By Prakhar Rawal | Art by Rohan Sharma

Listen along to an audio version of this article HERE

I am a wildlife researcher. What did you think I did when you read that? Did you think of tigers,  elephants, bears or other enigmatic creatures, which I follow around with a camera like on  Discovery Channel? What if I told you for the past 18 months, I have been observing wildlife in  Delhi? Yes, you read that right! Right in the hustle-bustle of one of the most crowded cities in  the world, wildlife abounds.  

City and wildlife may seem like opposite terms, but if you live in a city, there is much more life  around you than you might notice. Over the past hundred years or so, humans have transformed  natural areas into concrete jungles for their needs. This has forced wildlife to move out of these places to make room for the human population. Despite this, some creatures have managed to adapt to city life, and live all around us! I am sure we all have observed butterflies sitting on flowers, snails crawling out after a rainfall, birds sitting on wires and even an occasional mongoose if we are lucky! 

Indian robin (Photo Credits: Priya Ranganathan)

I study birds in cities. When I say ‘birds in cities,’ I am guessing you thought of pigeons, crows  and cheel (black kites). But you will be surprised to know over 400 species of birds have been seen in Delhi alone! This is one-third of all birds found in India! Surprised, right? This isn’t just true for Delhi;  most  cities in India record many bird species. Next time you go on the Internet, open and enter the city where you live. You can find the number of bird species that have  been seen in your city, and you will be happily surprised! 

But why don’t you see all these birds if they are all around you? Well, there are three reasons – you don’t know where to look, you don’t know when to look  and you don’t really look! 

For those of you who have never seen anything other than crows and pigeons in a city, I have an activity for you. Next time you go to your nearest park or ground where you play or spend  time, count the number of different types of birds you see. Observe the trees, the bushes, the ground and even electric wires. I can assure you that you will count much more than three species! Just by keeping an open eye and really observing nature around you in your local park, you should be  able to see bulbuls, doves, koels, tailorbirds, prinias, parakeets, sunbirds, mynas and starlings!  These birds are known as urban adapters, as they are able to adjust to city life and find necessary  food and shelter in cities. I suggest everyone really interested in birds to ask your parents for a  bird identification book for your next birthday (I recommend A Naturalist’s Guide to the Birds of  India by Bikram Grewal for beginners)! So, the first step to finding birds in a city is to actually  start looking for them! 

Now that you are really motivated to go out and find new interesting birds, and maybe you even have a book with you, but you don’t really know where or how to begin. 

Birds are most active in the early morning (between 7 am – 10 am) and evenings (between 3 pm – 6 pm). During these times, you have the best chance of finding them. To find birds, we need to think like birds. Just like we humans do, what are the two things all life on earth needs? Food and shelter. Apart from grains that birds like pigeons and sparrows enjoy, birds also love to eat fruits and insects. Since many insects live under the ground, you have a good chance of finding interesting birds in open fields  and parks. Apart from common birds like mynas, you might even see birds like starlings, lapwings, hoopoes, pipits and also migratory wagtails during winters! 

Green imperial pigeon (Photo Credits: Abhijith A.P.C./eBird)

When it comes to fruits, fig fruits (fruits on fig trees like peepal and banyan) are favoured by many Indian birds. If you have one of these trees with fruits near your house, observe them at sunrise. You might have seen many common pigeons, but these trees are visited by much rarer Green Pigeons as well! You might also catch a glimpse of bulbuls, barbets and hornbills eating these fruits. Sunbirds (the Indian version of hummingbirds) can be often seen sucking nectar from the flowers of certain trees. To see waterbirds, find the nearest waterbody around you, big or small, and go spend some time there early in the morning. You might notice some interesting visitors! Most cities also conserve some natural places – Central Ridge in Delhi, Cubbon Park in Bangalore, KBR park in Hyderabad and so on.  These can be good places to observe rare birds within cities. Using the ebird website mentioned earlier, you can also find locations in your cities where people have observed birds. 

So don’t wait till you get the chance to visit a jungle, but open your eyes to nature around you  instead! Like charity, birdwatching starts at home too! 

About the Author:

An engineer-turned-wildlife biologist, Prakhar Rawal has a Masters in Wildlife Sciences from Amity Institute of Forestry and Wildlife, and is currently a Junior Research Fellow at Zoological Survey of India, Dehradun. He is interested in studying birds living in human-modified landscapes, and figuring out ways to co-exist with them. He has done research work in Delhi and studied birds residing in urban ponds and street trees.

About the Artist:

Rohan Sharma firmly believes that wildlife and art are his cup of tea. He has been sketching since school days and finds it to be a great stress buster! He is also an avid birder and a wildlife photographer.