Love for Birds

Environmentalist groups in Madurai come together to document biodiversity in Madurai district

October 30, 2014 04:19 pm | Updated May 23, 2016 07:39 pm IST - MADURAI:

Ruddy Shelduck. Photo: Special Arrangement

Ruddy Shelduck. Photo: Special Arrangement

City environmentalists say that vultures were last spotted in Madurai district more than two decades ago. They warn that the house sparrows would also meet a similar fate soon and list the local birds that have been lost in the last one decade -- Kaana Mayil, Kaadai, Kavudhari, Senthalai Vaathu and Sittu Kuruvi .

“Sensitizing people towards protection of environment, birds and wild life is the only way to stop this destruction. It is our duty to give birds and animals their due space to live on Earth,” says Sadiq, a member of Naanal Nanbargal Kuzhu, a youth environmental organization. His feelings for birds was aroused when a Red vented Bulbul nested on his house terrace.

With an aim to study and document the biodiversity in Madurai district, environmentalist groups Naanal and Iragugal have joined hands to form the Madurai Nature Forum with support from the Forest Department. Together, they propose to conduct extensive field study in the water bodies, agriculture fields and forests in and around the city. While birdlife will be the main focus of the study, it will also take into account the mammals, reptiles and plant life in these various pockets. “The main area of survey will be the water bodies. We have lost the relationship our ancestors had with water resources. The study is expected to take six months after which periodic meetings will be held with villagers and city residents to re-establish the connection with nature,” says Tamil Dasan, a volunteer.

As a precursor to the study, an inaugural event was organised last week, where the District Forest Officer Nihar Ranjan, Birder Dr. Badri Narayanan, Bird watcher N. Raveendran, professors and nature lovers spoke on the various issues plaguing the city’s natural wealth.

“The study will not only be a source of information for public, it will also help the forest department to shift focus to places rich in biodiversity,” says Nihar Ranjan. “The forestry will help the volunteers by giving them due permission and assistance in conducting the study inside reserve forest areas.”

Dr. T. Badri Narayanan, a keen bird-watcher of three decades elaborated on the essentials of bird-watching. “People can grow fruit-bearing trees in their home gardens to attract birds. Bird watching is a wonderful hobby and stress-buster,” he says. He ran a presentation at the event on the birds he had sighted so far in various localities of the district.

Bird-watcher N. Raveendran points out that birds are indicators of weather and important members of the food chain. “A few months back, I spotted thousands of Barn Swallows flying past the Avaniyapuram Water tanks and I guessed there would be good rains,” says Raveendran.

The outcome of the joint study will be a detailed report to be submitted to various government wings. The environmentalists are of the opinion that pockets that are rich in bird life could be converted into community reserves. “We also plan to hold an exhibition later so that the city’s denizens get an idea of the natural wealth we have,” adds Raveendran.

First field study:

The first field visit as part of the six-month long study was conducted last Sunday at the Saamanatham tank near Madurai Ring Road, in which botanists, birders and students sighted over 60 varieties of resident and migrant water birds. Sharan Venkatesh, a college student who took part, says, “I felt so happy to see so many birds perched around the tank. The recent rains have helped the birdlife.”

The Birders spotted a particular duck – Ruddy Shelduck, that was found in the tank for the very first time, which they claimed is a rare visitor to the region. “The migratory bird usually retracts into North India after reaching Karnataka during this season. It’s surprising to see them here. We spotted three of them,” said Birder Raveendran suggesting that the bird could be pilot birds. “The first set inspects the suitability of the place and leads the flock if conditions are favourable. Two years ago, only a few pelicans and painted storks were found in the Kilankulam tank. Now, thousands of them can be spotted. Hope we see more of the Ruddy shelduck in the coming years.”

Participants also sighted a group of chestnut headed starlings, open billed stork, Spot billed ducks with chicks, Garganeys, booted eagle, black winged stilts, brown shrike and Purple moorhens. Another highlight of the visit was that all the three varieties of Ibis bird were seen -- Red napped ibis, black headed ibis and glossy ibis.

Pockets with rich biodiversity

Avaniyapuram tanks

There are nearly eight tanks flanking the Avaniyapuram Ring Road that hold water round the year. The tanks are home to a number of water birds, both resident and migratory. Environmentalists say that most of these water bodies are polluted with sewage from the treatment plant, though some of the tanks hold fresh water. Fish grown in the tanks by the Corporation has played a major role in attracting bird life. Saamanatham, Kilankulam and Avaniyapuram big tank are the few places where birds can be spotted throughout the year. Common Coots, Little Grebe, Glossy Ibis, Darters, Cormorants and spot-billed ducks are found in Saamantham. Kilankulam is home to Pheasant tail jacanas, Black winged stilts, Pelicans, Painted storks, Purple moorhens and heron varieties of birds.

Vadakarai and Thenkarai tanks, Sholavandan

Vadakarai and Thenkarai tanks near Sholavandan receive water from the Sirumalai hills and are full for the larger part of the year. Surrounded by Karuvelam thickets, the Vadakarai tank makes a perfect nesting place for both warblers and raptors. Bird watchers observe that the tank has more raptor variety of birds that fly down from the Sirumalai hills. Short-toed snake eagle, crested serpent eagle, honey buzzard, booted eagle, black shouldered kite, barn owl and spotted owlet are some of the birds found there. While the Thenkarai tank favours the nesting of smaller birds in its reed bushes, such as streak weaver and baya weaver. The tank also attracts a number of duck varieties -- spot billed duck, laser whistling duck, Garganey, little grebe and common coot. Gull-billed turns, whiskered turn, pond heron and grey heron are also found in Thenkarai tank.


Sirumalai is identified as a rich forest patch within Madurai district as it’s a self-sustained evergreen ecosystem. With a thick forest cover, Sirumalai supports a wide range of flora and fauna that’s endemic to the Western Ghats. Apart from a thriving birdlife of hunting birds such as barn owl, honey buzzard, black eagle, scops owl, serpent eagle, shikra, booted eagle and black shouldered kite. Sirumalai boasts of populations of Sambhar deer, Indian Gaur, jackals, wild dogs, Loris, a wide range of snakes, wild boars and monkeys.

Alagar hills

Though small in size, the Alagar hills come under the district’s reserve forests. Once known for thick tree cover and a huge monkey population, the place is now frequented by tourists and the number of monkeys has dwindled in the recent times. According to birders, a detailed study of birds in the hills is yet to be done as many are not aware of the kinds of birds there. They believe that the hills must be home to a huge variety of warbler and raptor bird varieties.

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