Mahanadi bird population took a hit due to Cyclone Fani, says study

From 800 a day before the cyclone, the numbers dropped 81% to 153 a day after

December 15, 2019 01:52 am | Updated 01:52 am IST - Kolkata

Extreme weather events like cyclones can have severe impacts on bird populations of a region, a recent study on the impact of super cyclonic storm Fani on a stretch of 40 km along the Mahanadi river has revealed.

The study was conducted by researcher Subrat Debata, who accessed and kept a record of the bird population before and after the cyclone that made landfall on the Odisha coast on May 3, 2019.

The study has revealed that the population of sandbar-nesting birds along a 40-km stretch from Baideshwar to Kakhadi along the Mahanadi river declined by 81% .

“As of May 2, 2019, a day before the cyclone, there were a total of 269 active nests and 154 chicks along the 40-km river stretch. On May 4, 2019, a day after the cyclone made landfall, all the nesting sites were damaged and none of the active nests or chicks of any species survived,” said Mr. Debata.

The study also found that the population of the birds a day before the cyclone was about 800, which dropped to 153 a day after the cyclone.

The researcher said that out of 154 chicks of all species, he could only detect the carcass of 12 chicks of Indian skimmer and seven chicks of river tern in the river.

The highest decline was observed in the case of Glareola lacteal (little pratincole) whose population dropped from over 500 to 50 before and after the cyclone.

Details of the study have been published this month in the Journal of Threatened Taxa in a paper titled Impact of cyclone Fani on the breeding success of sandbar-nesting birds along the Mahanadi River in Odisha, India .

The study focused on eight species of sandbar nesting birds, which prefer riverine habitat and at times lay their eggs on the sandbars which emerge from the river when the water recedes during the summer.

The researcher said that an increase in the water level and high tide in the river resulted in the submergence and flooding of the islands.

Nests flooded

“The heavy rain and rise in water level might have resulted in flooding of the nests. Due to high tide and water current, the eggs and chicks might have drowned in water. As the wind speed was very strong during the time, there is a possibility that some of the chicks and adults might have also been blown away,” the publication points out.

Among all the eight species of birds that breed along the Mahanadi, five are globally threatened, including Rynchops albicollis (Indian skimmer), classified as Vulnerable as per the IUCN Red list; Sterna aurantia (river tern), classified as Near Threatened; Vanellus duvaucelii (river lapwing), classified as Near Threatened; and Esacus recurvirostris (great thick-knee), also classified as Near Threatened.

Highlighting the significance of the study, Mr. Debata said the changing pattern of global climate would increase the frequency and intensity of storms worldwide, and the possibilities of cyclonic effects on birds are also likely to consequently increase. “The impact can be detrimental and could even lead to local extirpation of the species that represent limited population,” the publication added.

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