Painted storks, always seen in flocks, are beautiful — with their yellow bills with a curved tip, and bodies with distinctive pink and black bands. They are migratory birds that visit the wetlands of Coimbatore and stay on for months. “There are more than 10 migratory species of birds, including spot-billed Pelicans (Kuzhai Kada) that are regular visitors. But this year, we saw them in lesser numbers, and they were here for a shorter period,” says naturalist C.R. Jayaprakash. Though there is no exact data on the bird population, nature lovers have observed a general decline in the number of migratory birds visiting Coimbatore. “Water bodies are going bad and there is high level of pollution, as well as land encroachment and habitat destruction,” says P. Pramod, Nature Education Officer of SACON. It is a world wide phenomenon. Recent studies have shown that 12 per cent of the bird species in the world are threatened. And, 60 per cent of the reason for the threat is attributed to habitat destruction. “In any area, it is the wetlands that support about 40 per cent of the birds. Cormorants, egrets, ducks, herons and ploughers visit water bodies all the time.” Recently, members of the environmental organisation, Save our Wetlands, participated in the Asian water bird count survey. Another bird count of wetland birds was conducted by the district forest office in Coimbatore. “A major portion of the tank in Irugur is filled with water hyacinths and there is soap foam on the remaining area because of the effluents. We spotted only 13 species of birds there which was once home to more than 50 species. In Singanallur Tank too, the number of species have declined. ”

A hotspot

Mansur Ahamed of Environment Conservation Group (ECG) says tanks in Singanallur, Sulur, Vedapatti and Perur, and the agricultural lands around are a haven for birds. Migrant pied crested cuckoo, brown shrike (winter visitors) have been spotted there. European bee eaters have been spotted at Jadayampalayam. Black storks were seen at Periyapalyam tank in Tirupur. Members have also recorded Salim Ali's favourite bird, the yellow-throated sparrow (chestnut shouldered petronia) at Navakkarai. This, despite the pathetic state of the water tanks that are used as a dump yard for building wastes, and other garbage, and the dearth of agricultural fields. ECG's Coimbatore Birding Club organises regular bird watching treks. “At Vedapatti tank near Perur, in the last two months we have spotted the stork-billed kingfisher, cotton pygmy goose, garganey, and northern shovellers,” says Mansur. “Just keep a bowl of water and some grains in your balcony or in the garden. This will help the birds in the summer months,” he suggests. Dr. P.A. Azeez, director of SACON recently mentioned how cities were full of waste and how the urban ecosystem was a no man's land. He commented on the need to create awareness about the habitats of the birds and maintain the wet land ecosystem.

Coimbatore's lifeline

The network of man made wetlands in the Coimbatore region is a lifeline. The city has grown around them. Eventually, the wetland is the ecosystem that supports birds. “Development has come to mean just sky scrapers and indiscriminate buildings. There is little concern for conserving natural habitats. In a living environment, there has to be birds, nature and other living beings around us. Otherwise, it becomes a concrete jungle,” says Pramod. If you have a water body in your locality, try and save it, he urges. “Add greenery to your surroundings. When there are more trees and vegetations, there is potential for nesting and feeding, and it attracts the birds. In an urban environment, even birds such as mynahs and crows are deprived of ‘colonial roosting' ( staying together) because of the cutting of trees. Even migratory birds such as pelicans and painted storks require tree groves near wetlands for roosting. Learn about the environment and share the knowledge with those who don't know about it. That is more important,” he says.

Wetlands

Satisfy an urgent need of wilderness in the middle of busy city life

We need to protect, maintain and revitalise them

Act as breeding ground for many birds

Maintain ground water level

Act as buffer during floods Are a storehouse of water for agriculture

Withhold excess water during rains and divert it for irrigation. Increasingly, farmers in the surrounding areas of lakes in Singanallur, Kurichi, Narasimapathy, and Vedapatty are selling their lands. Having been converted into real estate plots, there is no concern for protecting the wetlands

Visit: www.coimbatorewetlands.org

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