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Population of migratory birds up at Najafgarh jheel, finds census

Eighty one species of waterfowl, including 13 species red-listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), were recorded in a census at the Najafgarh jheel
By Prayag Arora-Desai, Gurugram
PUBLISHED ON JAN 19, 2021 11:05 PM IST

Eighty one species of waterfowl, including 13 species red-listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), were recorded in a census at the Najafgarh jheel. The number is up from 54 species, including six red-listed ones, recorded in a similar exercise last year.

In addition to species diversity, the census also recorded an increase in the total avian population at the wetland — from 9,453 birds in 2020 to 27,673 birds this year.

Conducted on January 19, as part of the 2021 International Waterbird Census (IWC), by Netherlands-based non-profit Wetlands International, the census also recorded healthy populations of winter migratory birds, with 51 of the 81 species recorded on Monday being non-resident birds. The census also recorded three unusual sightings, of an osprey, greater-white fronted goose and common crane, species which are rarely seen in Delhi-NCR.

The Najafgarh jheel is located in a natural depression in South-West Delhi, about 10 kilometres from the Gururgam-Rajokri border on National Highway-48. It is fed by the Najafgarh drain’s sizable catchment area in Gurugram, which includes villages such as Chandu, Dharampur and Daulatabad, all of which were surveyed for the census on Monday.

TK Roy, an ecologist and the Delhi state coordinator for the IWC, said, “We have been conducting censuses at important wetlands across north India and have noticed that in most places, the population of birds is declining year on year, due to climate change, deficient monsoons, shorter winters, late snowfall and other reasons. Najafgarh is one of the few places where both population and biodiversity are growing in large numbers. One can say that birds in Delhi-NCR are preferring this wetland than others in the region.”

However, the substantial increase in population count isn’t just due to the quality of the wetland, Roy added. “We tend to typically survey exposed areas of the wetland, but this year, we have done the census in three teams, which also covered previously unexplored parts of Najafgarh. In these patches, where there is little human disturbance, we found a very healthy population of water birds,” he said.

A report shared with HT on Tuesday noted a large increase in the population of migratory bar-headed geese, of which 2,774 specimens were recorded this year, up from 1,337 last year. Also found in larger numbers were Eurasian coots, whose population has grown from about 3,738 specimens last year to 6,428 this time around. Similar increases in the flocks of common teal and northern shovelers were also reported.

Among red-listed migrant species, the census reported the presence of black-tailed godwits, common pochards, greater spotted eagles, northern lapwings, Eurasian curlews and ferruginous ducks, in addition to other species, including common and red-listed ones, which are Delhi-NCR residents. This includes the black-headed ibis, painted stork, Oriental darter, woolly-necked stork, black-necked stork and Sarus crane.

Roy drew attention to the fact that Najafgarh still lacks the official wetland status, an issue which has been pending for the past five years after a National Green Tribunal order called for the water body’s protection. “After all these years, the matter is still pending in the court, and there has been little progress in notifying this water body as a wetland. This must be done in order to conserve Najafgarh’s rich biodiversity and to promote scientific research,” said Roy.

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