BNHS was started by eight amateur naturalists of Mumbai, of which two were Indians. The guiding principle of BNHS has been that conservation should be based on scientific research - a tradition exemplified by its former president, DrSálim Ali - world renowned ornithologist and receiver of Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan awards by Government of India. Other past stalwarts at BNHS included Mr B G Deshmukh, former president, who was Cabinet Secretary, Government of India and Mr J C Daniel, former vice-president and director, who was an internationally known wildlife biologist and conservationist.
Today, BNHS has a vibrant presence at dozens of places across India covering diverse habitats such as forests, grasslands, wetlands, mountains, deserts and marine areas. This includes work in the Global Biodiversity Hotspots such as Western Ghats and eastern Himalaya. Over 150 scientists and professionals work on and off the field to further the tasks of research, conservation and nature education. BNHS has been designated as a Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (SIRO) by Department of Science & Technology, Government of India and is the Partner of BirdLife International in India.