How about Bird Day instead of Bird Race?

Many of you in Pune, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, and maybe a few other places, must be familiar with the annual Bird Race; even those who are not birders.

The race consists of getting into a four wheeler at the crack of dawn and zipping from one birding hotspot to another, at times across the town. One is supposed to tick off the names of the species one has seen at each spot. At the end of the day, the list with the maximum number of species names on it is the winner. Participants mingle with each other in a feel-good atmosphere sharing a sponsored dinner.

"So what?" you might say. Now, this species list can be prepared even the day before by visiting these birding spots over the previous days. There is no way to verify if each and every bird on the list was really seen on the day of the race or not. No one questions if it is really possible to spot so many separate species in one day of birding. A lot of petrol is wasted and the zipping about adds to air pollution, including in the vicinity of the birding spots. The first prize always seems to go to the team which has at least one member close to the event organizers.

The last and the most important point: What is gained from this race is not clear.
Is it awareness that the bird races are trying to create? Then should we not look at things like bird behavior or conservation? I do not buy the agreement that this can come later. When exactly is later? Most birders have been birding now for an average of 7-8 years. The birder population in Pune atleast has already crossed that critical mass needed to move from ticking off species to working towards their conservation.

The Bird Race is then the day when birds are most (and most frequently) disturbed, since participants converge in droves to the more popular birding spots in search of birds, and disturb them in the process.

What the bird race organizers need to do is to change it from race to say a contest. Let each team take up and observe only a certain chosen bird species over say a month, at different spots. Or take up a particular birding habitat and study that for a month. Record the count for that species over the time period. Observe, research into the factors that attract/ harm these birds or what could help protect their habitat environment. Create a short report of their observations and recommendations. Take photos if required but not only of the birds but also their habitat and the 'problems'. All satisfactorily completed projects should get a prize. But this is not just about prizes. The reports would come in more handy to take real steps in terms of conservation of the birds and their habitats.

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