World Migratory Bird Day, being observed on May 11 and 12, brings to light the disastrous effects of plastic pollution on seabirds. `Threat of plastic pollution seabirds is global, pervasive and increasing’ research by Chris Wilcox, Erik Van Sebille and Birtta Denise Hardesty in 2015, estimated one million seabirds dying from plastic ingestion annually, while 99 % of seabirds will ingest plastic by 2050 going by current rates. Starting this year, the day will be observed twice a year, during the second week of May and October to increase awareness. The agenda of conservationists and scientists is to reduce, reuse and recycle and implement scientific waste management systems across countries.
The long layovers of migratory birds in India are challenging them to find alternative habitats for food and breeding but not all can survive the change. Although some places are still havens for migratory birds like Bharatpur in Rajasthan, Mumbai, coastlines of Gujarat, and Bengaluru among others, ornithologists want the breeding habitats to be protected with the intervention of national policies.
India is a part of the Central Asian Flyway covering large parts of Eurasia, from the Arctic Ocean to the Indian Ocean being one of the three routes for migratory birds. This flyway covers 279 migratory water bird populations that breed, migrate and spend non-breeding period within this region.
Indian ornithologists are busy conserving their natural habitats from the bane of urbanisation and hunting. Shashank Dalvi, ornithologist and director of Eco-Connect Ventures, from Bengaluru says, “There are two reasons why the numbers of migratory birds in India are dwindling–the loss of their natural habitats and breeding habitats, both due to changing land use patterns. If the feeding grounds change, some species can find alternative sites but some may not survive. But if the breeding grounds are affected, most species might be hurt. While most breeding grounds are in Siberia where conservation efforts are showing results, India provides them food and water during chilly winters. There have to be multiple small habitats for them to survive changes and that can happen only with joint efforts of the government by making suitable policies and conservationists.”
Bengaluru–the city having hundreds of lakes–is a unique city that houses 280 species of migratory birds for decades but changing landscapes are a concern. Bellandur that made national headlines, infamous for frothing over, was once home for over 50,000 ducks of many species. Lalbagh, Ulsoor, Hebbal, Hesaraghatta, Jakkur, Sankey Tank, Puttenahalli and many other lakes were havens for them but sewage inflow, hyacinth cover and land sharks eyeing banks of lakes shrunk these habitats and availability of food. However, conservationists and lake activists have been able to reclaim, redevelop and safeguard lakes and bring back these birds in Kaikondanahalli, Puttenahalli, Jakkur.
“Though not much long term data is available, common sense tells us that urbanisation and shrinking of grasslands and wetlands is definitely affecting all birds including migratory birds. Though many species and new species of migratory birds are making Bengaluru their home during winter, it is primarily due to the availability of water that is not easily found in drought hit areas of southern India. It is still unclear to ecologists how exactly migratory birds staying in India are affected by the changing landscape but some species have a strong affinity towards their place of halt and if they see that changing, they fight to survive. We are researching on Harriers which roost on grasslands. But that is shrinking rapidly across the country. They visit some other place but come back and occupy the same habitat, thus accommodating the change,” says Dr T Ganesh, senior fellow at ATREE.
He also said that the government is not focusing on increasing grasslands. “Some of the policies do not favour birds at all. Several ecologists have pointed out that grasslands are productive landscapes but the policies are too focussed on planting trees. Some policies only remain on paper and are not action oriented. The birds are losing their natural habitat,” he adds.
The Amur Falcons conservation campaign in Nagaland in 2012-13 was one of the success stories in Indian history. Shashank was a part of the conservation team that brought the state government, the Church, local self-help groups and conservationists to save the rare migrant from massacre. Doyang reservoir is one of the layovers for the Amur Falcon in India, travelling 22,000 km in a year from the inhospitable Arctic to Africa. But only in 2012 did it come to light that this bird was hunted in masses for meat by villagers; conservationists estimate 1,20,000 of them were butchered yearly. But since the campaign, not a single Amur Falcon has been hunted.
Baikal Lake in Russia is another global success story which brought back its inhabitants.
Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary was the only habitat for Siberian Cranes from the Ob marches of Siberia; they became extinct because they could not adapt to the changing landscape and dying sources of water.
Mumbai and its suburbs and some parts of Gujarat are still home to Flamingos. The Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) has initiated Save Flamingos by protecting their habitat–a campaign to raise awareness among all, highlighting the need for conservation of these pink beauties. It is also fighting to protect the 80 hectares of mangroves and wetlands on the prime location on Palm Reach road which realtors are eyeing. High court orders have saved it partially from being handed over to a private infrastructure company that has proposed residential and commercial development in the name of a golf course by CIDCO. BNHS together with TERI has issued various reports recommending that the area rich biodiversity should be preserved.