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Migratory birds that brighten up India every year

TreeTake is a monthly bilingual colour magazine on environment that is fully committed to serving Mother Nature with well researched, interactive and engaging articles and lots of interesting info.

Migratory birds that brighten up India every year

Plenty of birds seek refuge from either the clod in the North or the heat in the west and the south, and the climate of India provides the perfect escape from both...

Migratory birds that brighten up India every year

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AK Singh

A nation blessed with geographical diversity; India fosters a wildlife few other countries can match. While a huge multitude of animals walk its terrain, and an equally impressive number of birds soar its skies, the nation extends its famed hospitality to a whole host of migratory birds as well. It was Mumbai’s oddly misplaced flamingos of Sewri that inspired the search for them in the first place but upon closer inspection, we found that they were in much more hallowed company. Plenty of birds seek refuge from either the clod in the North or the heat in the west and the south, and the climate of India provides the perfect escape from both. Here are some of the most fascinating ones. For dexterous purposes, we decided to split them into 2 categories: The Winter birds, and the Summer birds.

A. The Winter Wings

I. Siberian Cranes: An endangered species, the Siberian Crane is a very distinctive – and endangered member of the crane family. While it nests in western Siberia throughout the year, the cranes undergo a 4,000 mile journey to India every winter to escape the deathly cold and lack of food in the Siberian regions. The cranes can be spotted mainly at two places: the Kaladeo Ghana National Park or the Bharatpur National Park, which has since been declared a world heritage site because the Siberian Crane traverses nearly half of the globe to reach it. However, in the recent past, things have drastically changed. The once regular visitors have started making sporadic appearances in the past decade or so – sometimes, disappearing for very long spells. Overpopulation, extreme weather changes and hunting are major contributors to this phenomenon. While the Crane Foundation is doing all it can to reroute the birds and bring them back to India, the chances, frankly, look bleak.

II. Greater Flamingo: While the Flamingos of Sewri might be renowned all over Mumbai, they’re actually Lesser Flamingos found in India and migrate within the country itself. Flocks of Greater Flamingos, however, start descending into Flamingo City to an island called Anda Bet, in the Greater Rann of Kutch which is the largest nesting site of the species in the country. In 2011, around 10 lakh flamingos were recorded in the island. They settle down in the month of October only. Flamingos are fussy, and breed in ideal conditions only. The level of water and availability of food are all take into account before the swarm of pink decides to settle down. However, since their last migration in 2011, the flamingos have disappeared and have not made any more arrivals. Although they are known to breed once every three years, their sudden disappearance is a cause of concern, experts believe. Another cause of worry in the Rann of Kutch salt marsh is that greater flamingos are occasionally electrocuted when they sit on 1000-watt electric cables near their breeding areas – only recently, 139 such deaths were recorded.

III. Ruff: The Ruffs are birds of the Arctic Tundra region. Although they spend the summer months breeding and rearing chicks, the winters pose a huge problem altogether as hell freezes over – literally. The subzero temperatures cause everything, from plants to flowers to insects, to freeze, which propels them to move South. One of their preferred destinations is India, where they can find food in abundance for the growth of their young ones. However, once the breeding season comes around again, they move back to the Tundra to repeat the cycle all over again.

IV. Northern Shoveler: This resident of Europe and Northern Asia, the Northern Shoveler is a species of duck that spends its winters in southern Europe, Africa, the Indian Subcontinent, northern South America, and the Malay Archipelago. A huge population of these birds, which spends its winters in the Indian Subcontinent makes a taxing journey over the Himalayas, often taking a break in wetlands just south of the Himalaya before continuing further south to India. The birds, which reside in marshy wetlands in the north, have seen a tremendous rise in its population in the past four decades, numbering over four million today.

V. Rosy Pelican: Pelicans are known to possess gigantic beaks – yet, the Rosy Pelican is known for its gigantic wingspan too, which stretches close to 12 feet in length. Like other winter migratory birds, the Rosy Pelican migrates to the north of India, settling down in shallow, fresh water lakes with plenty of fish. Although a majority of these birds settle down in Pakistan, some of them visit India, while some go as far and as high as Nepal. Due to overfishing, the Rosy Pelicans have had to go farther south to look for food, which has brought about a disruption in their habitat. However, on the odd occasion, they might also eat seagulls and ducklings – and sometimes, even steal other birds’ food!

