Changing Migration Pattern of Birds: A Global Phenomenon

With the change of season in the air, one would expect colourful birds flying across the sky, making gleeful noises, migrating to safer habitats. But hey when did you last see them? Come to think of it, when was the last time you saw the ‘common’ house sparrow in your backyard? Or the once aplenty parrots that used chirp all day? Do you remember the colour of the last butterfly that you saw in your garden?

The chances are that your answers to the above answers will be fairly disappointing. In the urban jungles that we live in, it is becoming all the harder to co-exist with other organisms. One would logically expect that such animals and birds are thriving in the wild? However, research shows that even in their natural habitat, such organisms are facing problems due to multiple levels of human interference. The most recent revelations have come to light; that claim that the changing climate and environmental factors are reflecting on the habitats of the birds. These effects range from nesting patterns, breeding patterns, migration routes, and extensive loss of habitat. So this year, when you’re on a look out for the herd of the exotic white birds, which are sighted every year, prepared yourself to be disappointed.

It has been a rising trend in the past few decades that long-distance migrant bird population are currently reducing very steeply, and climate change is considered the most plausible culprit for the same. A study done by the University of East Anglia has discovered that birds have been migrating earlier to combat with the changes in their environment. Additionally, the younger birds are migrating much earlier due to the irregular nesting and hatching patterns. One of the obvious consequences of climate change is the loss of habitats. Soaring temperatures, rising water levels, deforestation are resulting in the disappearance of habitats familiar to these birds. In addition to this, wetlands are used for nesting and feeding during the long journeys. In their absence, the birds have insufficient reserves to continue and have problems undertaking their journeys. The Sahara expansion, combined with the destruction of the endemic habitats, is spelling havoc for African-Eurasian migrants to cross this stretch successfully. A lot of them fail and perish on their way. Other examples are Siberian tundra and the Sahel region.

Constant and unpredictable fluctuations in the weather patterns have forced the birds to change their routes, shorten them or cancel them. However, the outcomes are sometimes severe. Not being used to low temperatures, in the case of a bitter winter, they fail to survive. In addition to this, when resident birds decide to stay, they start using food resources in the region and occupying the breeding places of long distance migrants. This increases the pressure on the resources and hence the competition. Plus, factors like pollution, fragmentation and urbanization of land, overbuilding and conversion of land lead to man-made barriers, which often spell doom for the migrants. These factors also affect the speed of the birds, thus resulting in a delayed arrival. However, even if they arrive early, it is equally disadvantageous, as the resources and breeding territories are already claimed.

Closer home, India has seen an evident disturbance in the cycle of these migratory birds. Several local bird enthusiasts in the Malabar region, several migratory species like Grey Heron, Purple Heron and Openbill Stork and many more have started nesting and breeding in the region, despite them returning to their native lands in the past. Normally these birds would leave our country towards the end of winters, but now they have been seen to be dwelling in the region itself. All over the country, bird watchers are reporting that regular bird species are arriving earlier than usual, or not turning up at all, thus indicating that their migration schedules are subjected to climatic changes and local disturbances. In Okhla Bird Sanctuary, on the Yamuna bank, only 15 of the birds expected have arrived so far, indicating that this year will also witness several absentees, a replication of last year. In urban settings issues like high tension wires, mobile tower radiations, and high levels of noise and air pollution also play spoilsport. In addition to misses, several bizarre appearances have also been noticed, wherein the birds due to appear in November-December turned up in April-May. Similar incidents have been reported from various sanctuaries and green enclosures from the length and breadth of India, clearly, proving that fact that these cannot be considered isolated incidents anymore.

All these facts point towards a disturbing global pattern, which is slowly gaining permanence. The question arises, what can you do as an individual? Climate change is a reality which can no longer be shrugged off and has clearly hit other creatures in a worse manner. Even though no individual or agency can interfere with the migration patterns of the birds, and set them right, however, we can as individuals join the fight against climate change and global warming, every day, by following the simple principles of 3Rs: Reduce, Reuse, And Recycle. However, in this age, one needs to be smart, so let’s add another R, i.e. Rethink. Choose to consciously understand, and think about, the repercussion of the decision that you choose to take today. Imagine, and question yourself, if it’s the birds that are losing their way today, how long do we have left, before we too, go down the same road?