Ask any avid birdwatcher in the Nilgiris about the list of birds that he would like to photograph in his lifetime. The Nilgiri blue robin (Sholicola major) would inevitably feature on the list. Once believed to be common in the district, little is known about the current population trends of the “shy” inhabitant of the Shola sky-islands of the upper Nilgiris. This has prompted conservationists and researchers to call for thorough studies to help understand and safeguard the species.
Listed as “endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the species, otherwise known as the Nilgiri Sholakili, is primarily found in high altitudes of the Shola forests in the Nilgiris. Mr. Antony Grossy, an avid birdwatcher from Wellington, who recently photographed the bird, said he had seen a few breeding pairs of the species in the undisclosed locations in the district. “For the time being, the population seems to be stable and breeding, which is encouraging. However, the species prefers to live only in highly threatened habitats and near streams. Any change to these areas could spell trouble in the future,” he said.
Unlike other endangered endemic bird species in the Nilgiris such as the Nilgiri laughingthrush (Montecincla cachinnans), which seems to have a degree of adaptability and tolerance for anthropogenic changes to its environment, the Sholakili seems to be highly restricted to only Shola forest habitats, making it more susceptible to changes in its environment, said N. Moinudheen, an independent researcher and wildlife biologist from the Nilgiris. Mr. Moinudheen, who is studying the species in 30 different locations across the district, said the habitats of the Sholakili were shrinking due to expanding plantations, settlements and other construction activities. “As the bird is also very small, they are quite difficult to study,” he added.
Mr. Moinudheen said he had been trying to ascertain the population of the species by recording their calls in Shola forests. “This species is highly susceptible to seeing a sudden crash due to a number of factors, not limited just to habitat loss, but also to climate change. There needs to be support for research of the Sholakili so that policies can be formulated to ensure their survival in the future,” he added.