10 Tips for Birding in India

Bird watching is a wonderful but acquired taste; neutrals may wonder at the often childlike behaviour of elderly “birders” while rushing and gushing over the barely discernable sight of a little brown thing fluttering deep within the bushes, sometimes in the middle of it urban areas, at other times, in the middle of nowhere.

No doubt, in areas that recently have become “birding hotspots”, many a village dweller in India has pondered over this curious sight of “self – respecting” adults, many of whom probably chair meetings of high importance away from this fantasia, whom they would never expect to see as physically excited and at the same time, their bodies as malleable as they hold on to binoculars and large cameras in the most awkward of poses.  

As they say, it takes one to know one, and we sympathise with the plight of the birder, desperately channeling their inner David Attenborough and Steve Irwin.

Home to almost 1300 bird species(resident and migratory), India is one the best places in the world for bird watching, and every corner of every State has birds of interest for a birding enthusiast.

With over 50 endemic species, birds from the Indian Region, Indo – Ceylonese, Indo – Chinese and Indo – Malayan Region provide a unique diversity in the species of birds found in India.

The habitats in India differ greatly, and it ranges as follows :

  • Tropical Forests, Montane Forests and Coniferous Forests in the Mountains of the Himalayas and the Himalayan foothills.
  • Birding in the Trans – Himalayas(leeward side of the Himalayas) in North India.
  • Desert and Semi – Desert areas of Western India with Salt Pans, Short Grasslands and Scrub.
  • Gangetic Plains in North India, with Alluvial Grasslands, rich Tropical Forests and Wetlands.
  • Tropical Evergreen Forests, Rainforests, Alluvial Grasslands, Wetlands and Bamboo Forests of the North – East of India.
  • Mangroves of the Coastal Areas of India.
  • The long Coastline of India on its Western and Eastern edge for pelagic birding.
  • Tropical Evergreen Forests, Rainforest, Shola Grasslands, Deciduous and Mixed Forests of South India.

Birding in India is a tantalising prospect, very subtle, rare and beautiful species of birds can be found here – in habitats which are most beautiful.

We share a list of our Top 10 Tips for You to Follow while You are Bird Watching in India :-

  1. Carry Binoculars: A famous French saying can be implanted here, “Birding without Binoculars, is like a beautiful woman with only one eye”. It is really needless to say, however, has been observed that the Camera is often given preference over Binoculars.
    If traveling to a new area, the beauty of a bird is at first best observed with your eyes glued to the lense of the binoculars, as you find the subtlety in the patterns and observe the wonderful behaviour of birds – which is always a great learning.
    An 8 x 42 [8X Magnification by 42mm diameter of lens) is ideal, and preferably a durable model with water resistance.

  2. Carry a Camera: Sorry to confuse you, but what is meant is that often times, despite several attempts at identification, a quick record shot can be a massive help in identifying birds. It often leads to wonderful results, such as recording birds in seasons or habitats previously unknown.
    Who knows, you may just casually land up in the newspaper the next day for an unprecedented sighting of a particular species, or maybe even have a new subspecies named in your honour due to photographic record!
    Bird Photography is a wonderful thing, and we love it. Our only pet peeve is bird photographers who do not care about birds other than from the point of view of their viewfinders.

  3. Clothing : Non – bright and natural colours such as Green and Brown should be strictly worn. This is of course, so that you do not scare off any birds, whose eyesight is sensitive to bright colours, that you have worked so hard to see.
    Remember to keep it comfortable however, as birding is usually a physical activity most often done on foot.

  4. Respecting the Locals and the Habitat : Most birding in India is done near rural areas, and certain areas that are not even protected under any Law. Hence, these important birding sites are informal birding areas and in essence, an ‘intrusion’ into the daily lives of people who reside in that area.
    Indians, however, are very welcoming and have a large forbearance, yet, it is always better to not be so self – indulgent as to disturb the local people there.
    The habitat of birds is critical for our own well being as birds are the propagators of flowers, plants and trees in the ecological system. Hence, birding must be done with minimal impact on the surroundings and any litter should be kept on your person needless to say. Stepping into nesting colonies of ground birds is a strict no no.

  5. Field Guide : “Field Guide” can also be inserted into the saying in Point 1. It is criminal to not carry a bird guide when out birding, or at the very least, ensuring that your guide has a copy. It is most exciting to find a bird, and identify it yourself from the field guide – one of the feelings that brings you closer to birding and into the state described in the opening paragraphs of this write – up.

