The Great Backyard Bird Count had kids learning about birds in their neighbourhood

R. Haripriya saw birds on the way to school, every single day. She watched them flying about, perching on trees and sharing food. The air was full of birdsong. But, she did not know the names of these birds. Not anymore. Now, Haripriya talks with confidence about the Jungle Crow (andannkaaka) and the Black-headed Starling that she spotted recently. All because she was a part of the global Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), run by Cornell University’s Laboratory of Ornithology.

Also part of the programme was R. Sharmathi. “This was the first time I looked out for birds. I was thrilled to spot the Asian Koel and Rock Pigeon,” she says.

Haripriya and Sharmathi are Class VIII students of ELGI Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Vellalore. They were part of Sittukkaludan Siruthuli’s GBBC programme. P. Jeganathan, wildlife biologist, Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), Valparai, took 21 first-time birders from different schools around Valankulam, in the heart of the city.

It was afternoon and the sun was shining bright. But, in just half an hour, the kids managed to count 168 birds belonging to 19 species. Social science teacher M. Krishnaveni of ELGI MHSS says she sees a great change in the students after that day. “They now enjoy watching birds and identifying them.”

The GBBC was held across the world from February 15 to 18. It saw experienced birders and novices do their bit to create a “real-time snapshot of where the birds are”, according to the GBBC website.

Bharath Ravikumar, a Class XI student from PSG Public School, has been an avid birder since 2006. He is a member of the Coimbatore Nature Society (CNS) and visited Sholayur in Anaikatti for the GBBC. Despite the experience from years of birding, Bharath says this trip was very special. “We saw song birds such as the Malabar Whistling Thrush and Orange-headed Thrush, and the resident Nilgiris Flycatcher.”

Flying high

During the trip, the 15-member CNS group sighted more than 60 species, including the Crested Serpent Eagle, Brown Fish Owl, Gold-fronted Leaf Bird, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, the Indian Blackbird, Verditer Flycatcher, Indian Yellow Tit and Pompadour Green Pigeon, says Saravanan Natrayan, executive member, CNS.

Says Jeganathan of his birding trip: “It always feels good to interact with children and allow them to experience the wonders of Nature. It is nice when they get to learn the names of birds they have seen. For instance, they have heard of the kingfisher, but they now know that three species are found here — White-throated Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher and Small Blue Kingfisher — and that there are two species of crows — the Common Crow and the Jungle Crow.”

During their trip, they sighted the Barn Swallow, Purple Moorhen, Cormorant, Little Grebe, Indian Pond-Heron Black Kite, Eurasian Coot and the Red-wattled Lapwing.

After the initial session in Valankulam, the children went birding near their homes or their backyard and sent him details of the sighting. Jeganathan then compiled the information for the GBBC. Some of them might not have been accurately identified, he says, but we stepped in to teach them the correct name.

“After all, the GBBC is not a one-off thing. A birding trip stays with them for a long time. They learn to appreciate Nature better and learn to have fun while watching its beauty,” he says.