South Asia

Organized Panel Session

3 - Human-Bird Relations in India: From Hunting to Watching

Friday, July 6
10:20 AM - 11:50 AM
Location: Cypress, New Building

Human-bird relations have undergone major transformations in terms of historical, cultural and economic importance given to birds in many societies. Meanings attached to birds vary based on occupation, ethnicity, region, nationality, education level and religion. Birds are sold as meat, kept in cages as pets and as display objects in zoos, as performers in nature and amusement parks, but increasingly urban dwellers seek out these birds in gardens, forests and nature parks for their weekend hobby. Bird watching is increasingly becoming one of the most popular hobbies in India. In this paper, I analyze how the relations between humans and birds carry different meanings across various societies: from pre-agricultural to current day industrial-technological society: from hunting and trapping to the practice of ‘watching’ birds.


Using of a notion of values that we, as humans, attach to the avian species, I show how and why birds have occupied a crucial place in people’s imagination, specifically in the lives of people who watch birds as a leisure activity. Based on ethnographic research in India, I will demonstrate the rise in the popularity of bird watching among the middle-class Indians by examining the accessibility of certain technologies related to visual aids: binoculars, cameras, bird guides and in the growth of ecological sciences as a discipline in India. By institutionalizing this weekend hobby in the form of bird-based tourism, birds have attained a ‘universal value’ which I attribute to both global conservation philosophy and global capitalism.

Ambika Aiyadurai

Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar, India

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3 - Human-Bird Relations in India: From Hunting to Watching



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