Migratory birds vanish as wetlands shrink

Migratory birds vanish as wetlands shrink

The declining number of migratory birds in Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh has sent alarm bells ringing among bird researchers and scientists.

They blame the fall in the number of migratory birds on loss of habitat due to human encroachment.

Every winter, migratory birds from north and central Asia visit the cold yet warmer parts of the Indian subcontinent.  Although the number of species has remained constant over the years, the declining population per species is worrying scientists.

They say rapid urbanisation has led to this situation. According to experts, birds that thrive in swampy wetlands face a higher risk. “Rapid urbanisation and encroachment upon habitat is the single biggest reason for the decline in bird population, especially migratory birds,” environment activist Mehran Zaidi said.

Surya Prakash, ornithologist and professor of zoology at JNU, said the number of migratory birds per species has drastically gone down. “Commercial use of wetlands has affected the aquatic ecosystem,” he added. The once famous Najafgarh jheel has also dried up. The water body, now called Najafgarh drain, was a major nesting ground for water birds. Several water bodies in Haryana and UP, which used to attract migratory birds, have dried up.

According to Prakash, non-aquatic birds like black redstarts, blue throats, red throated flycatchers and wagtails, which inhabit forests, fare better due to the good green cover in Delhi and some cities in Haryana.

“We used to see a large number of flamingoes in Bassai wetlands of Haryana in winter, but this season we hardly saw any of them. Even common cranes have not been sighted in Delhi this winter,” he said.

The government’s apathy in conserving man-made habitats for birds has worsened the problem. At Okhla Pakshi Vihar in south Delhi, birds brave filthy water, thin tree cover and high-voltage cable wires to search for food. The government must develop the sanctuary properly, says experts.

“The watchtowers are dilapidated. If the authorities can’t maintain even a watchtower, what’s the use of having the sanctuary,” asked Jeetendra Parashar, an amateur photographer who visits the place often. He said most bird sanctuaries in the region are poorly maintained, except for the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary in Gurgaon.