On the occasion of World Migratory Birds’ Day, let’s look at the need for the conservation of migratory birds and their habitats, and its deeper implications
An Amur falcon perches itself atop a tree, by the Doyang reservoir in Nagaland. This is its first halt during its non-stop flight over the Arabian Sea. Soon it will take another giant leap to travel all the way to Africa.
World Migratory Birds’ Day is celebrated on the 10th of October each year to create awareness about the migration of birds through various flyways spread across the globe. It is also celebrated to underline the importance of ecological connectivity of ecosystems, and the need for their conservation.
Basically, birds migrate from one ecological landscape or habitat to another, mostly in search of food, or to avoid adverse and hostile weather conditions, and to complete parts of their life cycle in a connected ecological landscape.
For example, in India, hundreds of thousands of migratory birds come from Siberia, Russia, China, Mongolia, and other Central Asian countries, every winter. They come from these regions where weather conditions are extremely precarious and the whole landscape in covered with snow. Getting food and remaining alive in temperatures ranging from -30 to -50 degrees Celsius is almost impossible for them, so they fly thousands of kilometers at a stretch and make many countries of the Southern Hemisphere their destination, including India.
These birds spend four to five months and breed in order to complete their life cycles, then go back to their habitat of origin, with the offspring they produce. In this process, they connect the ecological landscapes with their movement. The striking notion around the migration of birds is its magnitude – as a phenomenon, it is hard to miss. This is not the case, either for migration of mega faunal species like elephants in particular, or marine species like turtles.
Bird migration substantiates the need of protecting their flyways and habitats that have been in use for centuries. The most important habitats in human-dominated regions are wetlands, which are depleting at an alarming rate due to rapid urbanization and developmental activities. It is high time we appreciate the need of conserving the wetlands, and in turn conserving the species of birds that rely on wetlands in order to complete their life cycles. If not, we could be witnessing the loss of such species in the days to come, as we have already seen in the case of Siberian cranes.
This year’s theme for World Migratory Birds’ Day is ‘birds connect our world’ – this was chosen with the aim of highlighting the need of maintaining ecological connectivity and the integrity of ecosystems so that the natural movement of migratory birds may be ascertained, which in turn, is also important for the survival of other species including human beings. It is important to also be aware of the flyways, which birds utilize, to migrate from one habitat to another, and those which connect different parts of the world.
There are nine major flyways across the world and India is a part of the Central Asian flyway and the East Asian-Australasian flyway. Hundreds of species use these two flyways to reach the Indian subcontinent, South-East Asia, Australia, and Oceania. All the stopovers in these flyways are of equal importance. One of the best examples of stopovers is that of Nagaland, where thousands of Amur falcons take a stopover for two months during their over 22,000-kilometer-long yearly flight, between Russia, China, and Africa.
Birds are the longest travellers on Earth – flocks of these seemingly small and fluffy creatures endure months of physical hardship with unmatched resilience to complete their journeys. They lead flock formations, fly for days at stretch, exhibit a near-perfect sense of direction, and traverse staggering distances. The marking of days such as World Migratory Birds’ Day would be rendered futile if the youth of today, the true custodians of our world and its ecological treasures remain unaware of the sheer brilliance of nature and its creatures. It is also imperative to rope-in local communities for conservation efforts. After all, it is in all of our collective hands to create awareness, encourage engagement, and amplify the message of conservation, protection, and sustainable growth.
Photos: Birds by Sanjay Kumar, IAS; Wetlands by Ramesh Pandey
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