SUBJECT :On Migratory Birds Visiting Kashmir and the Need for Vibrant Ecosystems 

November 9, 2018: Birds are a cheerful creation full of wonder and beauty. Their colourful bright plumage enriches the natural scenic beauty of our planet and they are a valued component of wildlife. Bird calls, sounds and songs with a language as complex as any spoken words are equally mesmerizing. The melodious songs of birds have restorative effects and are very effective to combat depression, mood and heart problems. Birds have indispensable roles and are good bio-indicators of potential human impact and environmental degradation; therefore, they are natural agents measuring the ecosystem health Some birds called as resident ones don’t leave their original living areas while as others migrate in search of food, breeding and a suitable climate. These migratory birds are fascinating and their association with human life is very interesting; they have ecological, cultural, social and economic importance.

These birds have remarkable migration patterns and navigation skills including homing (return to same area after migration) instinct which has always fascinated and puzzled human minds. Birds have an inbuilt GPS and even sense the strength of earth’s magnetic field to feel their migratory direction. They have several different inbuilt compasses to guide their respective flight. Birds visualize and recognize even landmarks like mountains, rivers, and so on to navigate from one geographical region to other.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) passed in 1918 officially makes it a crime to “pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill or sell” a migratory bird or its “nests, eggs and feathers”. However, we have not seen its application, , in letter and spirit; instead, we are witnessing continuous killing and habitat destruction of migratory birds. Many of the migratory bird species are already threatened and on the endangered listed in the IUCN database.

There are about 9,000-10,000 living species of birds on earth. Out of these estimated species, around 13% are found in India. Kashmir valley is a home to around 262 species of birds including resident and migratory birds (summer and winter visitors) out of the total of 358 species recorded in the J&K State. Migratory bird watching and sport is an important hobby and is becoming part of a rapidly growing ecotourism industry. Thousands of migratory winter visitors have started to arrive in Kashmir valley since October from Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and so on), some countries of Eastern Europe (Russia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and so on), Siberia, China, Japan, Philippines and other regions of the world.

Many more will be arriving till February to overwinter here under the shadows of majestic snow clad mountains and valleys. We need to ensure a safe and poaching free environment for them so as to let them migrate back unhampered in late spring and pre summer with a blessed load of new generations.

Important migratory birds that visit Kashmir wetlands and water bodies during winter are generally ducks and geese. Few examples are: Common Teal (kuis), Pintail (pechin), Mallard (nilij), Common and Red-Crested Pochard (khrokh), Brahminy and Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Greylag Goose, Eurasian Wigeon and Northern Shoveler and so on. However, unfortunately we have lost the vast feeding and breeding areas for these visitors due to the rapid conversion of agricultural land into residential and commercial areas and devastation of wetlands due to encroachments and faulty policy of concerned Government agencies.

There have been half hearted initiatives and measures to safeguard the habitats of visiting migratory birds and very low control on their illegal killing. This has been the main reason behind depletion of suitable habitats for their sustenance and has resulted in the decline of their populations and diminished species richness. During earlier times, these migratory birds used to visit even the remote paddy fields of the valley to feed on the leftovers in the agricultural lands in the month of October; however, this trend is not noticeable now due to multiple reasons including the massive usage of pesticides in the agricultural lands.

Overall, habitat loss due to development and industrialization is the greatest threat to these migratory birds. We need to conserve bird visiting areas and to establish more bird conservation areas and sanctuaries in Kashmir valley. Our state bird (Black Necked Crane) , one of the beautiful migratory species of cranes restricted in distribution to the Ladakh region is critically endangered (vulnerable) due to habitat alteration and indiscriminate poaching.

All in all, migratory birds are facing continuous threats due to multiple problems in the environment both natural and anthropogenic. Climate change, chemical use, loss of food source, overharvesting are the other impacts on migratory bird loss. Various measures are already being taken at national and state level for bird conservation, but we need more, logical and sustainable efforts. Important habitats of birds, including migratory birds, have been notified as protected areas for better conservation, management and sustainable use under the Ramsar Convention of 1971, Indian Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 and J&K State Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1978. However, we need to use more resources and put sincere efforts for their management and conservation. More awareness about stopping of habitat destruction, indiscriminate poaching and killing of birds need to be disseminated. Regional studies based on field data and laboratory analysis need to be carried out to examine how the changing environment is impacting these migratory birds. Climate change has already altered the biological life on this planet and it would be interesting to know how climate change threatens birds’ lives and their survival under changing climatic patterns, food insecurity and new diseases burden.