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The vanishing Swallows (Katij) ,once a beautiful tale in every Kashmiri household: Climate, socio-cultural change affects bird populations in Kashmir
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The vanishing Swallows (Katij) ,once a beautiful tale in every Kashmiri household: Climate, socio-cultural change affects bird populations in Kashmir

Post by Javid Sofi on Sunday, June 4, 2023

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Pulwama:  Huzaif Mohammad Sofi, a four year old kid was excited after noticing a pair of swallow hovering in air over their courtyard at Wahibugh village in Southern Kashmir a couple of months ago.

This was for the first time the kid had discovered this perching bird commonly called Katij in Kashmiri.

The swallows would make repeated flights to enter the corridor of Huzaif’s single storey house but finding the front door, the only  entrance to the corridor shut, they would return without landing and hover in the air restlessly.

Huzaif’s grandmother told Rising Kashmir that the swallows would come to their house each year in summers and built a well crafted nest under the ceiling of their corridor.

She said that the previous year the nest was destroyed by one of her family members after noticing many bird droppings in the corridor.

This time these migratory avian guests visited our house as usual but the doors have been shut to them,” she said.

The restless flights of these pair of passerine birds would make Huzaif upset and he would ask his father to explain to him their cause of uneasiness.

After listening that the birds had a nest in his house, Huzaif asked his father for letting them in by throwing the door open.

On Huzaif’s insistence, the door was opened but by the time the swallows had left not to return again. The departure of these beautiful birds made Huzaif sad and  for many days he would  look into air to find a glimpse of them but he couldn’t.

The swallows might have shifted somewhere else to find a new house for breeding and laying eggs.

Ghulam Hassan, an aged resident of Wahibugh village, said that these avian guests were welcomed in every home in olden days with a sense of respect.

“ They would enter through sides of attics, doors or windows and make their nests in our houses at their place of liking,” he said, adding that they were taken care of and no one was allowed to harm  them, their eggs, young ones or their nest.

The old man said  that as design and structure of houses built in Kashmir  changed, these migratory birds find it hard to penetrate them which caused a  drastic fall in their numbers.

This avian singer is not the only bird species affected by climate and socio- cultural change but there are many in the list.

Tahir Hussain, an environmentalist from Pulwama district, said that many song birds like Shin e Pipin ( Streaked Laughing Thrush), Poshnool( Golden Oriole) and Hazar Dastan( Blue Whistling Thrush) have faded away from many urban areas.

He said that even the house sparrow ( Tsar), Nightingale( Bul Bul) and Owl ( Rahte Moghul) which were once  densely  populated bird species are becoming scare from many areas.

He said that the decrease in bird populations has been due to socio-cultural and climatic change.

He elaborated this by taking example of Sparrow.  “Grains are the stable food for this  perching bird species, it used to feed on paddy and other grain yielding crops but there has been a massive crop conversion in recent years,” he said, adding that conversion from paddy to apple impacted this bird species.   

He said that plantation of apple trees not only affected their feeding pattern but also the surrounding habitat and other life forms.

Frequent use of pesticides destroyed many insects on which they were feeding up on,” Tahir said, adding that the pesticides also polluted water bodies and caused soil pollution.

He added that climatic change, encroachment of water bodies and habitat destruction drove these birds away.

He said that first ever census report on water bodies released by Jal Shakti Department Government of  India recently reported that 27 per cent ( 2, 272)  water bodies have dried up in Jammu and Kashmir beyound repair .

He said that the census document further reported encroachment in 103 water bodies.

This is worrying for all of us,” he said, adding that a large number of bird species prefer to live near streams because they love to feed on insects.

When the streams dry up, they will be compelled to move away,” he said, adding it will disturb many food chains and energy cycles.

Dr Rouf ur Rafiq, Assistant Professor for environmental studies, said that decline in bird populations is a global phenomenon.

He said that in Kashmir many factors affected bird population which included habitat loss, mining activity, pesticide spray, food scarcity, radiations from mobile towers, poaching, window collisions,  and environmental pollution.

To him climatic change triggered by anthropogenic agents is the  most predominant factor.

“ Human caused climatic change in the anthropocene is unprecedented making it difficult for birds to adapt ,” he said, adding changes in environment affect timing of bird migration, egg laying pattern, shape and size of birds and their breeding mechanisms.

He said that around 13 lakh migratory birds arrived in various wetlands of Kashmir this winter from various Eurasian countries but they left early in February due to change in climatic conditions.

In his research article, why birds matter to us, Khurshid Ahmad Tariq, notes “ we have lost the vast feeding and breeding areas for these visitors ( migratory birds) due to rapid conversion of agricultural land into residential areas and devastation of wetlands. 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."

Dr Rouf ur Rafiq urges for  taking various steps to conserve the bird populations by protecting their habitat.

“ We have to bring change in our habits, start feeding birds during winters especially during snowy days and encourage bird watching,” he said, adding that other in situ and ex situ measures should be taken to conserve threatened species.

Dr Fayaz, an ornithologist, said that climate change has impacted the bird populations. “How much they have been affected is the subject of research,” he said, adding so far little research has been conducted here on the subject.

He said that it becomes necessary to conserve birds to maintain ecological balance in the environment.

He said that Haigam,  Hokersar and Wular lake have been designated as wetlands of international importance under Ramsar convention and are protected areas.

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