VI. Gadwall: Myla. Bhuar. Beykhur. If you recognise any of those three names, you’d know we’re referring to Gadwall. The tiny brown duck is a common winter visitor in India, travelling many a mile from its home in Europe and North America. Gadwall generally prefers freshwater reedy marshes, lakes and other such low water bodies. It prefers to keep near emergent vegetation for quick availability of food. The bird can be spotted during the winters in north and central India, most notably in Bhopal.

VII. Black-tailed Godwit: The black-tailed godwits spend their summers in Iceland or Russia – where they breed, eat and raise their young. However, winters are not too kind on these delicate birds up in the north, so they migrate down south – landing in the lowland wet grasslands in North India. The birds prefer the mud and the muck, and can generally be found by inland pools, lakes and marshes. They feed on mostly insects or frogspawn, and walk the mucky lands in India for a good four-five months.

VIII. Spotted Redshank: A bird that soars the airs of Scandinavia in the summer turns South-East during the winters. The tiny Spotted Redshank needs a moderate temperature and tropical conditions, as well as wet coniferous forests for its nests. Therefore, the period after monsoons in India is perfect for their survival. The females the eggs and leave India to return to Scandinavia while the young ones hatch in India itself and are taken care of by the males. After the birds grow enough, they too return to Europe. These birds can be easily found in November in the wet, marshy areas in Haryana.

IX. Bluethroat: A beautiful bird that resembles a sparrow, the bluethroat, as the name suggests, is distinguished by the gleaming blue feathers below its neck. An excellent mimic, the bluebird is known to answer calls of other birds, while having a melodious originality in its own voice. A full grown bluethroat is no bigger than your palm, and thus cannot cope with the freezing winters in Europe or Alaska. During the winters, it can be spotted easily in Rajasthan; however, they are known to travel as far south as Maldives to look for a temporary home. The insectivore then travels back home in April, and looks for mates as the breeding season beckons.

B. The Summer Soarers

I. Asian Koel: What few people know is that the Asian Koel is not indigenous to India – it migrates from Singapore every year. With its mesmerising voice and perpetually bloodshot eyes, the bird is a brood parasite – it lays its eggs in the nests of other birds. In India, the victim is the poor crow, whose nests the Koel invades. The reason for the Koel’s migration, believe it or not, is unique too. The summers in Singapore and its surrounding tropical areas is “too hot” for the Koel and so it migrates to India to get a “cool” climate as well as considerable food! The migratory brood parasite, which leaves India during the winters, is also the state bird of Pondicherry.

II. Black-crowned Night Heron: Dubbed the night raven, the Black-crowned Night Heron is sprawled throughout the world – from Argentina and Chile to China and Taiwan. While it spends its winters in the west, the Heron spends much of its summer in Asia – and most of it, in the Indian subcontinent, especially in the Bengal region. The bird is known to eat fish, insects and even snakes.

III. Eurasian Golden Oriole: While its cousin, the Indian Golden Oriole, is a native of the Indian subcontinent, the Eurasian Golden Oriole does drop by every summer to exchange pleasantries. The bird lives across Europe and Africa, and is a summer migrant to the subcontinent and West Asia. The Oriole is known for its striking features and distinct cry – something, which people say, cannot be forgotten once heard.

IV. Comb Duck: The Comb Duck, or “Natka”, as it is called in India, is a large, queer duck found in large freshwater wetlands in sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar and south Asia. It also occurs in continental South America south to the Paraguay River region in eastern Paraguay, south-eastern Brazil and the extreme northeast of Argentina, and Trinidad. The queer duck prefers places that are away from human settlements, and is most comfortable in fresh water swamps and lakes in tropical lowlands. Found mainly in the state of Haryana, the duck migrates to India to escape the harsh weather conditions in other places.

V. Blue-cheeked Bee Eater: The Blue-tailed Bee-eater is a tiny, near passerine bird in the bee-eater family Meropidae. It is strongly migratory, seen seasonally in much of peninsular India and travels to the land for breeding purposes. Although its name might suggest otherwise, but the Bee Eater’s favourite food is the Indian dragonfly. It spends its summers in India and travels back to Africa and other parts of Europe at the end of the season.

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