Wildlife & Biodiversity

1 million migratory birds counted at Odisha’s Chilika lake

The dismantling of illegal prawn farms inside the lake are being cited as the main reasons behind the avian gathering

By Ashis Senapati
Published: Monday 06 January 2020
1 million migratory birds counted at Odisha’s Chilika lake. Photo: Ashis Senapati

A record 1,105,040 migratory birds belonging to 184 species have arrived in Odisha’s Chilika lake this year, the annual bird count conducted by the Chilika Wildlife Division on January 5, 2020, showed.

Last year, 1,047,978 birds belonging to 183 species had arrived at Chilika, which is Asia’s largest brackish water lagoon.

This year, five rare Great Knot (Calidris tenuirostris) birds were sighted after five years in Chilika. The Great Knot is a small wader. It is the largest of the calidrid species, the divisional forest officer of Chilika Wildlife Division, Alok Ranjan Hota, said.  

The Nalabana island or Nalabana Bird Sanctuary inside the lake, continued to be the most favoured destination for the birds, with the census report showing that 406,368 birds belonging to 102 species  arrived in the 15.53 sq km sanctuary area this year.

Last year, 397,825 migratory birds had arrived in Nalabana during the winter. Nalabana was declared a bird sanctuary under the Wildlife Protection Act in 1972. The island disappears during the monsoon due to inundation, only to emerge again post-monsoon, Hota said. 

“This year, the highest numbers of Gadwalls — 20,5883 — have come to the lake. We also sighted 182,187 Northern Pintails this year. The increase in the number of migratory birds this year is due to the availability of open space, following the eviction of large tracks of illegal prawn gheries by the Chilika Development Authority (CDA),” he added.

About 127 people, including ornithologists from the Bombay Natural History Society in Mumbai, officials of wildlife organisations and wildlife activists comprising 21 teams, took part in the bird count in the lake on January 5. 

The increase in the number of bird visiting Chilika Lake is believed to be a good sign for bird conservation programmes in India, Hota said.  

Migratory birds usually start arriving at Chilika in November as it is a comparatively hospitable alternate habitat compared to the extreme freezing conditions in their natural habitats in Siberia, China, Japan and other countries in the northern hemisphere. 

The birds often frequent open wetlands which have enough fish, prawns, frogs, snakes and molluscs.  

Last year, the Odisha High Court ordered the state government to initiate the demolition of illegal prawn gherries in Chilika in order to restore the ecology of the wetland. Gherries are areas encroached for illegal prawn cultivation inside the wetland area.

“Illegal prawn farming was also choking the biodiversity of Chilika. Acting on the court’s order, we demolished around 162 sq km of illegal prawn gherries last year. The migratory birds were earlier confined to the Nalabana bird sanctuary and some areas of Chilika. But this year, the birds have been spread all over the lake,” Susanta Nanda, chief executive of CDA, said.

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