For someone who is not an avid birdwatcher, it will be a bit difficult to imagine a metropolis like Delhi as a birdwatching hotspot. The city is locked in concrete and there is this permanent element in the air: smog. But even with all of these things and more, the city and its surroundings cling to nature. Delhi’s relationship with nature is hanging by a thread, and very thin at that.
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In a city of over 18 million people, it’s nothing short of amazing to find decent open space with greenery. And believe me, when you find such a place, you will want to hang on to it for as long as you can. This is exactly what bird lovers think of Delhi.
Delhi is far from mountains or beaches, it’s landlocked and the climate is extreme at best. Other places have tigers and other exciting wildlife; Delhi has at best the occasional leopard that has strayed or the nilgai that has strayed from the forest and is now in a closed locality. Where the city lacks larger beasts, it sees remarkable birdlife. And that’s because Delhi and the NCR are directly in the flyway of birds seeking warmer wintering grounds.
When winter comes (late October), hundreds of thousands of birds begin to fly, from the northern hemisphere to the Indian subcontinent. As winter conditions begin to get harsh up north, the birds migrate to warmer habitat in search of a food source and to breed and raise their young. Lo and behold, Delhi finds itself right in the middle of it all. Call it their internal biological clock or just creatures of habit, birds take the same path every year.
This winter, take a good look around you. If you have bodies of water like lakes, large ponds, drains, and river outlets around you, look a little closer than usual. You will notice birds that are NOT pigeons and crows. Many of them are waterfowl, large and small. From the borders of Siberia to the highlands of Tibet, these birds fly great distances. The natural bodies of water in and around Delhi are excellent places to observe these waterfowl.
Feathered Friends and Where to Find Them
Waterfowl are undoubtedly the stars of winter migration in Delhi and the NCR region. From places like Siberia and Russia come shorebirds. These are waders, ducks, geese, etc. Every year, like clockwork, they make the bodies of water in and around the city their home for the winter. Okhla Bird Sanctuary, Yamuna Biodiversity Park, Asola Bhatti, Surajpur (Noida), Sultanpur (Gurugram), Najafgarh, Chandu Budhera, Jhanjrola Khera, Mangar and Aravali Biodiversity Park to name a few.
In Delhi and the NCR, there are very few pockets of agricultural land, and you will find pockets of forested areas. These forested and agricultural areas are some of the best places to see other types of winter migrants – woodland birds. These small, brightly colored woodland birds are among the most powerful fliers. The Bluethroat, a migrant from the Palearctic region is a good example of strong flight.
The men and their birds
“As someone whose job involves frequent visits to the Delhi-NCR region, the opportunity to sneak a trail or two is always around the corner. From Delhi’s parks and nurseries to the wetlands around NCR, there is never a dull moment for a bird watcher here Statistically speaking, the number of bird sightings I have documented in the Delhi-NCR area is second only to my home state Located on the migratory path of birds traveling south from the mountains, Delhi offers the opportunity to observe rare birds that pass through the city at specific times of the year.Sometimes I try to align my travels professionals on these observations, which makes me wonder who exactly is the migrant passing through the city,” says Ranjeet Rane, a public policy professional based in Pune.
An ornithologist from Gurgaon, Arun Kamath says “there are many unexplored places in the NCR apart from the hotspots where many rarities are spotted. It’s always a challenge and excitement to explore them with friends, and when a great rare visitor is spotted, it’s worth all the effort. On weekdays Arun works with a large multinational logistics company in Gurgaon, and on weekends he is away from home at 5:30 a.m. in places like Bhondsi, Mangar and Chandu. One such trip gave him the rare winter visitor, the Pacific Golden Plover. Passion!
To accommodate avid birders across the country, a group of like-minded birders in 2020 created a platform on Twitter – IndiAves. Since its inception, IndiAves has succeeded in creating a healthy discussion platform not only about birds, but also about other species of flora and fauna, and most importantly, about the environment or what is left of it. “IndiAves was started with the aim of providing a platform for avid bird watchers, bird and nature photographers and novices to share their images, stories and nature sightings. Its genesis dates back to the pandemic of COVID-19. It has helped connect many bird lovers across the country and beyond. In fact, the latest event is the IndiAvesWeek dedicated to India’s birdman, Dr. Salim Ali, where IndiAvers are encouraged to form teams and go out into the field to observe, observe, count and report on the IndiAves platform on Twitter,” says Rakesh Dhareshwar, one of the founding members of IndiAves.
In the past, IndiAves has run themes like swamps, PlasticPoison, BirdsWithFood, to name a few. These themes allow people to submit their observations about birds, their food source, how plastic pollution affects them, and most importantly, their habitat. With these little nuggets of information, an ordinary man learns the importance of habitat and nature conservation. These winged visitors deserve a home, don’t they?
When we talk about habitats, one of the most important bird habitats in Delhi and NCR is the Yamuna Khadar. And we’ve all heard stories about the good old Yamuna River. “Save Yamuna Save Braj” comes to mind. Sunil Kumar, one of Delhi’s top birdwatchers, is Yamuna Khadar’s bird expert. Whether adding most of Yamuna Khadar’s bird sightings to the international eBird platform or making headlines a few years ago by spotting the bird of the super rare desert Stoliczka’s Bushchat, Sunil Kumar has done it all. Asked about his views on birdwatching in the Yamuna Khadar region, he shared, “It’s not just about birdwatching, the well-being of Delhi as a whole depends on how which we are dealing with the Yamuna River. The Yamuna River and its floodplains are Delhi’s only hope or lifeline. Points to consider.
I have gone bird watching with Sunil Kumar in the past. From cold winter mornings with rain showers to hot summer sun, just to look for a rare visitor or two. On our birding trips, we have come across illegal sand mines in mountains of city trash.
Just like us, there are plenty of birdwatchers out there who are willing to travel far, from wading through knee-deep sewers to trying to walk quietly through the woods (and failing) just to spot a rarity. Even if it’s just a preview. How lucky are we to have Delhi and NCR on our side?
- Is Delhi a good place for bird watching in winter?
Yes, since Delhi falls directly on the migration route, it receives many winter visitors.
- When does winter bird migration start in Delhi – NCR?
Starting at October. The birds stay in Delhi until the early summer months.
- What are the best birding spots in Delhi- NCR?
Okhla Bird Sanctuary, Yamuna Biodiversity Park, Asola Bhatti, Surajpur (Noida), Sultanpur (Gurugram), Najafgarh, Chandu Budhera, Jhanjrola Khera, Mangar and Aravali Biodiversity Park