Climate change has altered the population and migratory habits of water birds at Harike, according to a census finding

Global effects of climate change coupled with local factors have had a serious bearing on the population, migratory patterns and habits of water birds. In a recent census conducted at Harike Wildlife Sanctuary, an international Ramsar wetland site located on the confluence of River Satluj and Beas with surrounding wetland areas in the state of Punjab, it was found that the total number of water birds have decreased as compared to last year. However, at the same time, the diversity in water bird species has increased, says TK Roy, ecologist and Delhi State Coordinator for AWC.

In all, this winter, a total of 72,488 water birds of 76 species including 29 species of resident water birds and 47 species of winter migratory water bird’s arrival has been recorded by the combined efforts of Harike Bird Census 2013 and Asian Water bird Census (AWC).

Of the total number of water bird species counted, six species from the Birdlife International’s red-listed threatened category have also been recorded — the ‘near threatened’ species of resident Oriental Darter (55), migratory Black-tailed Godwit (3), migratory Ferruginous Pochard (33), migratory Black-headed Ibis (6), migratory Painted Stork (9) and the ‘vulnerable species’ of migratory Lesser Adjutant (2). Of these, in the last count conducted in 2011, the Lesser Adjutant and Black-tailed Godwit had not been spotted at all while the others numbers have significantly increased. The Greater Flamingo, a resident of south Asia, that is, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and coastal parts of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Odisha, has for the first time flown to Harike and 26 of them were seen to be flocking here this winter.

Of the 11 species of winter migratory water birds that are found in dominating numbers, the numbers of Common Coot (50,000 to 36,632), Gadwal (8,194 to 4,992), Northern Shoveler (11,339 to 6,224), Bar-headed Geese (4,123 to 3,001), Northern pintail (7,509 to 1,375) and Eurasian Wigeon (2,042 to 1,031) have decreased since the last count conducted in 2011.

At the same time, the Graylag Geese (1,428 to 4,883), Common Pochard (2,160 to 3,613), Red Crested Pochard (1,404 to 1,556) and the Common Teal (427 to 1,317) were seen in greater numbers compared to 2011.

Among the resident water bird species, the dominant species with good population recorded during the census were the Great Cormorant (1,212), Little Cormorant (591), Purple Swamp hen (461), Common Moorhen (256), Spotbill Duck (291), Little Grebe (223) and Indian River Tern (165).

So far 21 species of mammals, 384 species of birds, seven species of turtles, four species of snakes, six taxa of amphibians, 16 taxa of fishes, 189 taxa of invertebrates and 38 taxa of plants have been recorded at Harike. The wetland spreads over an area of about 86 sq km was declared a bird sanctuary in 1982. It is one of the largest freshwater wetlands in northern India. It was included in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of international importance in 1990. It is a man-made, riverine, lacustrine wetland formed due to construction of barrage on the confluence of rivers Sutlej and Beas and attracts thousands of migratory water birds from different parts of the Asian continent like North, Central and East Asia during the non-breeding period in winter.

The Harike Bird Census was organized by Ferojpur Forest Division of Punjab Forest & Wildlife Department with participation of BNHS, WWF-India, Chandigarh Bird Club, PSCST, team of experienced birder volunteers and co-sponsored by Punjab Heritage & Tourism Promotion.

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