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Declining numbers of Blue-tailed bee-eater worry conservationists

Aparna Karthik, DH News Service, Bengaluru, Apr 19 2017, 2:25 IST

Rare sighting

Chandagala in Srirangapatna taluk, Mandya district, is the favourite breeding ground  of the Blue-tailed bee-eater. photo by shyamsundar  nijgal

Chandagala in Srirangapatna taluk, Mandya district, is the favourite breeding ground of the Blue-tailed bee-eater. photo by shyamsundar nijgal

Once sighted in the thousands, the Blue-tailed bee-eater is a sparsely spotted bird these days.

Bird watchers and photographers say their numbers have significantly declined from thousands to a few hundreds in the last five years. In South India, the tiny beauty is endemic to Chandagala, a village on the banks of River Cauvery and close to the historic town of Srirangapatna in Mandya district.

The Blue-tailed bee-eater (Scientific name - Merops philippinus) is migratory by nature. The bird is found in peninsular parts of the country. It is found in large numbers in Chandagala during its breeding season between March and May. Birds like white-breasted kingfisher, buschat and pipit also visit the nearby Naguvanahalli for breeding.

The bee-eater is a rare colourful bird that feeds on bees, dragonflies, worms and butterflies. “I have been photographing the bird for the past eight years and have seen the numbers significantly decline. The population of the Blue-tailed bee-eater has declined by 80% in the last five years,” said Shyam Sundar Nijagal, wildlife conservationist and veteran photographer.

“One of the main reasons these birds migrate to Chandagala is ample availability of water#, favourable conditions for nesting in sand and availability of food on the river bank,” said Shashank Raj, wildlife photographer and IT professional.

“The Blue-tailed bee-eater is a colony nester that builds nests in sand below the ground. The birds burrow the sand, using their beak to peck and loosen the sand. They form a tunnel inside which they breed. A colony consisting of 20 to 25 nests is built in a particular bank area,” said Nijagal. “The numbers have significantly reduced due to sand mining, cattle intervention as donkeys and other animals stray into their nesting areas and predators like snakes that feed on the birds’ eggs,” said Nijagal.

“The migration of blue-tailed bee-eaters is not yet complete, due to which you see declined numbers. They arrive by the end of April and are present through the breeding season and till the end of June. We have put up electric fences to prevent cattle from straying into the birds’ nesting areas. The reduction in the number of trees has led to the decline in their numbers,” said Devaraj, Range Forest Officer of Ranganathittu.


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