The passing of migratory birds is one of the great wonders of nature that has fascinated mankind over centuries. The sight and sound of cranes and geese while flying on their V formation are often perceived as a herald of spring and a symbol of good luck by people all over the world.
Birds travel thousands of kilometres as they travel to their wintering grounds and on their way back to their breeding areas. These journeys are repeated every year requiring precise orientation and high energy consumption, as an ecological adaptation to different environmental conditions and as a way to exploit food resources available at different times of the year.
The migration routes followed by birds are called flyways and these routes encompass the breeding, wintering and staging areas required to complete the whole annual cycle.
Kashmir valley is known as the land of wetlands. Noted among the lakes of Kashmir valley are Sheeshnag, Manasbal, Wular Lake, Dal Lake, Hokersar, Nilnag, Gangbal, Vaishansar, Kishansar, Kausarnag, Khanpur and Waskur. Thousands of migratory birds come to these Wetlands from Siberia and other regions in the winter season.
Migratory birds from Siberia and Central Asia use wetlands in Kashmir as their transitory camps between September and October and again around spring. These wetlands play a vital role in sustaining a large population of wintering, staging and breeding birds.
Some of the most sighted birds in the wetlands of Kashmir are Brahminy Duck, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Garganey, Greylag Goose, Mallard, Common Merganser, Northern Pintail, CommonPochard, Ferruginous Pochard, Red-Crested Pochard, Ruddy Shelduck, Northern Shoveler, Common Teal, and Eurasian Wigeon.
The conservation of birds and their habitats should really be considered the business and concern of everybody. For one, birds are an important part of our world by performing a variety of important ecosystem services and functions. Their beauty, diversity and ability to bring us great joy and pleasure is widely reflected in our poetry, art, literature and crafts.
The main threats to migratory species include land-use changes from agriculture, forestry and development; illegal hunting and taking for trade and recreation; impacts from invasive and non-native species; emerging diseases; pollution, especially in the marine environment; climate change and severe weather; natural system modifications (owing to, for example, dams, wetland drainage, modification of tidal regimes); infrastructure development (causing habitat loss and mortality owing to artificial structures); human disturbance; fishing resulting in bycatch (of seabirds); and energy distribution (e.g. power lines).
In all continents of the world, habitat loss and degradation is a widespread and very significant threat to migratory birds and seems only likely to increase as a pressure as economic development adversely impacts the environment.
Migratory birds of different species start flocking wetlands and lakes of Kashmir, but the count of avian visitors have registered a steep decline. Officials attribute rapid urbanization, accumulation of silt and shrinking of wetlands as major causes of decline.
Asian Water bird Census conducted last year in 13 wetlands across Kashmir had recorded over five lakh birds, but only 33 species with over 94 per cent of all the counted birds recorded in two wetlands, Hokersar and Shallabug.
Earlier, Bombay Natural History Society’s annual Bird Migration Project in 1989 had recorded 64 species in the Valley wetlands. Some species that would be seen earlier no longer visit Kashmir
Officials say the Hokersar wetland has shrunk to 13.75 square kilometres from 19 square kilometres, similarly, Haigam wetland that used to be 14 square kilometres has lost half of its area to encroachments. Wetlands like Gulzarpora and Chursoo in Awantipora have been transformed into paddy fields.
Illegal and poor hunting practices are a cause for concern because regulation is important to sustainability. In Kashmir valley, it is estimated that there are more than 60000 illegal hunters, the slaughter of birds is going on without any check. The hunters have been given a free hand to kill the birds.
On an average, they kill 800 to 900 birds a day, unabated poaching of migratory birds by professional hunters in collusion with some officials is going on unabated in wetlands.
In absence of any monitoring, the hunters are having a field day to poach the migratory birds, and to conclude that illegal hunting in Valley alone could have serious repercussions on the overall conservation status of many migratory species.
Although, the State Wildlife Protection Department is managing these through State Plan Budget and centrally sponsored schemes “Conservation and Management of Wetlands”.
Under the State Plan, an amount of Rs. 30-35 lakhs is being provided to this department for the management of these wetlands and the department is able to carry out only minimal activities.
Further, only some wetlands are covered for financial assistance under centrally sponsored schemes. Peoples’ participation for better management of wetlands is required to be strengthened in order to save these wetlands from extinction.
In this regard the department intends to constitute Conservation Reserve Management Committees and Eco Development Committees for people’s participation in the conservation programme.
Migratory birds don’t recognize international boundaries, every winter they come to my city to find some warmth, to sing some ditty, their soft feathers painted by sun’s lazy rays, the cool breeze revives their days. They’ve come a long way to seek good life,
For the sake of love, they blend it with strife, a thousand mile they cover to reach my side, stale city air, there’s no place to hide!, still, they fly, still, they chirp, they are nature’s own harp, their flight is a treat to the eyes, the beauty of nature, there it lies. Let us work together to protect migratory birds from illegal killing, taking and trade!