A day to stop everything you are doing to simply look at the sky, the trees, the ponds. Chennai Bird Race, an annual event that encourages people to spot and document birds, is all set to be back in its good old format after two years of a pandemic-induced break. “This is the 16th edition,” says KV Sudhakar, president of Madras Naturalists’ Society (MNS) that is organising the event on behalf of HSBC India BirdRaces activity. “Last year, it was open only to the members of MNS since we didn’t want to risk breaking COVID protocols,” he says.
At the bird race, participants, in groups of four, set out to count bird species in and around Chennai, typically within a 60 to 80 kilometre radius. “This is a fun event, and is not just for birding experts,” explains Sudhakar, adding that it is not competitive. “It is an opportunity for people to go out as a family, get some fresh air, and look at birds in the city. Parents can pass on some of their enthusiasm about Nature and conservation to their children along the way,” he adds.
Sudhakar says that when people register, they try to club two experienced people with two others who are new to birding. Every year, around 40 teams participate in the bird race, which works out to 160 to 180 people. “This will have a multiplier effect on the environment,” feels Sudhakar. Children, for instance, will get excited to see a bird they spotted in the race, elsewhere, and share this knowledge with their friends at school. “It fires up their imagination,” he says.
In the end, the environment benefits from all the attention. “I believe that conservation does not just depend on the Forest Department, the laws in place or Government officials,” says Sudhakar, adding, “It is the people who take pride in what is in their possession and feel they should protect it for their own enjoyment.”
In the Chennai Bird Race, participants can travel all the way up to Pulicat and Kanchipuram. “We’ve had some interesting and rare sightings and recordings of beautiful bird song over the years,” Sudhakar points out. “After the race, participants gather for dinner and share their experiences from the day.”
So far, all the bird races have had participants ticking the names of birds they spotted on a booklet provided by MNS, featuring 140 species. “This year, we hope to provide an online link in which they can record their observations,” he adds.