Snow-capped mountains, lakes, and pilgrimage sites are the first things one associates with Uttarakhand. But the state harbours some rare wildlife that few know about. The region is diverse both in terrain and the biodiversity it supports. Its habitat is spread across different elevational levels of the Himalayas which include the Terai plains, the Bhabhars, the Shivaliks, the lower Himalayas and the Trans-Himalayas. Such diversity makes it the perfect paradise for birds and birdwatchers.
In 2015, the Uttarakhand’s State Forest Department published the second revised edition of the Checklist of the Birds of Uttarakhand. It was compiled by Dr Dhanajay Mohan and Sanjay Sondhi- two eminent ornithologists. According to the checklist, India is home to about 1303 bird species of which Uttarakhand houses 693. With more than 50 per cent of the country’s species seen here, it says a lot about its dynamic habitat. Five species of birds that are “Critically Endangered” according to the IUCN Red List are also found here. These include Baer’s pochard (Aythya baeri), slender-billed vulture (Gyps tenuirostris), white-rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis), red-headed vulture (Sarcogyps calvus), and Himalayan quail (Ophrysia superciliosa). This last species is considered extinct but may still survive in some remote unexplored areas in very small numbers.
Over the years, these winged marvels have attracted nature enthusiasts, researchers, and photographers to the region. In 2012, the Uttarakhand Forest Department’s ecotourism wing started the Uttarakhand Spring Bird Festival, hosting guided bird walks, talks, film screenings, and workshops for attendees from across the globe. In 2020, participants identified more than 300 species of birds during the festival. However, in 2021 the event was called off due to the Chamoli floods.