Birds and Biodiversity : The Pillar of life on Earth

Everyone likes birds. What wild creature is more accessible to our eyes and ears ,as close to us and everyone in the world as universal as birds

David Attenborough

A healthy planet and rich biodiversity  are essential for our health and wellbeing.   The emergence of COVID -19 has underscored the fact that when we destroy biodiversity, we destroy the system that supports human life.  Plants, animals and climate work together to maintain the balance of nature and the need for humans to coexist with nature are now clearer. Coronavirus pandemic is a reminder that we live in a connected world.

What Is Biodiversity

The most unique feature on earth is existence of life and most extraordinary feature of life is its diversity.  Biodiversity is earth’s primary life support system and is vital for human survival. Biodiversity is originated from Greek word bios means life and diversity means variety. Biodiversity   refers to variability of living organism on earth, from human to microbes, fungi, and invertebrates. We are part of this web of life. The term includes all the terrestrial, marine, and aquatic organisms.  Biodiversity is earth’s support system and is vital for human survival.

Convention of Biological Diversity

Convention on Biological Diversity is a legally binding treaty, which came as an outcome of Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro on 5 June 1992 and entered into force on 29 December 1993. It is commonly known as “Biodiversity Convention”

The CBD has three main objectives

Conservation of biodiversity; sustainable use biodiversity without destroying it; and, to share fair and equitable benefits arising out of utilization of genetic resources.

India enacted Biological Diversity Act in 2002 for giving effect to the provisions of the CBD.

Birds and Biodiversity

Indian Roller Bird

Indian Roller

Birds are one of the best-known elements of the natural world as birds vary in their diversity, habitats, abundance and distribution throughout the World.  Birds constitute one of the most important species in the biodiversity of earth. There are more than10, 000 species of birds alive today, and class Aves exemplifies diversity in form and function and bird are best-documented animal on the planet. Birds occupy every continent, utilize all habitat types, and display incredible variety in behavior and appearance.  They have adapted to some of Earth’s most extreme environments they play various roles as scavenger, pollinators, seeds dispersal agent and predators of insect pest and an important indicator to evaluate different habitats both qualitatively and quantitatively.

India’s biodiversity strength is well reflected with high number of bird species. 13% of the world’s bird fauna.  An estimate of about 1300 bird species are found in India. Birds vary in their diversity, habitats, abundance and distribution throughout the World. They are therefore an effective entry point for people to engage with the natural world and develop awareness of biodiversity .

They are sensitive to changes in the environment, and are one of the key indicators of the health of the ecosystem. They are an important part of the food chain and food web. Birds play an important role in maintaining ecological balance; they also indicate the level of pollution. Their help in pollination of flowers and dispersal of seeds is well known.They are an important part of the food chain and food web.

Here we will look at some of these roles played by our feathered co -inhibiters on earth.

Value of Avian Biodiversity

Biodiversity plays a major role in maintaining the ecological balance of the ecosystem. Birds act as indicator species— they are sensitive to environmental disruptions and they serve as an early warning of trouble. . Birds are popular and better studied than any other comparable group of organism, and are excellent barometer for change in the Biodiversity. Ecosystem services refer to the benefits that humans derive from the natural world, and birds are key players in providing many of these benefits.  Some might not realize the tangible value of birds, but it would be foolish to underestimate how tough life would be without them. They play a significant role in agriculture. Bio-pesticides, fodder and fuel are some of the benefits that the farming communities can enjoy when there’s an ecological balance of biodiversity.

Many people derive great pleasure, fulfillment and inspiration from watching birds and listening to them. But birds are also an intricate component of ecosystems, which we need for our own survival.

As birds are high up in the food chain, they are also good indicators of the general state of our biodiversity. When they start disappearing, it means that something is wrong with our environment and that we need to take action.

Ecological Role Birds perform valuable ecosystem services like seed dispersal, insect and rodent control and scavenging. Many birds are sentinel species they warn us of current and impending problems, they could indicate high acidity levels in water, chemical contamination, arrival of new diseases etc.

Pollination & Seed Dispersal

Although the role of birds as pollinators is minimal – only 3-5% of some 1500 economically important crop and medicinal plants are bird-pollinated. Birds are extremely important as seed dispersers.  Species such as bulbuls, orioles, barbets, parakeets and hornbills are voracious fruit eaters that unwittingly drop seeds as they cover distances. Once they set foot onto a new habitat, the seeds germinate and sprout into life. This ensures the renewal of plants and ecosystems that oxygenate our planet and provide us with even more fruit/food than we started out with.

Cycling nutrients and fertilizing marine ecosystem

Birds, especially seabirds, play a key role in cycling nutrients and helping to fertilize marine ecosystems such as coral reefs. Seabirds travel hundreds of kilometers to feed out in the ocean – and when they return, they deposit layers of their droppings called guano, as manure guano is highly effective fertilizer due to extremely high content of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium… and act as natural fertilizer.

Economic value

Birds eat insects and rodents, which saves farmers money they would otherwise spend on pesticides and crop protection measures. By acting as natural controls they help regulate pests by reducing populations of potentially harmful insects such as caterpillars, weevils, beetles and flies.

Insectivorous birds have been observed to reduce insect pest damage in various agricultural systems, such as apples, broccoli, coffee, corn, grapes, and oil palm.

