The scorching heat of the Indian summer remains a constant threat to the avian species. Rising temperatures can lead to severe, even fatal cases of dehydration among birds. And that is why a number of campaigns are undertaken every summer by activists to combat this situation, where people are encouraged to place bowls of water outside their houses for smaller animals and birds, who otherwise have no access to natural watering holes in an urban setting.
A most comprehensive, tech-friendly and forward-looking initiative along these lines was recently launched by a Surat-based NGO, Prayas Team Environment Charitable Trust. “Surat faces higher temperatures than most other parts of the country, and a general lack of greenery here only adds to the misery of birds. We often get calls to report birds that just drop dead because of the heat,” says Darshan Desai, the co-founder of the NGO.
In order to ensure that birds in their areas had sure access to drinking water members of Prayas began distributing earthen pots for free to those who were ready to get involved in this project. These were specially crafted pots made out of the type of clay that kept the water cool for longer periods of time and were just deep enough to be of use to large and small birds that are usually found in Indian cities. “Even though there were many people who were interested in getting these pots, they weren’t keen on travelling all the way to the NGO to pick it up. This, the problem of distribution, was our first major challenge,” says Desai. After a lot of consultation, they identified 17 spots spread across the city, which were homes and shops of acquaintances that were earmarked as pick-up centers for the pots. But the challenge did not end there. “None of the newspapers agreed to spare space to just list down names, addresses, and contact details of these 17 centers, which affected our reach and made it tough for us to inform people,” says Desai.
After many brainstorming sessions, the team at Prayas struck the right chord with their idea for an app: The Bird Tap. Their move towards technology offered a quick solution to almost all their logistical and operational issues. This really basic app mapped all of Prayas’ pickup centres. Users who register on the app are automatically informed of the nearest centres from where they can pick up the earthen pot. On registration, the users also had to leave their contact details so that the NGO can compile a user database. Also, each and every pot that goes out is accounted for. Upon registration, the users are required to install the pots around their house, take a picture and upload it on the Bird Tap app. This enables the application to record the GPS location of a particular pot.
By the 45th day of this campaign, and after the launch of the Bird Tap app, we distributed some 15,000 clay pots around Surat and knew exactly where they were installed. A bird in Surat, we later found through our software, had only to fly a distance of 200 metres to get to a pot of drinking water.
With the use of the Bird Tap app and its database, the NGO has now managed to prepare a map of sorts outlining the location of every available water pot sent out to Bird Tap users in Surat. “By the 45th day of the campaign, we had distributed 15,000 pots and knew exactly where they were installed. And we could spot all of them. A bird in Surat, we found, had only to fly a distance of 200 metres to get to a water pot,” says Desai.
The app further sends out notifications thrice a day to remind users to fill or replace the water in the pots they’ve installed. The users are then required to click on the “done” tab to confirm that the pots have been refilled.
The app was designed, completed and launched all within a span of 10 days. “The current version of the app is quite crude, but is extremely effective and has proved to be a huge success. We have been getting calls from organisations in Delhi, Chennai, Bombay and Hyderabad — they are keen to bring this to their cities as well. We are now working to provide the app to others by the next season and are looking at Delhi and Chennai to begin with,” says Desai.