Nepal is exceptionally rich in birdlife with 889 species recorded within the geographic boundary in the last 230 years. Many of these birds are preserved through a network of protected areas set up by the government. Besides that, many forests, wetlands and rangelands that lie outside these networks are also home to these colourful denizens.
Bird conservation is deeply rooted to Nepali culture and tradition which has also helped with their conservation. Crows are worshipped during ‘Kag Tihar’, peacocks are known as the carrier of god Kartikeya, white swans for goddess Saraswati, vultures are remembered as the heroic Jatayu in Ramayana. These traditions and cultures are filled with importance of birds, and their conservation.
In spite of the above, threats to birds continue and at the present, their numbers are declining. Major threats such as habitat loss and alteration, hunting and poaching, secondary poisoning as well as excessive use of agrochemicals, powerlines, etc have affected the avian lifestyle.
The seniormost ornithologist of Nepal, Dr Hem Sagar Baral, who is also the head of Zoological Society of London for Nepal Office explains, "This is the time when approximately 150 species of birds migrate to Nepal for winter. Majority of Nepal's winter migrants come from China, Mongolia, Russia and other northern countries. At this time of the year, not many birds in Nepal breed. Resident birds tend to be less territorial and readily accept visitors' presence. Upon arrival to Nepal, these birds quickly familiarize themselves with the surroundings and the resident birds. While half of the winter migratory birds are dependent on wetlands, the rest prefer forests and open habitats."
Dr Baral also informed that he will be leading the national count of aquatic birds in major wetlands of Nepal next month on behalf of Wetlands International, the leading international organisation with regard to wetland conservation all across the world. During mid-winter, in the aquatic birds counting event, which has been on-going for the last 35 years since 1987, over 50 wetland sites will be surveyed for birds with as many as 300 volunteers spread across the country. Information received from such events is used to update the status of aquatic birds nationally and globally with an aim to conserve the species and their habitats.
Conservation of birds will benefit human society on multiple aspects. All birds are protected by Nepal's federal law on wildlife conservation. Nine species of birds receive the highest protection under the wildlife act, with one of them being the national bird of Nepal, the Danphe. Other highly protected bird species are Munal, Cheer, Black and White Storks, Bengal and Lesser Florican, Saarus Crane and Great Hornbills.
One aspect that is linked to our livelihood is promotion of eco-tourism through bird-watching. As per the best educated guess, annually 2,000 to 3,000 visitors came specifically for bird-watching before COVID-19. Those indirectly linked to bird tourism numbered approximately 10,000. Bird-watching tourism helped move the country towards its development and bird conservation. We can expect this industry to revive again soon.
Many Nepali youngsters have taken the role of bird conservationists. Every year, nearly 10 Master level students pass out with their thesis work on birds. There is an overwhelming enthusiasm from these passionate bird lovers and photographers who provides a hope that our birds will continue to thrive in the future.