‘25% more flamingos in MMR’

After delaying their annual migration to wetlands in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), flamingos are flocking to the city in large numbers.
A flock of flamingos at Nerul.(Pratik Chorge/HT Photo)
A flock of flamingos at Nerul.(Pratik Chorge/HT Photo)
Updated on Apr 19, 2020 04:23 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | By, Mumbai

After delaying their annual migration to wetlands in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), flamingos are flocking to the city in large numbers.

The Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), which estimated that their numbers in MMR are 25% more than last year, said that lower human activity has created ideal conditions for foraging in wetlands near Sewri and Thane Creek and other areas like Talawe wetlands, comprising NRI Complex, Seawoods and TS Chanakya, in Navi Mumbai. These areas, which otherwise see a lot of construction work and movement of people, are quieter. The BNHS said that wildlife authorities should look at the developments and declare the Seawoods area as a flamingo sanctuary as the local administration plans to develop a golf course at the site.

Various areas along the Thane creek flamingo sanctuary were also witnessing large congregations as fishing activities are currently on hold owing to the lockdown.

“A major reason for the large numbers is also the large flocks of juveniles moving to these sites, following the successful breeding documented two years ago. Additionally, the lockdown is giving these birds peace for roosting, no disturbance in their attempt to obtain food, and overall encouraging habitat,” said Deepak Apte, director, BNHS.

“Wetland destruction and developmental activities across several areas of the eastern seafront is another reason why larger bird numbers are getting squeezed into smaller pockets like in Navi Mumbai.”

During January, numbers were as low as 33,334 individuals across MMR, but by the end of February it increased to 1 lakh.

While researchers could not go on field dowing to the lockdown, using grid technique or blocking — a counting technique by dividing photographs (mapping a large area) into grids used when single species of birds are in large numbers and stationary — the BNHS estimated that current numbers surpassed 1.5 lakh in the first week of April. In 2019, the highest flamingo count was recorded at 1.21 lakh.

At Talawe wetlands, the maximum count was about 6,000-odd individuals, which has crossed 8,500 this year.

“We are witnessing an overall increase in flamingo population in the range of 23-25% since 2019. An accurate count will be taken once the lockdown is called off,” said Apte, adding that BNHS had correctly predicted the delayed arrival of flamingos in 2020 when numbers were very low in January.

The MMR is the second-largest flamingo habitat along the west coast after Kutch, Gujarat, according to BNHS, which began monitoring flamingo numbers since May 2018, under a 10-year exercise.

“Flamingos usually visit MMR wetlands from November to May, mostly for feeding purposes from the Gujarat region, which is their breeding area. Migration starts after monsoon, when water-filled regions start drying up. However, owing to good availability of water last year through winter, arrivals this year were delayed,” said Rahul Khot, assistant director, BNHS, who leads the flamingo studies. “While there is a decline in industrial waste during the lockdown, the influx of domestic sewage is helping the undisturbed formation of planktons, algae and microbenthos formation, which forms the food for flamingos and other wetland birds.” Navi Mumbai (Seawoods) resident Sunil Agarwal said, “Residents are cooped up at home spending their mornings and evenings at their balconies taking photographs and videos of these relaxed birds. The lockdown will at least prompt people to focus on what is around them, which they had been taking for granted, and hopefully this site will be declared a flamingo sanctuary soon.”


    Badri Chatterjee is an environment correspondent at Hindustan Times, Mumbai. He writes about environment issues - air, water and noise pollution, climate change - weather, wildlife - forests, marine and mangrove conservation

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