Nawabganj Bird Sanctuary: Not (bird’s) paradise lost yet but solace becoming a casualty - Hindustan Times

Nawabganj Bird Sanctuary: Not (bird’s) paradise lost yet but solace becoming a casualty

By, Lucknow
Dec 25, 2023 06:40 AM IST

Many have visited the sanctuary and know it as a paradise for birds, but the solace it used to offer is getting lost due to increased highway traffic and new roads coming up.

The hustle and bustle of highways, roaring trucks and construction activity nearby are robbing this bird’s paradise of its endearing solace as some winged voices are now missing from the famous dawn chorus of chirps at Nawabganj Bird Sanctuary on National Highway-25 (Lucknow-Kanpur highway), some 43 kilometres from the state capital.

The HT team that visited the sanctuary found that flocks of birds are spotted only after a 700-metre walk. (Deepak Gupta/HT Photo)
The HT team that visited the sanctuary found that flocks of birds are spotted only after a 700-metre walk. (Deepak Gupta/HT Photo)

Amid the continuous honking of horns, the 224.6-hectare wetland west of Lucknow now evokes concern among bird lovers and experts who say Nawabganj’s ecosystem has started to get disturbed.

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Their worries are not unfounded as the birds limit themselves to the core area of the sanctuary, leaving up to 500 metres on three sides – east, west and north.

The land nearby has been purchased by individuals and pucca construction is going on – cutting into natural vegetation.

The HT team that visited the sanctuary found that flocks of birds are spotted only after a 700-metre walk.

Only after reaching the third bird watching tower, Ashy Prinia, a common urban garden bird, along with Indian Pond Heron, another resident bird, was spotted.

A flock of crane was taking hairpin turns in an instant, hovering over a pond while forest staff on a small boat were de-weeding the surface below.

In the core areas of the sanctuary, Red-Wattled Lapwing, White-Throated Kingfisher and several other beautiful resident birds are seen on weeds, lake water, tree barks and grass.

“Changes in water levels in ponds and increased activity around the sanctuary has kept the Asian Open Bill and Painted Stork away from Nawabganj, roughly for two years,” said Amita Kanaujia, senior faculty department of zoology at University of Lucknow and member of the Uttar Pradesh State Biodiversity Board.

The ponds, which get water from the Sharda Canal, have half-a-dozen half-submerged trees, upon which birds used to make nests. But none of these trees have nests at present. The ponds get water from the Sharda Canal.

Vipul Maurya, wildlife biologist and an expert working on migratory birds under Namami Gange Programme, said Nawabganj is already surrounded by development activities, which can gradually shrink its vegetation and space for birds.

“Birds like peace. With high decibel noise, they get disturbed,” said Maurya.

The boundary of the sanctuary will not be reduced as it is a protected area but if the resources – water flow, buffer green areas and peace – are disturbed it may result in a disturbed bird life too.

Manan Singh Mahadev, who hails from Lucknow and is a conservation biologist currently working at Bombay Natural History Society said, “Asian Openbill has been known to breed in Nawabganj on the trees in the central part of the sanctuary while the Sarus Crane (state bird of UP) preferentially uses wetlands for nesting. The sanctuary used to be a haven for several species of waterfowl.”

Kanaujia said, “Migratory birds like shallow water. But in Nawabganj, ponds either get dried up or have deep water levels brought via pumps.”

There are four main ponds/lakes with up to 12-feet depth on the banks and less at the centre. Banks are deeper for a reason.

“The path between ponds has been made from the mud of the pond. Besides the path for bird watchers is the bank of the pond and hence is deeper than the centre of pond,” said a worker. Birds prefer the banks, where they get fish to eat.

“Till the time I visited the area, Nawabganj along with its surrounding areas was a haven for several raptor species like Egyptian Vulture, Short-Toed Snake Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, Bonelli’s Eagle, Indian Spotted Eagle, Red-necked Falcon thanks to an abundant food supply in the form of waterfowl, rodents, reptiles, insects etc. Raptors are important because they indicate the health of an ecosystem,” said Manan Singh Mahadev.

“Now, I go to other sanctuaries in the state and India, as the species and number of birds has reduced drastically here (at the Nawabganj),” said Anas Baig, a Lucknow-based nature enthusiast.

In 2019, the Nawabganj Bird Sanctuary was declared a Ramsar Site, a wetland site designated to be of international importance under the Ramsar Convention, also known as “The Convention on Wetlands”, established in 1971 by UNESCO. It came into force in 1975. India is a party to the convention and has 49 Ramsar sites, including 10 in Uttar Pradesh.

Visitors are also missing Greylag Goose, a native of UK and Europe, and Ruddy Shelduck or Surkhab.

The Pallas’s Fish Eagle was last reported from Nawabganj in the early 1990s along with the White-Rumped Vulture, which has now declined in population by 99% due to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) poisoning resulting from feeding on carcasses of livestock treated with these drugs, said Manan, former state coordinator at Bird Count India.

“Exotic species are growing fast so native vegetation species are reducing, which is another point of concern for us. The diverse habitats enable this wetland to sustain at least 200 plants, 220 resident and migratory birds, 20 fish, several molluscs, butterflies, terrestrial and water snakes, turtles, frogs and higher vertebrates such as the blue bull. We can’t let disturbance happen here,” said Maurya, who has extensively studied areas around Lucknow.

He said, “Since water from Sharda Canal is being brought to Nawabganj. Hence, there is chance for a change in water quality/content which might be a future risk. The canal must be getting water from various sources, including ground water which is getting contaminated. This should also be considered while conserving one of the Ramsar Sites in state.”

Geographically, Nawabganj is the only bird sanctuary close to Lucknow while others are about 100 km away.

It was declared a sanctuary on August 7, 1984. The idea was to conserve birds, local as well as migratory, and their habitat. Open bill storks are the representative bird of the Nawabganj Bird Sanctuary.

Mythology says while coming back to “Ayodhya”, Lord Lakshman took rest for a day at Nawabganj Lake.

The eco-tourism section of the forest department promotes Nawabganj sanctuary, saying chirping and twittering of the birds resounds in the green bowers and gives the best ever melody to the ears.

“Besides the sight of beautiful spotted deer grazing nearby, somewhere in close affinity, the spotless Bagula (Intermediate Erget), as if practising meditation, and a keen Kingfisher making an impeccable and perfect dive for its prey underwater, making you forget all your worries and monotony of life,” is the description of Nawabganj bird sanctuary on the forest department website.


Nawabganj Bird Sanctuary, one of the 10 Ramsar sites in state, is a shallow wetland surrounded by plantations and is fed chiefly by water from the Sharda Canal. This wetland is a habitat for several rare species such as Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopteres), common pochard (Aythya farina), woolly- necked stork (Ciconia episcopus), according to Ramsar Information Sheet (RIS) for (Site no. 2412), Nawabganj Bird Sanctuary.

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