Recommended Field Guide on Birds in India : Birds of the Indian Subcontinent by Carol Inskipp, Tim Inskipp and Richard Grimmett is the undisputable choice in recent times.
E – copies of the book are also available for mobile phones.

  1. Bird Calls & Nest Photography: While we are aware it is perhaps the only realistic way of seeking out birds whose behaviour is to be still as possible within the undergrowth in the face of any impending danger, especially for birds such as Wren – Babblers, some Flycatchers and Owls. It is best to avoid playing bird calls, as new research has shown that, with the increase presence of birders, and over – zealous  playing of calls, it affects the mating behaviour and feeding behaviour of the birds which is seasonal in nature. The stress rate of birds increases and it could have a disastrous consequence for the local bird population in the long run.
    Furthermore, it has been observed that certain unscrupulous guides and birdwatchers alike are carrying Bluetooth headphones to amplify the sounds of bird calls which are now easily available on the internet, to ensure ‘’maximum sightings’’.
    Currently in India, playing of bird calls amounts to baiting and is in violating of the Wildlife Protection Act of India, 1972, and could amount to a punishable offence by Law if found guilty.
    While nests may pop up in our gardens or our neighbourhoods, it is important to leave them alone.
    The craze of unaware or unethical photographers to go close to nests to record the chicks or the feeding behaviour of the parent birds around their nests is harmful to the well – being of the birds and may result in abandonment of the nest.
    It has been a well known fact that many photographers tamper with the nesting site, i.e. move away leaves and expose the nest to dangers without realizing or caring about the impact that it has.
    Thankfully, nest photography has been banned from Wildlife Photography competitions around the world and for those who yet indulge in and upload nesting photographs on social media, it is largely met with an outpour of disdain.

  2. Use of Flash in a Camera : With Nocturnal and Crepuscular birds, or birding in Cloudy Weather or Dense Habitats, there is a temptation to click photographs of roosting birds with the help of the Camera Flash.
    This is to be avoided as the bright flash of the camera affects wildlife and causes temporary blindness.
    At the very least, the flash button on the camera allows the photographer to control the level of flash, hence it is best kept at a minimal level – or alternatively, utilisation of a secondary light source other than the flash to illuminate the subject before photographing is a better solution.

  3. Visual Navigation : Learning visual navigation is especially important while birding, in order to correctly and quickly point to a perch or an area where you’d like another member to look at.
    Being able to describe succinctly the position of the bird, is very important. For example, “Can you all see the bare branch coming out on the left of the tallest tree straight ahead?”. Remember to speak in hushed voices, and apply subtle techniques to point in the direction of the bird, as birds scare easily!

  4. Research : Prior research of the birding area, through online blogs, through E -bird and by going through the distribution maps provided in the field guides, is a sure-fire way to maximise your birding experience. Information that maybe your local guide does not know, could be in your hand, and lead to some wondrous discoveries.
    Knowing the habitat and canopy – level of intended bird species will also help you spot birds extremely efficiently.

  5. Go Birding for the love of it : While it may sound like a hobby/pastime to the uninitiated, bird watching can actually become a rather competitive hobby, the deeper one delves in to it. It often leads to competition in terms of the best photographs, the most rare species photographed and may also become about the highest number of species recorded during a day, during a trip, or even lifetime.
    It is the above precedents that lead to taking the wrong road such as playing calls, baiting birds, disturbing nests and encroaching upon habitat indiscriminately under a false sense of competition.

We do hope that you undertake several birding safari tours in India and around the world, as birding is a naturally therapeutic activity which may distract from the stresses of work and personal life ; it takes you to beautiful areas in Nature which offer a sense of tranquility, away from the sound and atmospheric pollution of urban life.

Smart sharing on Social Media with due information and insight also provides a platform to encourage more people(especially younger folk) to find out about the subtle beauty and variety in birds which one may never have been exposed to previously, and it starts right in our own backyard with secrets waiting for us to be discovered.

The link with our personal happiness, lies in the understanding of our Natural Heritage – it is also incidentally linked with our own survival on this planet.

We hope that you can take this journey with us, into the life of birds.             

Everyone likes birds. What wild creature is more accessible to our eyes and ears, as close to us and everyone in the world, as universal as a bird”.

Sir David Attenborough
Pre – eminent Naturalist and Wildlife Presenter for the BBC

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