Documenting Delhi’s winged residents
So this became a passion project,” shares Kumar, who regularly shuttles between Moti Nagar and the WWI headquarters, Dehradun.
Have you ever wondered about the kites seen circling around landfills in Delhi? Why do they only inhabit a specific area and where do they come from? Seeking answers to such questions, Nishant Kumar (33), an ornithologist and researcher at Wildlife Institute of India (WWI)—an autonomous institution of the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change, Government of India—launched the Black Kite Project in 2012, in collaboration with WWI. His aim was to document these raptors in Delhi-NCR.
A Bihar native, Kumar—he launched the Project as part of his undergraduate thesis while studying Zoology at Sri Venkateswara College in 2010—had been regularly acquainted with birds of prey in his area. Talking about how he frequently encountered them, he explains, “During my undergraduation, it struck me that the vulture population had declined in comparison to how I had witnessed them during my childhood. So this became a passion project,” shares Kumar, who regularly shuttles between Moti Nagar and the WWI headquarters, Dehradun.
The Black Kite Project is an offshoot of a study on vultures. Kumar explains how he had noticed that with the dwindling population of vultures, the population of black kites have been on the rise in urban areas. “I came to the conclusion that they were not correlated. This, however, paved the way for further questions about black kites, which needed to be answered,” he shares. Since then, Kumar, his co-researcher Urvi Gupta, and their team have been regularly monitoring urban spaces–especially green zones and garbage dumps that are frequented by kites—to document these birds of prey.
Gauging the effect
Along with the documentation of these medium-sized birds, the Project also attempts to understand the human-kite relationship. “Kites are opportunistic scavengers. They can prey if necessary, but if there are morsels of food available, they will go for it instead,” Kumar adds. Explaining their interaction with humans, he cites the example of the religious practice of bird feeding. “Muslims often feed meat to kites as a way of honouring Allah. Although this practice is not limited to just kites, these birds have responded to this action over the years.”
While many people still do not consider the study of this avian species as priming research, Kumar harps on the fact that these birds are important indicators of ecological change in urban cities such as Delhi. Kumar elaborates, “People think that just because kites don’t face conservation threat, they do not need to be studied. However, predators are great indicators of environmental change.
Kites have been in existence before humans and it would be a sorry affair to lose them because that would mean, we are transforming our ecosystems in ways which would make even us impossible to sustain in it.” In conclusion, he shares, “We are changing our cities in ways that indicate prosperity, but our methods of disposal are still primitive. In a scenario where our dependence on organisms is so prevalent, it is important to make sure these organisms have a habitat of their own.”