Where have all the birds gone from Mumbai?

  • Snehal Rebello, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Jan 28, 2015 22:25 IST

Massive developmental and infrastructure expansion, rising noise levels, coastal and wetland pollution, and degrading habitats has resulted in a steady decline in bird sightings over a decade.

An analysis of bird sightings logged during the Mumbai bird races held between 2005 and 2014 has revealed a decline in their numbers across various habitats. Bird sightings in the forests have dropped by 50% from 112 in 2005 to 77 last year. Likewise, grass-shrub-agriculture habitats have witnessed a dip from 102 to 89 during the same period, while only 68 birds were recorded in coastal wetlands in 2014, compared to 91 in 2005.

According to the data, the total number of bird species spotted across six locations has nosedived from 277 in 2005 to 225 last year, with a significant drop in terms of average sightings and sighting frequency of birds at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Karnala Bird Sanctuary and Uran wetlands.

This year’s 11th edition of the annual Mumbai BirdRace, inspired by the Hong Kong BirdRace, will be held on February 1, with 320 participants.

“Bird habitats most affected in Mumbai area over the past decade are the grass-scrub-agriculture lands or what we call open lands. These have declined much across the region or have their overall quality has declined,” said naturalist Sunjoy Monga, who conceptualised the bird race in 2005. “Numerous sites holding freshwater and coastal wetlands have also disappeared or deteriorated alarmingly, including several freshwater bodies.”

The continual decline is most stark at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Borivli, where only 52 species were sighted last year, compared to 72 in 2013 and 108 in 2005. Similarly, 50 species were spotted at the Karnala Bird Sanctuary, down from 78 species in 2005. And for the first time, birds at Uran were counted in two-digits last year – from a healthy 178 in 2005 to 91 last year.

“More than 60% wetlands, especially along Palm Beach Road south to Uran have been wiped out in recent years, in one of the most shocking developments in the region. Agencies such as Cidco and JNPT are displaying absolute disregard towards sensible integration of developmental demands with ecological considerations,” said Monga.

Bird race in Mumbai
* This year’s 11th edition of the annual Mumbai BirdRace, inspired by the Hong Kong BirdRace, will be held on February 1, with 320 participants

* The India BirdRaces get nearly 4,000 birding enthusiasts together, across 15 Indian cities

* Like last year, the race will be non-competitive, with no winners

* For the first time, the Mumbai BirdRace organising team is allocating specific birding itineraries to different teams, and suggesting a set of sites.

Most seen birds during Mumbai BirdRaces:
House Crow, Black Kite, Blue Rock Pigeon, Coppersmith, Koel, House Sparrow, Little Cormorant, Cattle Egret, Pond Heron, Tailorbird, Red-vented Bulbul, Red-whiskered Bulbul, White-throated Kingfisher, Green Bee-eater, Black Drongo, Rock Pigeon, Purple-rumped Sunbird, Common Sandpiper, Little Stint, Black-winged Stilt, Little Cormorant

Some birds/bird-groups with very few and declining sightings (some have not been sighted in the past few years):
Red Spurfowl, Ashy Woodswallow, White Stork, White-naped Woodpecker, Heart-spotted Woodpecker, Rufous Treepie, Plum-headed Parakeet, Verditer Flycatcher, Tawny-bellied Babbler, Loten’s Sunbird, Spangled Drongo, White-bellied Drongo, Black-headed Cuckooshrike, Large Cuckooshrike, Black Redstart, all the lark species, Pied Avocet, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Ruddy Turnstone, Blue-capped Rock-thrush, Forest Wagtail, Nakta or Comb Duck, Common Kestrel, and several other raptors (birds of prey)

Some species not sighted/heard in sgnp during bird race 2014:
Red Spurfowl, Black-headed Cuckooshrike, Large Cuckooshrike, Ashy Woodswallow, Verditer Flycatcher, Loten’s Sunbird, Blue-capped Rock Thrush, Yellow-crowned (Mahratta) Woodpecker, White-naped Woodpecker, Heartspotted Woodpecker

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