While humans have largely stayed home over the past year, there have been plenty of anecdotal reports of wildlife reclaiming their habitats or even extending their territory. The David Attenborough-narrated documentary The Year Earth Changed, which chronicled the profound changes in the natural world in 2020, featured penguins exploring sidewalks in Cape Town, deer returning to their ancient grazing patch in Nara, and male leopards staking their claim on terraces at a safari lodge.
For city dwellers, waking gently to the sound of birds chirping has been one of the few upsides of lockdown, when traffic noise was replaced by the calming consonance of nature. Being stuck in one place also gave people time to explore their immediate surroundings, seeking solace in urban parks or nearby nature reserves.
“I believe many people found that nature helped get them through the isolation that the pandemic brought,” says Jackie Cestero, a local conservationist collaborating with Cap Juluca, a Belmond Hotel on the Caribbean island of Anguilla, to improve the resort’s sustainability initiatives. “Birdwatching in particular seems to be on the rise as a result of Covid-19. Many of our guests have noted they started birding during the pandemic and want to continue to explore birds when they visit Anguilla.”
The same is true closer to home. “During lockdowns all over the world, people paid more attention to nature,” says Singapore-based Yong Ding Li, Asia advocacy and policy manager of Birdlife International Asia. “I know several people who started ‘backyard birding’, which is basically observing the species of birds in one’s backyard.”
Oriental Pied Hornbills, for example, have been more visible in the Lion City not because of a change in their own behaviour, but due to more people stalking and posting photos of these distinctive creatures on Instagram. It’s not unusual to see throngs of birdwatchers and photographers at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and the outlying island of Pulau Ubin waiting to spot a Straw-headed Bulbul, Jambu Fruit Dove, Great-billed Heron and Lesser Adjutant Stork, species that call the cosmopolitan city-state home and are difficult to find in other parts of Asia.
For Yong, who advocates for the conservation of birdlife across the region, the more birdwatchers there are, the better. When he arrived in Singapore in 1990s, he was one of only a handful of birdwatchers on the scene; the community today numbers in the thousands.