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Birds call to mark their territory, breed, raise alarm’Manka Behl,

Times of India, New Delhi, 20th October, 2015

NAGPUR: Sharad Apte, a resident of Sangli, had no instrument to record or register bird calls. But he did. And has been doing that ever since. Then, he used to put up microphones on tree branches to record bird calls and now, 17 years later, he has been doing exactly that using modern instruments like parabolic microphone and has recorded calls of 400 bird species from all over the country.


When Apte started recording sounds of birds, such a thing was less heard of. "I have been birdwatching since 1990 and was always allured by bird calls. Initially, I used to note down the date, time and place whenever I heard a bird call. After gathering some data, I realized that birds have a specific place where they halt and make calls," he says.


Apte had nobody to teach him the techniques. "I had not much knowledge about how to handle instruments, how to set recorders, analyzing frequencies and sample rate. I started with hanging microphones at regular spots of birds and would connect it with a cassette recorder. Later, I used bionic ear and booster set till a Sweden-based company gifted me a parabolic microphone," he says.


When it comes to calling, birds are most active during their breeding season. "Like humans build compound walls and tigers spray urine to mark their territory, birds use calling to do the same. For instance, cuckoos lay eggs in crow's nest. So, a male cuckoo selects a nest and starts calling to attract a female cuckoo and also let its opponents know that the territory has been marked. Birds generate different calls like alarm calls, breeding-time calls, group calls, warning calls and contact calls," says Apte.


Apte conducts workshops across Vidarbha on techniques of recording bird calls and explains its importance in conservation.


Though Apte has covered many states including Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Assam, Uttarakhand and Bhutan, the melodious call of a 'Shama' bird which he recorded at Western Ghats is his favourite. His other interesting recordings are those of a long-tailed shrike which mimicked sound of a wailing dog.


Apte, who has won various awards like Vasundhara Putra award by Dodiya trust, Sangli Icon for unique contribution in Indian ornithology and Vasundhara Mitra award by Kirloskar Foundation, believes that India needs to do proper scientific research on bird calling. "It plays an important role in understanding the ecology and behaviour of birds which results in better conservation," he says.