Birds of prey are good pest control agents.  In its lifetime a Barn Owl may eat more than 11,000 mice that would have consumed 13 tons of crops. Owls have been shown to control rat populations in various field crops, such as wheat, rice, and corn.

Hundreds of thousands of birdwatchers travel to various places in the world hoping to glimpse rare species. Considerable economic benefit is achieved in various forms for travelling, accommodation and entrance fees. This type of ecotourism improves knowledge about importance of migratory birds and ecosystems.

Seasonal Indicators

Many birds migrate due to changes in season. They are perhaps great indicator of changes in weather. Observing their behavior and migration patterns can inform us about the inbound seasonal transition. Seeing Jacobin’s Cuckoos during the advent of pre monsoons is an accurate sign that a spell of monsoon showers across India is around the corner


Certain species are specialist scavengers. Vultures, kites, magpies and crows are known as nature’s cleanup crew as they consume carcasses within hours. Vultures are particularly valuable as carrion birds because they feed on carcasses that are in a more advanced state of decay than other scavengers will handle.  A vulture’s extremely acidic gut secretions destroy many of the bacteria, as well as bacterial spores and toxins, associated with rotting meat. Hence, consumption of carrion by vultures helps limit the spread of disease. They also play a critical role in nutrient cycling. Being highly specialized to rapidly dispose of large carcasses, vultures act as health wardens in the avian animal kingdom.


Griffon vulture Jorbeed Conservation Reserve (Bikaner )

Recreational Value of biodiversity

Avian biodiversity adds to the quality of life and provides some of the most beautiful aspects of our existence It adds beauty of a landscape. Birds provide humans with pleasure, joy, and spiritual inspiration merely by their presence. In addition, bird watching and related eco-tourism is a major economic force in many parts of the world.

Bird watching is a great way to create environmental awareness Birding is a wildlife-related recreational activity that enjoys worldwide appeal.

Scientific Role of Biodiversity

Each species of the ecosystem contributes to providing enough evidence as to how life evolved on this planet.

Humans have got inspiration from birds for centuries. Some of these advances have been huge: Darwin’s studies of finches in the Galápagos proved instrumental in shaping his thoughts on evolution through natural selection.

They have been instrumental in how planes are designed. Japanese engineers used a kingfisher to redesign their bullet train.

But birds play a more important role than just giving us ideas. Birds are the messengers that tell us about the health of the planet. The cliché “the canary in the coal mine” is used to imply an early indicator of potential danger or failure.

Because of this, they are our early-warning system for pressing concerns such as climate change.

Major threats to birds

Major threats to the loss of biodiversity are the increased rate of population growth. Habitat change through land clearing and urbanization, Expansion of industrial-scale agriculture, human encroachment on habitats, the drying out of wetlands, deforestation, illegal or unattainable hunting and electrocution by power lines all due to increased rate of population growth.  In case of migratory birds Climate change adversely affects by reducing the availability of food at stopovers. Hunting and mobile signal towers are also adversely impacting migratory birds

1.Habitat loss and fragmentation

Habitats are fundamentally important to species’ survival. In the case of birds, habitats provide cover from predators; breeding, wintering, and migration stopover sites; and places to forage and roost. All of the habitats used by a bird play a role in its survival, and the loss or degradation of any one of them can potentially have a population-level impact. It is little surprise, and then, that habitat loss is the greatest threat to birds. The world’s forests, swamps, plains, lakes, and other habitats continue to disappear as they are harvested for human consumption and cleared to make way for agriculture, housing, roads, pipelines and the other hallmarks of development.  Population of yellow crowned woodpecker, birds of Prey and water birds are in decline owing to habitat destruction.

The amazon rain forest called as  “lungs of the planet” for its role in sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and adding fresh oxygen to it, harbors millions of bird’s species is being cut and cleared for agriculture purpose.

  1. Overexploitation of resources

Over exploitation is one of the major threats to global avian biodiversity. Human have drastically disturbed the natural rate of extinction of species. The illegal killing or smuggling of wildlife is rampant in almost all parts of world. Changing consumption patterns of humans is often cited as key reason for this unsustainable exploitation of natural resources.

  1. Pollution

All forms of pollution pose a serious threat to avian biodiversity. Industrialization has become one of the major threats to our environment. Pollution and contamination cause irreversible change to species. We know that pollution can threaten human health, birds which share the air we breath get affected by same respiratory problems as human when exposed to air pollution and can lead to inflammation, ruptured blood vessels and irreversible damage to birds lung.

  1. Climate change

The impacts of climate change, such as increased air and ocean temperatures, and increased frequency of extreme climatic events will directly and indirectly affect biodiversity. The climate change can intensify many catastrophic events, such as droughts, decrease water supply, threaten food security, erode and inundate coastlines, and weaken natural resilience.

When it comes to land biodiversity, global warming is the biggest enemy of the Polar Regions. Avifauna like penguins, puffins, and other Arctic creatures will face a constant threat of losing their habitat through the diminishment of ice caps.

We should consider the consequences of our actions on birds. Thinking about the importance of birds for us culturally, aesthetically, economically and environmentally can help us feel that we have many genuine reasons to protect them. By protecting birds we are looking after the environment as a whole. If we want to prevent further health crises, it is imperative that we listen to the birds clarian call.

Dr Renu Kohli , Associate Professor in zoology, Government Bangur college, Pali(Rajasthan). Joint secretary Ethological Society Of India



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