The wetland bird count in the Kaziranga National Park and Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary – two major bird habitats of the State – has revealed a welcome picture, with more birds thronging the two wildlife reserves compared to earlier years in recent times. While Kaziranga yielded the presence of a total of 93,491 birds belonging to 112 species, Pobitora accounted for 58 species with over 24,000 individuals. Periodical monitoring and assessment of avian populations should be integral to conservation efforts, given the intimate linkages between many bird species and their habitats. The presence or absence of birds that are sensitive to any changes to their habitat can help identify ecosystem health. Even behavioural changes can inform us about changing ecosystems. Indeed, such experiments linking habitat health with birds as indicators have been quite effective in identifying degrading habitat and environmental pollution. Significantly, they also provide us the metrics to determine the success of restoration efforts. Since bird numbers are critical indicators of the quality of a habitat, they can also be used to measure the effectiveness of habitat restoration. Often, our conservation strategy tends to be mega species-centric in view of their popular appeal. But the reality is that all species are interlinked in the complex web of life and any imbalance can trigger a cascading effect, impacting all. Any change for the worse in the ecology of Kaziranga’s wetlands, for example, will not impact birds alone. Animals and birds cutting across species will bear the brunt of any adverse change, as these life-giving wetlands nourish and sustain much of Kaziranga’s famed wildlife habitat. Birds also help maintain sustainable population levels of their prey and predator species and, after death, provide food for scavengers and decomposers. As pollinators or seed dispersers, many birds facilitate plant reproduction through their services.

Another fascinating aspect concerning birds is that unlike wild animals, many species of birds are not endemic to protected forests. They can be found in large numbers, especially across the State’s many wetlands. Even the urban landscape and our backyards shelter many species. It should, therefore, be our collective endeavour to provide a secure space to the birds that live outside forests. It is good to see bird counts taking place outside forests nowadays and these initiatives can go a long way in creating mass awareness and boosting conservation efforts. The lack of adequate security to bird habitats falling outside protected forests has emerged as a major concern, with birds being trapped, poisoned and killed on a large scale. Assam boasts of an enviable avian diversity, with 820 of the country’s 1,200 species occurring here. Of these some 50 species are facing extinction threat – thanks to poaching and habitat loss. As it is not possible for the Forest Department to protect all the bird habitats, community efforts are a must to secure safe space for our invaluable avifauna. NGOs, district administrations, police and panchayat bodies need to act in tandem to preserve bird habitats and birds.