The Ceylon Frogmouth, an endangered bird, is thriving at the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, Thattekad, amid reports of a decline in the number of forest birds nesting there.

Habitat improvement measures, initiated to protect the Frogmouth, have produced good results. Around 35 pairs have been located in the sanctuary, said R. Sugathan, a leading ornithologist.

The sanctuary, spread over 25 sq. km., is home to 320 bird species and considered one of the important bird centres in the country. Assured sighting of some 60 species during a one-hour trek along the forest route is one of the attractions here.

Of the 13 Frogmouth species available in the world, only two belong to India. While one variety is available in south India, the other is found in the Himalayas.

The nocturnal bird scoops on insects and beetles, and build nests on woody climbers and trees. It was supposed to be highly endangered till the late 1970s, and it was at the instance of Dr. Salim Ali that efforts to track it started in south India, said Dr. Sugathan, who conducted the first Frogmouth survey.

The parochial bird vehemently defends its territory and rarely ventures out. Habitat destruction and human disturbances are proving costly for this species found in Karnataka and Kerala.

Though destruction of bamboo and cane forests has affected its population, the bird seems to have adapted itself to the modified habitat and now nests in shrubs like Madakka, Dr. Sugathan said.

“Unethical tourism practices like playing back the call of the bird for drawing it out of the nests for visitors, is detrimental to the bird population,” said P.O. Nameer, State coordinator of the Indian Bird Conservation Network and Important Bird Area Programme. He added that such practices needed to be curbed immediately.

“We have acted on tendencies of the visitors to force birds out of the nests by rattling the branches on which they have nested. Habitat improvement measures like planting of favourite shrubs, prevention of forest fire and protection of eggs have paid rich dividends,” the ornithologist said.

Though upbeat about the Frogmouth sightings, the ornithologists are a little concerned about the 30 per cent fall in the number of resident bird population. They hope the birds will return in conducive climatic conditions.

Dr. Nameer suggests a regular bird count at the sanctuary as a fall in number of forest birds has not been reported from the other bird centres. The numbers need to be ascertained through regular monitoring, he said.