Birding in the Wetlands

Merlyn Antony

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

Emily Dickinson

As the birds’ chirps flooded the morning sky, the students of MAED (M.A. in Environment and Development) along with PhD scholars at SHE (School of Human Ecology), gathered at the Centre for Urban Ecology and Sustainability’s (CUES) Dheerpur Wetland Project Site. Led by Dr. Suresh Babu, (Director, CUES) these binocular-geared fledglings set on trail to look for birds. 

Two weeks ago, a fire from an untraceable source smouldered the vegetation at the Dheerpur Wetland Project Site, with it dousing the hard work of those who had restored the landscape. However, to the ecologists at CUES, the fire took on a different meaning.  Considered a crucial driver traditionally for the vegetation in upland ecosystems, fires do have a positive role, as argued in a study titled Fire and Water: New Perspectives on Fire’s Role in Shaping Wetland Ecosystems. Although, sociologically and ecologically, fires are considered a hazard; the fires by improving the storage capacity of water prove beneficial to wildlife. Thus, the birding exercise and a subsequent detailing of restoration practices was situated within the same context.

The enthusiastic birders were able to spot some common birds such as house crow (Corvus splendens), red-naped ibis (Pseudibis papillosa), rufous treepie (Dendrocitta vagabunda), eurasian collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto), rock pigeon (Columba livia), black kites (Milvus migrans), rose ringed parakeet (Psittacula krameri), white-throated kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis), red-wattled lapwing (Vanellus indicus),  and Indian peafowls (Pavo cristatus). While some cryptic birds (because of their size) were also spotted such as the citrine wagtail (Motacilla citreola), bluethroat (Luscinia svecica), yellow-bellied prinia (Prinia flaviventris), greater coucal (Centropus sinensis), purple sunbird (Cinnyris asiaticus), ashy prinia (Prinia socialis), rosy (Pastor roseus) and Indian pied (Gracupica contra) starlings, white breasted waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) and Indian silverbill (Euodice malabarica) (images of some attached).

Image 1: Oriental Magpie-Robin (Copsychus saularis)

Image 2: Purple Sunbird (Cinnyris asiaticus)

Image 3: Dr. Babu with the students at SHE

Image 4: Indian pied starling (Gracupica contra)

As the tired group came around after spending two hours watching birds and identifying bird calls (which thronged the wetlands, as the birds welcomed the breeding season); Dr. Babu stirred the attention of students towards restoration practices and challenges faced in doing the same. Focussed on revegetation, habitat enhancement, remediation and mitigation, restoration ecology, calls for the recovery of anthropogenically damaged ecosystems. The discussion for the day revolved around the efforts made by Dr. Babu’s team at CUES, and other stakeholders since 2015 and the problems they faced along the way. An interesting challenge, apart from the economic and infrastructural obstacles was the conception of the project in the social context, such as stopping erstwhile anthropogenic activities on the land and community involvement in the upkeep of the wetlands. While the ecological question arose concerning the species introduced and the maintenance of wetlands, preventing it from turning into a woodland, in going with the ecological succession. 

The day wrapped as the sun reached overhead, birds sought refuge in the trees, and the hungry students got antsy. The four-plus hours spent at the wetlands, watching birds and talking about restoration ecology; catalyzed some to gaze at the discipline differently, while also carrying some of the questions raised during the activity back to the classrooms. 


1. Osborne, T.Z., Kobziar, L.N. and Inglett, P.W., 2013. Fire and water: new perspectives on fire’s role in shaping wetland ecosystems. Fire Ecology, 9, pp.1-5.

2. Vaughn, K. J., Porensky, L. M., Wilkerson, M. L., Balachowski, J., Peffer, E., Riginos, C. & Young, T. P. (2010) Restoration Ecology. Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):66

Photo Credits: Shiwani, Sonali, Ajay Immanuel Gonji


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