There are more birders than birds, jokes an enthusiast. Bird-watching as a passion and a pastime is gathering followers in Kozhikode; albeit slowly and steadily. Spearheaded by amateurs, the movement is not short on enthusiasm. But when it comes to serious documentation, data compilation and bird-mapping, the city is still taking baby steps. The passionate tribe of birders though, is increasingly worried about the drop in migratory birds, thanks to wetland and mud-plain deterioration.
Kozhikode, say bird watchers, is naturally bird -freindly. The Chaliyar, Korapuzha and Kallai rivers enrich the district, so too the Kadalundi and Kuttiadi rivers. The resulting estuaries and wetlands are ideal bird habitats, says Jafer Palot, assistant zoologist at the Zoological Survey of India and a bird watcher. Apart from the migratory birds that flocked its wetlands once in large numbers, the city boasts a handful of residents.
The resident birds, they birders say, have largely remained stable. But the sparrow is still a debate. “An important habitat of the sparrow was Valiangadi with its array of rice shops,” says Palot. Sathyan Meppayur, vice-president of the non-governmental Malabar Natural History Society, teacher and bird watcher since the late 1980s, too remembers a time when Valiangadi was packed with sparrows. Of late, if sparrows are not as many at Valiangadi, Palot attributes it to the uneasy access to food. “When rice came in jute bags, there would be spill over. With plastic bags, spills aren’t much,” he reasons. But he is reluctant to ring the death knell as yet, for, he says sparrows are still coming to roost in various pockets in the city. “We have always seen a large number of sparrows roosting on a tree at the Baby Memorial Hospital, so too at the Co-operative hospital campus and the Food Corporation of India godown in West Hill. One will still see many roosting at the railway station. So even if the sparrows are going out to feed, they are coming back to roost,” says Palot. Sathyan, however, is convinced that over the years there has been a decrease in sparrow population. But again, the city birders are short on data to talk in numbers.
The MNHS, however, conducts surveys through the year mostly in association with the Forest Department. On March 20, the World Sparrow Day, too they did a survey. “But the data has not yet been compiled,” says Sathyan. Palot says the old-fashioned red-tile roofs were earlier a safe space for sparrows. “In small villages you still see a lot of sparrows,” he adds.
The jungle crow though is now easily spotted in the city. “It is generally a hill species, but probably easy food is bringing it to the city,” muses Palot. The black kite is also popular here, but with the monsoon setting in, this resident bird would have now vanished, says Palot. “It comes back once the monsoon is over,” he says. Apart from the resident mynahs, bulbuls and sandpipers one can easily spot the racket-tailed drongo, kingfishers and woodpeckers in the woods in the city. Palot thanks the still-present sacred groves, mangroves and woods for it. “The drongo is not exactly a city species, but the woods and groves give it a good habitat,” says Palot.
But what worries birders like Palot and Sathyan are the steady deterioration of bird havens — the Kottooli and Mavoor wetlands, so too the Kadalundi estuary. The birders can already see the casualties. “Earlier we could spot a lot of snake birds in the Kottooli wetlands. But now, world over, it is a near threatened species and we could spot only 16 of them recently. Thankfully, the Mavoor wetlands still has a healthy population of snake birds,” says Palot.Alarming misses
For Sathyan, a recent visit to the Kuttiadi estuary was not heart-warming either. “In the past, the estuary would be full of sea gulls. This time, I couldn’t see a single one,” he mourns. The birders are keeping a close tab on the notable absentees, especially migratory birds. The slow depreciation of the mud plains at Kadalundi have meant a fall in the migratory birds herding here in the season. A pronounced casualty has been the migratory shorebirds. “Even the garganey ducks are coming in less now. Its number at Kottooli is alarmingly less, actually almost none. But they are still coming to Mavoor,” says Palot. Among the city’s prized possessions, says Palot, are its hornbills. “Of the four hornbills in the State, three are found in the city — the common grey hornbill, a resident, the Malabar grey hornbill and the Malabar pied hornbill,” he says. One tends to find the Malabar grey and Malabar pied hornbills in the fruiting banyan trees of East Hill, says Palot.
At the recent common bird monitoring programme by the MNHS and Forest Department, Sathyan says three new birds were sighted at Kottooli — the brown breasted fly catcher, rufous woodpecker and booted warbler. What enthuse the birders is the increasing number of bird watchers in the city. Good cameras and possibility of sightings keep the energy levels high, says Palot. “We are all amateurs and it is a hobby. The MNHS itself has over 300 members and among us are doctors, photographers, IT professionals and students,” says Palot, also the secretary of MNHS.