In the 1990s, attempts to bring the growing number of people interested in birds in the Delhi area together under the DBWS, revived as the Delhi Bird Club, were rewarded with outstanding success in the year 2000 with the club’s reformation as an internet-based forum, Delhibird, for reporting, discussing and creating site checklists, and for organizing regular field outings. Along with the rapidly increasing penetration of electronic media and internet connectivity, by the early 2000s, there was a parallel boom in the ease and affordability of high-quality optical and digital photography equipment and illustrated field guides of an international standard.

Grimmett and the Inskipps’ Birds of the Indian Subcontinent, Kazmierczak’s A Field Guide to the Birds of India and others fortuitously came together around the turn of the millennium and led to an explosion of interest and infectious enthusiasm, especially among Delhi’s educated youth. Rasmussen and Anderton’s Birds of South Asia: The Ripley Guide, first published in 2005 with an updated edition in 2012, is the most recent guide now available for the birds of the Indian subcontinent, its path-setting taxonomic approach and detailed morphological and plumage data being of exceptional value.

To these resources must be added journals and biannual bulletins including Forktail and BirdingASIA, of the Cambridge-based Oriental Bird Club, along with its very comprehensive collection of splendid images from the field,, which are now permanently archived at the Macaulay Library of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, USA. The South Asia-focused, well-researched, peer-reviewed and widely cited bimonthly Indian BIRDS, published since 2004 by the New Ornis Foundation, is a worthy successor to the former Newsletter for Birdwatchers.

Horizons were also broadened with the launch of several online public forums and social media networks offering valuable platforms for Delhi’s birders to document their records, comments and conservation issues, provided that the wealth of data being generated from the field could be retrieved in a timely manner, validated and permanently recorded for appropriate use. Few things capture the imagination like the outstanding colour photographs of birds spread across these forums; with many more eyes out in the field, better identification skills and exposure to the joys of birding, an increase in travel and the exploration of new, little-known birdwatching sites, Delhi’s birders have produced several remarkable finds. Delhibird’s Official Checklist of the Birds of the Delhi Region listed 415 species with an additional 47 historical records of birds seen only before 1970. The Atlas of the Birds of Delhi and Haryana, published in 2006, was an attempt to bring together this wealth of new data from Delhi’s growing birding community and update the available information, and Nikhil Devasar and Rajneesh Suvarna’s Birds about Delhi is the latest effort at producing a comprehensive field guide to the birds of the area.

Almost 80 years ago, James Fisher commented on the nature of birding in his delightful little book, Watching Birds, that “the observation of birds may be a superstition, a tradition, an art, a science, a pleasure, a hobby, or a bore; this depends entirely on the nature of the observer.” With the growing numbers of people interested in birds in and around Delhi, birdwatching is no longer dismissed as a puerile, meaningless obsession. It’s a fascinating hobby, bringing to the watcher’s consciousness a wondrous world of colour, song, grace and vivacity. It can lead us to some of the most wonderful places, providing freedom from restriction and routine and an excuse to be out in the open.

To many, it opens new vistas of investigation and study – professional, scientific, behavioural, biogeographical – and others make a career of it in art, writing and photography, or by organizing specialist birding and nature trips. Some of the finest contributions to Indian ornithology have been made by amateurs through their observations and writings from the field. These are as good as the reliability of the data on which they are based, and the validation of field data is thus crucial. Birders today are fortunate in having easy access to top-class optical equipment, field guides, sound recordings and so on, but bird identification is a skill best learnt from field experience, and the habit of keeping field notes is the best training for this. The availability of good digital equipment has led, unfortunately, to a reliance on photographic evidence alone to document records, and the decline in note-taking has resulted in a noticeable decline in field identification skills.

While a still photograph of a bird in all its detail is a great learning tool, it can be difficult to identify, or validate, a record from photographs alone without the benefit of field notes on size, shape, behaviour, voice, and jizz. Most of Delhi’s birds are, fortunately, not difficult to identify. Some groups require more scrutiny, and a few others are genuinely challenging, such as raptors, for which individual, sexual, or age-related variation, moult, abrasion, or fading of feathers are all relevant in clinching an identification. But above all, an assessment of jizz, a combination of features and behaviour that is unique to a species, is an excellent pointer, and there is really no substitute for this. Birders are usually keen conservationists: some devote their time and effort to conservation projects, others to advocacy, spreading awareness and alerting the authorities, media and relevant institutions about developments in the natural environment around us. Socially conscious with wider horizons, the growing tribe of birders tends to be educated and aware and in a position to make a difference. For these birds that give us so much pleasure, the least we can do is help them by protecting them and their habitats, and – as we watch, photograph and enjoy them – ensure that their interests remain foremost.

Excerpted with permission from The Birds Of the Delhi Area, Sudhir Vyas, Juggernaut Books.