Wildlife & Biodiversity

Wet end of 2021 leads to fewer migratory birds in Odisha’s Chilika this year

Migratory birds are wintering in cultivated farmland near Chilika because of more water in it this year, say experts  

By Hrusikesh Mohanty
Published: Thursday 06 January 2022
Photo: Hrusikesh Mohanty
Photo: Hrusikesh Mohanty Photo: Hrusikesh Mohanty

Fewer migratory birds came to Odisha’s Chilika lake, the biggest waterfowl habitat in India this winter compared to the previous year, according to the annual bird census carried out in the lake January 4, 2022.

The census found that the lake hosted as many as 1,074,173 birds of 183 species this winter. These included 1,036,220 migratory birds of 107 species and 37,953 resident birds of 76 wetland-dependent species.

Chilika had hosted a record 1,242,826 birds of 190 species last winter. These had included 1,204,351 migratory birds of 111 species and 38,475 wetland-dependent birds of 79 species.

The 15.53 sq km Nalabana bird sanctuary area in the lake hosted the highest congregation of 358,000 birds of 97 different species this time. It had recorded 406,000 birds of 114 species last winter.

The annual bird census in the Ramsar site was carried out jointly by the Chilika Wildlife Division, Chilika Development Authority (CDA) and Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).

Over 100 enumerators, including experts, forest officials, and wildlife activists were engaged to carry out the bird count over the entire lake.

Experts said an increase in the water level of the lake due to untimely rains during November and December was one of the reasons for fewer birds taking shelter this winter.

Several migratory birds preferred to fly to the nearby cultivated lands this time as the water level in the lake continued to increase due to the prolonged rains, Sarat Kumar Mishra, assistant conservator of forest, Chilika wildlife division, said.

Bivash Pandav, director, BNHS, however said there was no actual ‘drop’ in numbers as the bird population of the lake was always fluctuating.

“There was no significant decrease of the bird population in the lake this time. The migratory birds that usually come to the Chilika, might have gone to the nearby wetlands due to the increase of the water level in the lake,” Pandav said.

The census showed that some 172,255 Northern Pintails, a type of duck, were sighted, the most for any bird species this year.

They were followed by Gadwalls (153,985) and Eurasian Wingeons (150,840). The numbers of Northern Shovelers, Tufted ducks and Red Crested Pochards declined this time, official sources said.

Some 2,000 Greater Flamingoes were sighted this time, compared to only 71 in the previous year, Mishra said. The increase of the population of the flamingoes was due to the restoration of mudflats in the bird sanctuary area, Mishra said.  

Migratory birds — mostly from northern Eurasia, the Caspian region, Siberia, Kazakhstan, Lake Baikal and the remote areas of Russia and neighbouring countries — visit the Chilika every winter to escape the biting cold in their native areas and start their homeward journey before onset of summer.

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