The elusive raptors and why we have to talk about them

A juvenile shikra

A juvenile shikra   | Photo Credit: Prince Frederick

If a course is laid with many paver blocks of “ifs and buts”, it will most likely end up leading to a frustrating “nowhere”.

Every birder and conservationist would admit to having had a sense of treading that course while tracking raptor movements.

There is a basic script that birders operate on — “if” you head here, you will see these birds. Usually, there will be minor challenges to ford on reaching these spots. It is the same with raptors — only that, usually, the “ifs” as well as the challenges are one too many.

Raptors are the superheroes of the avian world, and as with superheroes, the lives of these birds require unravelling, which would mean travelling long, sometimes through unfriendly terrain, to spot a particular species of raptor, resident or migrant.

So, in many cases, there is usually a thin slice of citizen-inputs that is on offer to frame a conservation picture of these majestic birds — the exceptions being black kites which are found around urban habitations. Occasionally found on trees around neighbourhoods, the shikra, and on posts standing in open lands, the black-winged kite, are other examples.

Citizen data about raptors, as with any bird species, is vital to ascertain whether they are in need of any emergency interventionist-conservation methods.

Recently, the State of Indian Birds’ survey based on eBird data underlined the importance of citizen data in assessing the gravity of conservation situations.

Considering raptors control insanely huge territories, and can be scattered widely, thanks to urbanisation and loss of habitats, there is a need for up-to-date raptor maps that birder-conservationists can use. That will help in the generation of citizen-based data about raptors on a sustained basis.

There is one for Chennai and surrounding districts. It was prepared by the Madras Naturalists' Society through a massive exercise in 2015-2016. It can be accessed by at

It will be great to have an updated map.

“The survey was conducted keeping Chennai as the central point, and an arc was marked around it, with Pazhaverkadu to the north, Koonimedu near Pondy to the South and the Ammur Reserve Forest to the West forming the furthest points. The project emerged out of the following data: Out of the 69 diurnal raptor species identified in our sub-continent by a Zoological Survey of India study as many as 35 species have been recorded in Chennai historically. Of the 35, 20 have been sighted commonly. The main objectives of the project were to: one, record and monitor the status, distribution and richness of the raptor species in all three ecosystems — namely, grassland, wetland and woodland. Two, record, as comprehensively as possible, data relating to their habitats; and three, work with the local community to conserve these habitats. The exercise was anchored by K. Gnanaskandan from the MNS and renowned ornithologist C. Sashi Kumar from Kerala was steering it,” says G. Vijaya Kumar, honorary secretary, MNS.

Given the sombre findings of the State of Indian Birds on raptors, where the long-term trend is positive only for woodland raptors, as their population is expected to be stable. In sharp contrast, the other three species-categories, generalist, open and scavenger show varying, usually high degrees of decline in the long-term analysis.

Raptor lovers — which could literally mean the entire birding and bird-conservationist communities — should exchange notes, and start meetings and awareness programmes. There aren’t many raptor clubs around, and those that exist — which include the one started by T. Murugavel many years ago, and that has birder Seshan Elumalai as a key member and British falconer Walton Woollard Browne  as advisor— are not anywhere near as active as when they started out.

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Printable version | Sep 22, 2020 4:38:07 AM |

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