Species diversity rises yet population drops at Okhla Bird Sanctuary
Following the trend set last year, the bird population at Noida’s only eco-sensitive zone, the Okhla Bird Sanctuary, dropped this year. On a positive note, the diversity of species had increased to the highest in three years.
The Asian Waterbird Census (AWC) 2021 was conducted by the Wetlands International South Asia and the divisional forest department Gautam Budh Nagar. Fifteen volunteers and forest department officials counted 8,068 birds of total 73 species of water birds, of which 27 were resident and local migratory species and 46 migratory species.
Last year’s AWC-2020 saw only 62 species – 28 residents and 34 migratory species -- however the numbers were higher at 8,776 birds as compared to January 2021.
The census also included 8 species of IUCN Red-listed threaten birds – Black-headed Ibis (Indian resident), Black-tailed Godwit (Winter migratory from Central Asia), Common Pochard (Winter migratory from Central Asia), Painted Stork (Indian resident species), Greater Spotted Eagle (Winter migratory migrates from Central Asia), Oriental Darter (Resident), River Lapwing (Resident), Ferruginous Duck (Winter migratory from Central Asia).
According to the ecologists, the drop in population numbers was primarily owning to poor habitat health.
“Due to global climate change impact like delayed winter, slow migration and fewer winter migratory water birds has been recorded almost everywhere in northern India. Okhla Bird Sanctuary on Yamuna, one of the 467 important birding area (IBA) Sites in India used to be rich habitat for birdlife diversity but degrading due to urban development, biotic pressure and much disturbance losing year by year species diversity and population,” said TK Roy, ecologist and conservationist, AWC. He added that OBS is among only two IBA in Delhi-NCR, the other being Sultanpur National Park in Haryana.
Pointing out some interesting and among uncommon sightings, Roy named -- Common Shelduck ( total five spotted, migrates from Central Asia), Mallard ( three spotted, migrates from Central Asia) and Great Crested Grebe ( seven spotted, migrates from Central and East Asia).
Meanwhile, the forest department stated that the census was held with the protocols of bird flu – like wearing protective gears, etc.
“Since there had been a bird flu alerts, so there were some protocols at place like wearing masks and gloves. However, we still went ahead with the census as it would help us take a stock of ground reality since the birds are indicator of the habitat health. We are committed to develop better habitat and manage our wetlands so that the population and species diversity increases,” said Pramod Kumar Srivastava, divisional forest officer, Gautam Budh Nagar.
According to the experts, water birds are one of the key indicators of wetlands health that provides feeding, resting, roosting, and foraging habitats for these species. The migratory birds start arriving in the region by October from far Central Asia, North Asia including Russia and Siberia, while their strength reaches its peak by December. Their departure begins by March and by mid-April they are all back to their breeding grounds in central Asia.