The Indian subcontinent has the world's highest cropland cover per unit area with rice (Oryza sativa) being the second-most important crop, and is home to nearly 1,300 species of birds. The significance of rice fields as bird habitat in the region is not well understood and the subject is reviewed using a combination of published and secondary information. Rice fields in the subcontinent are used by at least 351 species, although only 2.7% of birds occurring in the subcontinent breed in rice fields. The spread of rice cultivation and its attendant secondary habitats may have contributed to the increase in range and population of 64 common species but is threatening hundreds of other species, many of conservation concern. Most work in the region has focused on birds as pests of rice. Few studies have been conducted on the habits of birds that use rice fields and fewer still have compared how rice fields and similar natural habitats differ. Although rice harvesting has caused nest mortality for breeding birds, there is no comparable information from natural habitats. The guild structure of birds in rice fields is similar to that overall in the region except for a higher representation of carnivores. Rice fields are used primarily by grassland and wetland species. There are large information gaps that require filling to be able to ascertain the utility or impact of rice fields to bird populations and, thus, many research opportunities.
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Vol. 33 • No. sp1