Environment Rajah Jayapal, principal scientist of SACON, says a lot of common birds in the State have become rare in the last 100 years

Garganey, a water bird from Central Asia, regularly visits the Coimbatore wetlands. It has a brown head, brown breast, and a broad white crescent over the eye. Williams, a British naturalist, recorded numerous garganeys (commonly called Vaalansiragi ) in Coimbatore tanks in 1937. Now, they come in less numbers. “This is mainly because of the poor state of the wetlands,” says Rajah Jayapal, principal scientist of Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History, near Coimbatore. “Garganey is an ecological indicator of the health of the wetlands.”

Another naturalist Nichols recorded the cotton teal ( Thamaraisiragi ) in the tanks of Madurai in 1944. “Cotton teal requires wetlands with a good tree cover. We need to spare a couple of old trees around the wetlands to ensure their survival,” says Jayapal.

Dwindling numbers

Rajah Jayapal, who has researched for over 15 years on birds of the Himalayas and Central Indian forests, says a lot of birds of Tamil Nadu have become rare in the last 100 years. And, he gives us ample evidence. The last recorded sighting of the great Indian bustard in the State was in 1978 at Sulur in Coimbatore. The brown-and-white bird that thrives in grasslands feeds on insects, worms, grasshoppers and lizards. Now, it is seen only in a few pockets of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat.

The painted bush quail ( Malai kaadai ) found in the Western Ghats has also become scarce now. Their dwindling numbers are an indicator of the bad condition of their habitat.

A common winter shore bird, the sanderling ( Vellai ullaan ) forages in the breaking waves. “We see them on the beaches of Puducherry or Kalpakkam. In the last 10 years, 30 per cent of the global population of sanderling has declined, according to Birdlife International 2012,” Jayapal reveals.

Pallid Harrier ( Poonai parundhu ), once abundant in Tamil Nadu, now figures on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List. A grassland bird, it thrives on rodents. Increased pesticide pollution to control rodents apparently led to its decline, he says.

A hundred years ago, British naturalists recorded a pair of red headed vultures in every village. Not anymore.

The white-naped woodpecker, endemic to the Indian Subcontinent, is now restricted to the Palani Hills.

Wreaking havoc

“Change in land use pattern, unplanned urbanisation, pesticide pollution… they all wreak havoc on birds, as does the disappearance of the micro habitat. For example, a palm tree. Many birds such as the black ibis, red-necked falcon, golden-backed woodpecker and palm swift depend on the tree for nesting and roosting.”

Jayapal stresses on the need for adequate coverage of habitats such as the Eastern Ghats, a proper bird monitoring programme and a long-term data on birds.