Winter is approaching, and for avid bird enthusiasts, this signals the start of the migration season, attracting a multitude of avian visitors to the Indian subcontinent. Birders, a dedicated group of enthusiasts who meticulously catalog their bird sightings, differ from casual birdwatchers. Birders often go to great lengths, including transcontinental journeys, to spot specific bird species, a practice sometimes pejoratively referred to as “twitching.” However, this pursuit of rare sightings is not without criticism from climate activists. Nevertheless, as birding gains popularity, so do the destinations that birders aspire to explore. Here is a list of some of the top birding destinations in India that may pique your interest:
Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand:
Home to over 580 recorded bird species, Corbett is renowned for its diverse birdlife and a range of habitats, including forests and riverine grasslands. Popular trails include Dhikala grasslands and the Ramganga riverbed. Target species include the elusive Ibisbill, Himalayan Rubythroat, and Wallcreeper.
Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, Arunachal Pradesh:
Situated within the Kameng Elephant Reserve in northeastern India, Eaglenest gained fame in 1995 with the discovery of a new bird species, the Bugun Liocichla, named after the local Bugun community. This dense forest area boasts over 450 bird species, including the Ward’s Trogon, Sclater’s Monal, and Rufous-necked Hornbill.
Hemis National Park, Ladakh:
Spanning a vast 4,400 sq. km wilderness area just north of Leh, this park is famous for its snow leopard population. It also attracts birders in late spring and early summer to observe high-altitude species such as the Snow Partridge, Snow Pigeon, Lammergeier, and Himalayan Snowcock.
Mangalajodi Wetlands, Odisha:
Located west of Chilika, India’s largest brackish water lake, these freshwater wetlands in Khordha district are easily accessible by road or rail from Bhubaneswar. In winter, you can navigate the shallow marshes on flat-bottomed punts propelled with poles. The Mangalajodi Eco-tourism Centre, managed by a local community, offers guided safari tours, led by rehabilitated poachers turned conservationists. Winter visitors can enjoy sightings of the Ruddy Shelduck, Northern Pintail, Slaty-breasted Rail, Gadwall, Common Teal, and Glossy Ibis.
Kaziranga National Park, Assam:
Famous for the Great Indian One-Horned Rhinoceros, Kaziranga is also a birding hotspot, hosting over 470 bird species in its forests, grasslands, and riverine habitats. Birders flock here in winter for the chance to spot the Bengal Florican, Pallas’s Fish Eagle, and Swamp Francolin.
Keoladeo Ghana National Park, Rajasthan:
Formerly a private hunting reserve, this park in Bharatpur is well-known for birding. Accessible by road and rail from Delhi, Mathura, and Agra, the park is best visited from October to February. While the Siberian Crane, the park’s star attraction, has not been sighted in two decades, you can still spot other species like the Sarus Crane, Black-necked Stork, Dalmatian Pelican, Eurasian Spoonbill, and Dusky Eagle-owl.
Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, Thattekad, Kerala:
Situated at the foot of the Western Ghats in Kerala’s Ernakulam district, Thattekad was praised by ornithologist Dr. Sálim Ali as peninsular India’s richest bird habitat. The deciduous forests here are home to numerous bird species, including the Malabar Grey Hornbill, Sri Lanka Frogmouth, Black Baza, Great Eared Nightjar, Rufous Babbler, and Crimson-throated Barbet. Homestays near the forest entrance offer expert-guided walks, meals, and lodging.
Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, Karnataka:
Comprising riverine islets in the Kaveri River near Mysuru, this sanctuary was declared protected in 1940 due to Dr. Sálim Ali’s efforts. With broadleaf forests, riverine reed beds, and exposed rocks, it serves as an important breeding ground for birds like the Painted Stork, Indian River Tern, Great Thick-knee, Spot-billed Pelican, and Streak-throated Swallow.
Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary, Gujarat:
Located just an hour’s drive west of Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest wetland bird sanctuary is a winter haven for over 200 bird species. Birders flock here to spot the Greater Flamingo, Indian Skimmer, Pied Avocet, and Common Crane.
Sundarbans National Park, West Bengal:
This protected area encompasses dense mangrove forests in the Gangetic delta, spread across 54 islands crisscrossed by channels and distributaries. While it is renowned for the Royal Bengal Tiger, it also shelters bird species like the Masked Finfoot, Mangrove Pitta, and various kingfisher species.
While birding brings immense joy, it’s essential to acknowledge the various threats birds face due to human activity. The “State of India’s Birds, 2023” report highlights a sobering fact: 39% of India’s birds have seen a significant decline in numbers due to various factors, including land-use change, urbanization, ecosystem degradation, disease, and climate change.
As birding continues to attract more visitors to protected areas, there is a growing need for responsible and sustainable tourism practices. Responsible birders prioritize minimizing disturbance to birds and their environments, following ethical practices such as avoiding nest photography, refraining from using call playback to attract birds, and carrying out their garbage.
Happy birding, and let’s ensure that our love for birds goes hand in hand with their conservation!