Every winter, a pink blanket envelopes the marshland and mangroves of Mumbai’s eastern harbour. It’s not some local flora or a chemical effluent discharged from the many refineries in the area. Look closer and you’ll notice that it’s a flock of birds. Flamingos to be precise.
What these pristine creatures are doing in the sludge amidst the industrial backdrop is anybody’s guess. Droves of them, beaks underwater, seem busy feeding. What could our murky waters possibly hold of interest to these birds, causing them to flock here each year?
In search of food
“The flamingos visit areas like the Sewri mudflats to feed on mudskippers and crustaceans like fiddler crabs,” says ecologist Anand Pendharkar, founder-director of environmental NGO Sprouts. “There’s also an abundance of blue-green algae, shrimp and insects in the Mahul region.” An interesting bit of trivia is that the more flamingos feed, the richer and darker their colours get. During breeding season, vibrantly coloured birds make for more desirable mates.
Two species of flamingos visit the area: the Greater and Lesser Flamingos, which originate from the Great Rann of Kutch. They throng Mumbai between November and March, during the non-breeding season. While larger migrations exist, this phenomenon is known as local migration as the birds come from Gujarat. Though flamingos are more prominent in the Mahul region, you can even find stray populations in the Mithi River, Vasai mudflats, Uran and Worli. Often, the birds fly in the same day from one place to another, looking for places to feed.
Right up till the 26/11 attacks, adventure company Jungle Lore organised flamingo watching tours where you could take a boat into the Mahul creek at Trombay to get a closer view of the birds. But security has tightened since and the boat rides have been stopped. However, the real problem is that the number of flamingos has diminished. “This is partly due to a bacterial infection among the birds and oil spills in the area,” says Pendharkar. “So many species visit our water bodies. If they don’t get suitable food in the winters, they won’t be able to breed when they go back to their homelands. If our habitats get disturbed, it will have a global impact.” That there is no official study on the population and migration dynamics of the waders (shore birds which include flamingos) doesn’t help the cause either.
En route to extinction
Several organisations are trying to declare the area as a conservation reserve. “There are close to 60 other species of birds that migrate to Mumbai including the Pied Crested Cuckoo, which comes all the way from South Africa, and the Brahmini Kite,” says Pendharkar. “Hopefully, awareness and conservation will kick in before the flamingos stop coming to Mahul completely.”
How to get there
Train: Take a train from the harbour line to Sewri station. Get off on the east and ask a cab to take you to the local jetty.
Car: Get to Mahul Road (Port Trust Road) at Sewri by driving through the railway crossing at Sewri Station or via the underpass at Cotton Green. Once on the east, enter the perpendicular lane opposite Sewri Station, go down the road and take a right at the