Cultivating bird-watching as a hobby

Post date: Dec 28, 2014 9:06:39 AM

Ability to identify the birds accurately in the field by their plumage, call, behavior is a pleasure. One need to go out of four walls for birds- thus it becomes a joy, thrill and a refreshing passion. Birding is much more than a recreational and healthy hobby; it is inexpensive, educative, artistic, scientific, and challenging; it also exposes to the field of photography, trekking, travel, and farming.

Most of us know few common birds around us, like Sparrow, Myna, Pigeon, Crow & Peafowl. These birds size, colour, beak, feather are not similar; even their call, behaviour, foraging and resting place is also different. Thoroughly observe the common birds found in your immediate vicinity for their structure, and behaviour. Eye for minute details and make a note in memory or scribble on a field note book. It is better to know Birds’ body parts, such as supercilium, ear covert, malar region, beak, etc for identification purpose. A better field guide will provide basic feature of every bird found in India. Field guides contains birds colour picture with important identity keys; describes range and habitat where they are normally found. To figure out the birds seen in the field, search the field guide for over all character, and habitat. Basics such as Seed eating bird has stout beak; nectar drinking thin, down curved beak will easily takes us to the group of birds to be referred in the field guide. Within few days beginner will be able to differentiate one bird from another by identification factors like how the bird flies, where it is found, what is its shape and size of the beak, tarsus etc., Start with your neighbourhood. You’ll be surprised and escalated by the sheer number and the beauty witnessed!

To know more about birds, it is essential to observe them with a meaningful purpose linked with their body structure and the habitat. It is possible to learn bird watching hobby using field guides without anybody’s help. However, learning process will be faster and better when a new entrant joins an experienced birding group or a seasoned birder at least for few days. After understanding the local species well, birder moves out to other localities in search of new birds. Depending on season, birders may visit habitats like forest, water body, marsh, grassland, and shoreline and so on. Even birders venture into vast stretches of ocean, travelling whole day just to have a glimpse of pelagic birds.

Best time to watch bird is early-morning. After nights roost, birds will emerge looking for energy-giving food. They will be more active and vocal, so easier to spot. Binocular will enhance the beauty of bird watching, since it enlarges the bird’s minute details; observer gets a better view enhancing the identification skills. Birding is also possible without binoculars. Many villagers identify most of the birds found in their locality by call, overall size and behavior. So, slowly and confidently a new entrant moves from backyard birds to rarities at different locations. Scribbled notes on location, date, time, weather condition, birds sighted, birds activity becomes a data and compiled over a period turns out to be a scientific document.

Birds diet varies, whatever the diet of birds all need water. So, easiest way to attract neighborhood birds is with a water supply. Better way to observe your local bird is offer a water supply to drink and bathe. With the arrival of winter, many more birds appear to drink water; they look different than the local ones and are migratory birds.

During learning process birder finds it difficult to identify few groups of birds like waders, warblers and birds of prey. Difficulty multiplies with the arrival of migratory birds in winter. Difference between species is so less, it requires better skill to separate the species and accurately identify them. Here, the experience counts.

Visit a bird sanctuary near your locality where reproductive activity takes place and observe the plumage variation, courtship display, nest building, mating, egg laying, incubation, and so on. Compare with available breeding information, report the differences in birding discussion groups or scientific journal and spread newly acquired breeding knowledge.

Most of the cases, birds congregate to take rest in the late evenings and disperse in the early morning. Varieties of birds are found in roosting places like island, woodland, unused building, and open grassland. Staying in group provides protection to the birds. Such roosting birds’ congregation can be seen in Kukkarahalli, Lingambudhi and Karanji tanks within Mysore city. Few solitary birds rest in a bush, trees near human settlements.

Previously, elite class alone was practicing bird watching. After independence, people from all strata of society made it. Only resource book available for Indian birds was Salim Ali’s field guide- ‘Book of Indian Birds’ , published in 1941, comprising 242 common birds out of 1200 species then known. Later it was revised to 538 species; two valuable Field-guides by Grimmett & Krys containing all Indian sub-continent birds appeared in 2000 are very popular. After 2005 re-revised and regional field guides, easily available binocular & spotting scope and the advent of digital era with affordable camera, audio devices, mobile & internet communication multiplied the bird watchers strength by many fold.

