Pioneering bird ringing-capacity building in Sairopa, Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh, India
South Asia is well known for its great avian diversity with more than 1,330 species recorded to date (Inskipp & Grimmett 2012) and is a very popular destination for birdwatchers from all over the world. In India, birdwatching is a relatively new but increasingly popular activity. The membership of online bird forums is increasingly popular; many often excellent images are posted and identification features discussed. This is a very positive and encouraging trend but generally Indian ornithology is still lagging behind other regions.
Western Palearctic birds are among the best known in the world partly due to more than 100 years of bird ringing, supported by thousands of qualified amateur bird ringers. In Europe, the first bird was ringed in the early 1900s; in the UK, the first bird ringed was a lapwing chick in 1909. Today, in Europe about 1.4 million birds are ringed annually—500,000 in the UK alone. Overall, more than 60,000 birds ringed in Britain have been recovered worldwide—as far as Antarctica, Alaska and Australia—but not a single ring has ever been reported from India despite many Eurasian species wintering there (Balmer et al. 2008).
Bird ringing in India is limited to localised species-specific short-term studies mainly undertaken by academics. The Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), which issues all rings for India, is the only organisation currently involved in bird ringing. Over the past 40 years, they have ringed about half a million birds in 25 areas across India. In Europe there is a well-regulated licensing system for individual enthusiasts but nothing of this sort exists in India. The government provides meagre financial support as bird ringing is not a priority activity and as a consequence, no Indian state maintains a bird ringing database similar to, for example, the one kept by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO, www.bto.org) for the UK, and India has no bird ringing database similar to the European Union for Bird Ringing (EURING) databank (www.euring.org) which holds ring recovery data gathered by bird ringing schemes throughout Europe and beyond. In India data is only collected by BNHS whose records date back to 1929. Furthermore, apart from two BNHS-run bird ringing stations at Point Calimere, Tamil Nadu, and Chilika Lake, Odisha, where only waterfowl and waders are ringed, no other permanent bird ringing station operates anywhere in South Asia. No regular ringing of passerines or ringing courses including passerines take place anywhere in India. Ringing projects such as the BTO's 'constant effort sites' and 'recapture for adult survival' which have become very important and useful for assessing local as well as national population trends (Redfern & Clark 2001) are completely unknown in India. Not surprisingly, there are large gaps in data on population trends generally and dispersal and migration patterns of Indian birds in particular, including stop-over or wintering sites for Eurasian and Western Palearctic species that cross or fly around the Himalayas to use India as their wintering grounds, together with more species-specific knowledge on moult strategies and ageing of Indian birds.