauty and know about their life and habitat. Thus, only time will tell whether playing calls to attract bird is correct or incorrect. However, bird watching which traditionally was considered ecologically benign can still be encouraged but stake holders in this recreational space need to facilitate increased ecological awareness and conservation of bird habitats.  

Dr Nilansu Das
Dr Nilansu Das
Dr Nilansu Das is a biologist and a wildlife enthusiast. At present he is a faculty at the Surendranath College, Kolkata.

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