World Migratory Bird Day: How Can We Protect Avian Migration?

Flamingos in Mumbai During Covid19 Lockdown

Migratory birds are nothing less than nature’s miracle. As we observe the world migratory birds day, I find it fascinating to examine how India has been host to several migratory birds for centuries. By the virtue of its geographic location, India is a haven for several species of birds. While many of them fly thousands of kilometers to avoid harsh winters, several other bird species see India as a good habitat for breeding and raising their little ones. If you are new to India, you will be happy to know how each region of the country is home to a different variety of migratory birds. 


As I move on to share my thoughts about these avian fellas, it strikes me how a single blog can perhaps do no justice to the various batches of birds taking flights to India. Yet, I am going ahead with presenting my thoughts and understanding of these beautiful winged creatures. It is interesting to see how the Indian government has identified and set up dedicated bird sanctuaries – it is almost like setting runways for the easy landing of the migratory birds. There are more than 50 bird sanctuaries in the country; I begin my journey into the avian ecology with the famous Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, now known as Keoladeo National Park. 

Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary: Heaven for Migratory Birds 

A world heritage site now, the bird sanctuary was once a duck shooting venue for the British viceroys. For instance, on the fatal day of 12th Nov 1938, Viceroy Linlithgow and his hunting team shot down, 4273 birds using 39 guns. Imagine… so many birds being shot just for entertainment! Today instead of the gun firings, all you hear here is a cacophony of native as well as migratory birds. 

The picture shared below is the records cast in stone in the Bharatpur bird sanctuary. Any visitor to the beautiful bird sanctuary can feel their blood curdle on seeing this grave imagining just how many more birds there should be. Extinction, no doubt, is a real issue – and turns out, is more of a human-made problem. 

Documentation of birds killed during colonial times

Documentation of birds killed during colonial times

Among its noted avian guests to the Bharatpur bird sanctuary are the Siberian cranes. Also known as snow cranes, the endangered bird species, migrate to Bharatpur in the winters. Bar-headed goose, pelicans, teals, and mallards can also be spotted in this avifauna sanctuary.  

Painted Stork

Painted Stork

Besides Bharatpur, Haryana’s Sultanpur bird sanctuary, Salim Ali bird sanctuary in Goa, Orissa’s Chilka Lake, and Kumarakom bird sanctuary in Kerala, also host several migratory birds each year. Nalsarovar in the state of Gujarat, the largest wetland of the state, is another beautiful place for spotting the migratory birds. From the rosy pelicans, purple moorhen, brahminy ducks, to the greater and lesser flamingos – Nalsorovar is a bird watcher’s paradise for sure. 

Protecting Avian Migration 

As I researched on migratory birds, their migration patterns, and other such interesting details – I also came across some hard facts like how pollution and other human activities are hampering the migration patterns of these birds. Migratory birds are part of our shared natural heritage. A dedicated day for migratory birds highlights the need for awareness and building ecosystems which makes flights easier for these birds. 

The recent spotting of 150,000 flamingos in the bustling city of Mumbai, amid covid19 lockdown, made me think how much we have hampered the environment with our unsustainable activities.  

Flamingos in Mumbai During Covid19 Lockdown

Flamingos in Mumbai During Covid19 Lockdown (Pic Credit: The Print)

There is a dire need to create awareness around ways in which we humans are causing the extinction of birds. From India to Europe, birds are falling dead from the sky.  

Did you know the Giddh or the Long-billed Vulture (Gyps indicus) is going extinct because of Diclofenac? Who amongst us hasn’t used Diclofenac? Would you imagine something that we buy over the counter could critically threaten to birds? 

Seeing the Indian vultures after ages with my own eyes jumpstarted me out of my own navel-gazing. They were seen often soaring above. They use their fantastic hooked bills to cleanly rip the flesh off the bones in carcasses. Often vilified in our human stories and cartoons, these fine birds are in great danger of extinction. One of the prime causes of decline being the use of Diclofenac, the common non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug used to treat livestock that kills these impressive vultures, when they feed on carcasses. The vultures then die of kidney failure. They are also dying due to hunger. There simply aren’t enough carcasses for the vultures to feed on, because humans use them for themselves! 

The Indian government-imposed ban on Diclofenac from 2006 and the pharmaceutical firms was then encouraged to promote an alternative drug, which is proven to be safe for vultures and effective treatment for livestock. Unfortunately, the misuse of human forms of diclofenac in the veterinary sector remains a significant threat to vultures. 

The theme of this year’s world migratory bird day is “Birds Connect Our World”.  It is high time we spare a positive thought and act responsibly towards a sustainable future for all life forms, non-judgmentally. It’s up to us to stop navel-gazing and look up to get a bird’s eye view of things. For if the birds were to start judging us humans, even with their bird brains, it would not be a pleasant judgment. 

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