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These birds go by celestial navigation

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SAFE HAVEN: Painted storks at Telineelapuram village in Andhra Pradesh.
SAFE HAVEN: Painted storks at Telineelapuram village in Andhra Pradesh.

Sumit Bhattacharjee

A 12,000 km flight from Siberia

Birds have been following this aerial route for the past 15 yearsThey migrate to avoid harsh Siberian winter, food scarcity

VISAKHAPATNAM: Even after cruising beneath the Pacific and Atlantic oceans for years, commanders of the state-of-the-art U.S.-made SSBN Typhoon-class nuclear submarine refer to the satellite-fed global positioning system and electronic gadgets to assess their position and charter their course back to the bases. But what mechanism do pelicans and painted storks follow to traverse the 12,000 km from the snow deserts of Siberia to the coastal village of Telineelapuram in Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh?

"They simply go by celestial navigation. Some researchers say the birds possess innate sensory objects in their brain that can trace the waves generated by the Earth's magnetic field," B. Bharatha Lakshmi, professor of zoology, Andhra University, said.

Dwindling numbers

Every year, over 3,000 pelicans and painted storks make their way from Siberia to this nondescript village during September and stay on till March-end.

Researchers at Andhra University said the birds had been following this aerial route since 15 years. The migratory movement was first noticed over 15 years ago. At that time the number of birds exceeded 10,000. Today, the figure has dwindled to about 3,000. Apart from avoiding the harsh Siberian winter and food scarcity, the birds come here for breeding as well.

Flying in groups shaped `V,' the older birds lead the way. Prof. Lakshmi said scientists worldwide have pointed out that the `V' formation scientifically creates a vacuum in the middle to facilitate the younger ones to use less energy. "Many aircraft manufacturers follow the aerodynamics and flying patterns of these migratory birds in their research and development programme. The birds fly at an average speed of 90 kmph and can do over 800 km at a stretch," she said.

Sensitivity

Both the pelicans and the painted storks are sensitive to pollution. Prof. Lakshmi attributed the dwindling number of the birds to a fire accident at Telineelapuram a few years ago and to increased tree felling.

"Poaching is rare but it does happen at the feeding ground," she added.


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