Pune Bird Atlas: A people’s project to map the city’s bird diversity

It aims to create baseline data that could be the reference point for any conservation activity in the city.

Credit : Indie Journal

Pune: Several environmentalists and bird watchers in Pune have come together this year, for the first time, to understand the distribution and abundances of birds in the city. Pune Bird Atlas, as the project is called, is the first of its kind project in Maharashtra that aims to understand the biodiversity in the city and create a baseline data that could possibly be the reference point for any conservation activity in the city. This is a citizen science project that is using the global bird citizen science platform eBird to document the birds over the duration of the project.

“Here, we have divided the whole city, that is the area that is within the limits of the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), into around 200 grids. We have covered the area of 336 sq. km. by dividing it into grids of 1.1x1.1 sq. km. Presently we have 67 birders who are part of this project, who are entrusted with the work of walking across the different corners of the grid assigned to them, and taking a 15-minute checklist of the birds that they find. The recordings of the birds will be taken during two major periods, the dry period from January to April and the wet period from September onward,” said Pune-based ornithologist and MIT WPU assistant professor Pankaj Koparde.

While the project began in February this year, it came to an abrupt halt within a month’s time, as the nationwide lockdown began due to the Coronavirus outbreak. “However, within that time period, our birders have recorded around 117 species of birds in 38 grids. Along with birds, we are also doing habitat sampling to locate areas in the city with more canopied trees, vegetation, hills, etc. We are hoping to resume our work in November, only if the situation in Pune is better by then. The idea is to continue the project for at least three years,” Koparde said. Rock Pigeon, House Crow, Common Myna, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Red-vented Bulbul have been amongst the most frequently cited birds in the city till now, said Koparde.

In India, such bird mapping has already taken place in Mysuru (Karnataka) as well as the state of Kerala, which has recently completed its bird survey. “Pune Bird Atlas has adopted its protocol from these two projects. Similar Bird Atlas projects have also begun in Chandigarh, Guwahati and Coimbatore,” said Pooja Pawar, wildlife biologist, currently affiliated with Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore and Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad. Pawar is part of the core team for Pune Bird Atlas.



Birding for Conservation

“Along with surveying the diversity of birds and habitat sampling in the city, we also hope to aid the work of conservation management here. Pune is a rapidly developing city, and its landscape and land-use have been changing constantly. This survey will help us find out which birds we can find in the city, which birds have faced local extinction over the years, the condition of habitats within the city, etc. However, the mapping will also help find out the effects of urbanisation on city’s birds and what can be done to protect them,” Koparde said.

He also pointed out that while the conservation of hills in Pune is one of the major concerns for the city in face of the developmental projects, the availability of a baseline data through research like Pune Bird Atlas could help conservationists make a point to the policymakers as well as make the public aware.

“We hope that through this work, we will be able to help prioritise conservation and protect species that require attention urgently,” said biodiversity professional Kedar Champhekar, adding that such a study is being conducted in Pune after around 20 years. “It’s been a long time since someone attempted to study Pune’s birds extensively. Our survey will help conduct a comparative study with the data available from two decades ago, as well as it could be used as a reference for future conservation efforts,” Champhekar added.


Community Participation

While the use of Citizen Science was earlier frowned upon by some, the method is certainly emerging as an effective tool for many researchers these days and is actually helping in conservation. In fact, the ‘State of India’s Birds’ report released earlier this year also used the method for assessment of most of the bird species that regularly occur in India.

“The response that we received for this work has been amazing. Not just regular birders, but several amateur birders have also joined, and were willing to get trained for the participating. We have 67 birders, but we need even more, as more participants will enable us to cover a larger area in a shorter period of time,” Champhekar said. He also added that connecting amateurs birders and conservationists on a platform like this helps strengthen a network across the city, of people who could be reached out to for any kind of conservation issues.

“Right now, we have a core team that has been planning and coordinating for the project, but as we progress, it will be more and more of an open platform for all participants,” Pawar said. When asked if the Pune bird Atlas could be a model for other cities in Maharashtra, she added, “Certainly! We have strong birding communities in almost all our districts. With people’s participation, this kind of survey could certainly be carried out at a much larger scale. Anybody could do this using the standardised protocol.”