India being a tropical country with its diverse weather and vegetation features, there is no scarcity for birds. Around 1300 species of birds are found in India, almost 10% of world account -10,241. Karnataka state is harboring around 550 bird species. Mysore region comprising Mandya, Chamarajanagar & Mysore district amounts to 344 species, comprising of 189 Residents, 106 winter visitors, 16 Passage migrants, and 34 Vagrants. Such accurate bird information is due to active bird-watchers presence since 1980.

Increasing number of people volunteering to take part in bird census, bird monitoring and bird photography events indicates the growing popularity. So, a hobby resulted in better understanding of our birds and their diversity. The baseline data provided by these amateur birders helps ecologist and conservationist. The outcome proliferates into new bird field guides, helps in protection and conservation of important habitats. The branch of Ornithology is most studied and well understood out of all Life science subjects just because of amateur birders. Global level migratory birds, their flyway are well understood because of worldwide involvement of amateur birdwatchers.

Fig: Great Indian Hornbill

Fig: Artists impressions of birds

Birding is a popular pastime worldwide and people from all walks of life and age participate in it. Earlier the better; introducing the children to the hobby at middle school level would be more appropriate and rewarding.

What makes birding so popular? Birds are omnipresent, they are found in urban & rural area, lakes & tanks, Desert, forests, snow capped mountains & even sky. So, wherever you are you can watch birds all the 24 hours. They are clearly visible with naked eye and are also audible. Bird watching activity induces many questions, such as - sipping nectar, in which flower; hunted an insect – what insect; eating a fruit – which fruit; building a nest – on which tree, such questions and learning process takes us in to the more deeper nature world. And moreover, bird’s common name is easy to remember and recall. It is not so in mammal, butterfly and floral watching. In the case of Mammal observation we need to visit wildlife sanctuaries that may be far off; we may visit once but not repetitively. In Butterfly watching, diversity fluctuation is high and seasonal, requires to visit the location where good vegetation persist; in addition, its small size prevents common men from choosing it as a hobby. Difficult to remember botanical names and absence of common names for most of the species discourages common man taking Flora or Flower watch as a hobby.

There is a huge volume of printed and digital information on birds. This may give feeling that there is hardly anything to learn about birds, but this is not really so. Much information like -behavioral difference, difference in seasonal status, presence of a species in a particular location is not found in many bird books.

Many birdwatchers know their local birds, distribution pattern, seasonal variation and local movements that are not found in any of the bird books. There exists a lot of information spread among the birdwatchers. Such information never had a chance to come into the bird books. All these years we were not having a methodology or a system to gather bits of information. But, the present digital age has given way for collaborative study known as ‘crowd sourcing’ from entire world and publishing the result instantly, in various understandable formats online.

Now, in India we have many well illustrated region-wise field guides. But, information generated from the bird watching hobby is not corresponding with birders growth. Moreover, birders distribution is also not uniform. Most of the birders are from the larger cities. So, it is time to rope in enthusiastic minds from rural and suburb regions into bird watching hobby.

There are many local birding groups in India. To name a few – Bengaluru birds, Mysuru nature, Kolkata birds, birds of Mumbai, Delhi birds, Coastal Karnataka Birders network, North-Karnataka Birders network. Obviously, these local birding groups are highly informative and have potential to gather long term information. Though the information collected is small, but the sum total would be significant.

In some cases, we know more about many rare bird species than most of the common species just because funding agencies support only rare species. The fast evolving Internet communication has set right the anomaly since amateur birders contribution is many fold higher than the funded studies and they report all the bird species that come across their way.

Do you know Bird watching hobby harms birds? Disturbance to birds and their habitat, decline in breeding pair, affecting local culture are the few negative impacts, understood to have generated with the increase in numbers of birdwatchers and not following the birders ethics. We must keep in mind that birds are not here for our enjoyment. Since we love them to see, shall help them to survive by following few code of conduct that is in practice since long. They are -maintain a safe distance from birds and nests, don’t alter or clear the vegetation around nest for better view or photography, do not harass birds for photo, strictly no breeding photos unless required for scientific study, not to playback the birds call to attract birds using audio devices, do not wear shining or fast color dresses, do not make noise, and do not trespass private property or protected forests.

To conclude, let’s see what Salim Ali’s said about bird watching; -‘There is a belief that one can’t make a living from bird watching, perhaps to some extent it is true. On the contrary, humans can’t live on bread alone. There are many people just idling without such hobbies often uttering the word ‘boring’ during their young age till retirement and death. Birds provide a beauty and fulfillment that is vital to our quality life.’


  • Birds: Beyond watching, A.J.Urfi (2004)
  • Collaborative Bird Study, In the digital era by L. Shyamal (2006)