Birdman of India: Memories of Dr Salim Ali’s Contributions to Ornithology on the Occasion of His Birthday | The Weather Channel – Articles de The Weather Channel


An avid hunter transforms into an advocate of wildlife, lays the groundwork for a branch of science to thrive in India, and continues to pocket Padmabhushan and Padmavibhushan for his work. This is the story of Dr Salim Ali, affectionately known as the Birdman of India!

Ali was born into a well-to-do family in Mumbai (then Bombay) 125 years ago on November 12, 1896. Unfortunately, he was orphaned at the age of three and lived with his bird hunter uncle. Ali, too, would go through the woods with a Daisy air rifle when he was young to shoot game birds. One day, during his regular visit to the woods, he struck a sparrow with a distinct yellow spot on the throat. He had never seen such a species of sparrow before.

The curious Ali decided to take the dead bird to the Bombay Natural Historical Society for inspection. The minute the Society’s Honorary Secretary, WS Millard, saw the bird, he was surprised. The yellow-throated sparrow, Petronia xanthocollis, was an extremely rare species!

This was the turning point in Ali’s life, and he took it upon himself to educate himself and devote his life to ornithology. Decades later, he titled his engaging autobiography “The Fall of a Sparrow.”

Pursuing this career was not easy and was not even considered a respectable profession at the time. He had to endure many rejections, lose jobs, and even temporarily give up his dreams before moving from Salim Ali to Dr Salim Ali.

Dr Ali documented several species of birds throughout his research life and was also determined to conserve them and their habitats. He pioneered the introduction of systematic bird surveys in India.

The Book of Indian Birds

Among several of Dr. Ali’s writings, “The Book of Indian Birds”, a book that bird watchers still consider a bible, was published in 1940. Not only did it receive immense popularity, but Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s also appreciated by offering it to his daughter. “It opened my eyes to a whole new world,” Indira said years later. “For the first time. I paid attention to the birdsong and was able to identify the birds.

Dr Salim Ali was also instrumental in establishing the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary in Rajasthan, an important Ramsar wetland site, and stopping the destruction of the Silent Valley National Park in Kerala.

Nothing could discourage Salim Ali from conducting research, not even old age. Until the age of 87, he went on an expedition, and in 1983 he even spent weeks in remote areas of Namdapha National Park, near the Burmese border. As he was preparing for his field visit to the Himalayas to study mountain quail, he suddenly fell ill and had to put off his latest field trip plans. He died at the age of 90 on June 20, 1987.

In his memory, the Salim Ali Center for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON) was established in 1990 in Coimbatore by the Indian government. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, Goa, is also named after the legendary Indian ornithologist. In 2016, a species of bird, Zoothera salimalii, was also named in his honor.

Dr. Ali’s contributions have been a boon to bird research in India, and he has been a true inspiration to aspiring birders of every generation.

(with contributions from Reader’s Digest)


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