Haven’t we all, some time or the other, gushed over a bird resting on a nearby window sill or a tree branch, and marvelled at its colourful plumage as it sat there preening its feathers?
But how many of us actually wondered why it is so colourful?
When it comes to birds, most people are strangely blasé. Rarely do we think about which bird is India’s smallest, the heaviest, or the most intelligent. In fact, how many of us ever wonder why the peacock, our national bird, is so colourful?
But now, avid bird watcher and Bengaluru resident Ulhas Anand is trying to get people more interested. His tool: A podcast on birds named just that — The Bird Podcast.
“The podcast provides a window to those stuck in traffic or just needing a break, to take a virtual tour of sorts,” says Anand, a full-time coder and product manager, and a part-time birder.
“If we can make a few more people go outdoors regularly, it would have been worth all the effort.”
Dead as a dodo…almost
The podcast could not have come too soon; migratory birds have declined steadily over the years in Bengaluru — data from 2014-19 points to that — even as Indian species declined by half over the past three decades in the country, and people need to be aware.
Anand talks of birds from Siberia, Central Asia and other far-off lands as well as many from India’s temperate regions flying to Bengaluru’s wetlands during the winter months, and leaving with the onset of summer.
But over the past three decades, he reckons, their numbers have fallen “by almost over 95 percent”. Plus, fewer species are sighted now.
“Bengaluru would play host to thousands of ducks a few decades ago,” Anand says. “And now, one needs to travel at least a few hours to spot the species once sighted around the city.”
30 years of birding
Anand started birding during his school days. It has been 30 years since, and he says he “thoroughly enjoys the outdoors” while at it.
“What amazes me is how little we know and how much there is to learn each time one goes for a walk in nature,” Ulhas Anand tells South First.
“It’s a great hobby having a fantastic fraternity across the world.”
It is this fraternity Anand is helping to grow by hosting the Bengaluru Bird Day — an annual event he started in memory of Dr Joseph George, doyen of group birdwatching in Bengaluru.
Seminars related to birds and their habitats are organised on the occasion, held every October, with experts and bird enthusiasts sharing their experiences and knowledge.
And now Anand, a powerhouse of knowledge about birds and conservation in his own right, has begun sharing his insights with the people of Bengaluru through the podcast.
As he says of his effort, “the main goal is to bring about more awareness”.
Birds of the same feather….
But Anand is not alone in his venture; joining hands with him in designing the podcast and keeping it going is a senior journalist and writer Shoba Narayan.
While he uses his expertise in product design to present the podcast, Narayan brings her skill as a journalist to research, report and create scripts for each episode. In fact, the podcast was her idea.
The two met accidentally a few years ago at Ulsoor Lake, where Anand was visiting with his wife to see the nesting water birds.
“We began talking about birds, and I was amazed at how much knowledge Anand had,” Narayan recalls of their first meeting.
Following this, Narayan started participating in Bengaluru Bird Day events, and with her interest in birding peaking, she suggested that they start a podcast together on birds.
“I agreed to take care of the technical aspects, while Shoba said she would bring her content expertise to helm the entire show. It was an idea worth exploring,” says Ulhas Anand.
The Great Indian Bustard
The first episode — on the Great Indian Bustard — was released in May 2017. But they took a hiatus before the year ran out, restarting in March 2021.
“We had a lot going on in our professional and personal lives. And since we were just doing it by ourselves, that was not enough bandwidth to continue it,” Narayan explains.
Anand updated the website in 2021 after the two brainstormed on ways to improve the podcast.
The podcast aims to educate and entertain listeners and viewers about the beauty of nature. It originally had just listening capabilities, but later featured expert interviews on Zoom, which were uploaded on YouTube as well.
“So now, The Bird Podcast is also a visual medium in that you can view it on YouTube,” says Narayan.
Both Narayan and Anand have full-time jobs even as they keep the podcast running. “If one is passionate, then the time can be found always,” says Anand.
Gender balanced platform
The Bird Podcast is gender balanced in the sense that guest speakers have an equal percentage of women.
“The wildlife community, much like everything else, is dominated by men,” says Narayan, talking of experts on wildlife.
Consequently, a concerted effort had to be made to locate and include women scholars, scientists, authors, and experts in birding and nature conservation.
“I think it gives the show a different depth and dimension,” she tells South First.
The response to the podcast, its creators say, has been “great”.
“We have been ranked as one of the best shows by Audubon and this has put India and our birds on the listening list,” Anand says, referring to the Audubon Society, an American non-profit dedicated to the conservation of birds, other wildlife and healthy ecosystems.
So what types of topics does the podcast try to feature? Narayan says the show attempts to answer different types of questions.
For instance, it explores issues such as why India has so many different types of birds, what are the ones endemic to South India, why we have a state bird, which is India’s heaviest bird, or something that people marvel at but seldom think about later — why are some birds so colourful, and others not so much?
And there is no hard and fast rule that the topics be India-centric either; an earlier episode featured an interview with Australian Franck Masna, an Aboriginal elder, who gives viewers glimpses into the birds of Australia.
However, ask Narayan and Anand to choose their favourite episode, and they find themselves in a predicament. As Narayan says, “each (episode) has its own narrative charm and educational insights.”