Emerging global problems like climate change, urbanization and pollution are causing changes to bird migratory patterns and their arrival in Nepal.
The endangered woolly neck stork, called Lovipapi Garud in Nepali, has been spotted in the Mini Kositappu wetland area in Bhaktapur, Kathmandu.
A team led by wildlife photographer and bird watcher Sanjay Tha Shrestha sighted the bird during the mid-winter water bird-count and searched it across the area from the Shalinadi River area in Kathmandu to Bhaktapur.
A total of 25 Steppe Eagles, known as Gomayu Mahachil in Nepali, were also sighted during the census. This is another endangered bird species.
The team counted the native birds found in the area, prominent among which is the winter waterfowl arriving to Nepal’s wetlands from Siberia.
The team led by Tha Shrestha included bird watchers and wildlife photographers counted the birds in collaboration with the Nepal Ornithologists Association, Wetland International, Himalayan Nature, Zoological Society of London, Bird Conservation Association, Pokhara Bird Society and various other organisations.
Water-birds arrive in Nepal on their annual flight every year from Mongolia, Siberia, Tibet and Europe to avoid freezing winter in their native land and in search for food.
Climate change, pollution, urbanisation and hunting
Climate change, which has emerged as a global problem, has also affected bird migration.
According to Shrestha, the birds have been counted to document the recent migration of birds to various wetland and coastal areas of Nepal.
Shrestha noticed that some bird species observed in previous years have not been seen this year while some new species of birds have also been spotted during the census.
“Bird habitats are becoming endangered. In such a situation, the birds seen this year may not be seen in the next year,” Tha Shrestha said.
Sugam Tamrakar, another wildlife photographer involved in the census exercise spoke of urbanization and pollution causing changes in bird migration, besides climate change.
Hunting birds for game, though prohibited, is rampant in the country and so is the damage to their habitats due to urbanisation. Local government bodies have yet to come up with conservation policy, though Nepal receives respectable funding for wildlife conservation.
“Due to the rapid urbanization around the river and the pollution it has caused, there has been a shortage of fish, frogs and other aquatic animals that the birds feed on,” Tha Shrestha said. “These are the reasons for the reduction in the number of migrating birds,”
The pace of urbanisation has not been matched with regulation, he said, citing how the illegal exploitation of riverine products, including sand was leading to a decline in the declining number of water-birds.
According to Tha Shrestha, the habitat of waterfowl is also at risk due to dumping of garbage in the riverside, water pollution and destruction of bird habitat in the Manohara River.
Bird watchers’ delight
Altogether, 106 different species of birds were also found in the area, Tha Shrestha said.
Nepal lies at the confluence of four eco-biological domains, and its vast altitude difference invites a large variety of birds from over the world. The country is a bird-watcher’s delight.
Ornithologists and bird watchers across the globe have documented upwards of 9,000 different species of bird species. But there are varying claims on the numbers of bird species found in the country.
More than 150 bird species have gone extinct over the last five centuries across the globe and over 1,400 bird species are threatened with extinction. 43 bird species have been classified as threatened, though Nepal alone has put 168 bird species on the list of nationally threatened bird species.
While some put the number at 880, there is also another estimation based on sightings over the years that puts the total numbers at 915 bird species – which is far more that in the United States. This is largely attributed to Nepal’s diverse terrain that soars from 70 metres to nearly 8,850 metres above sea level within a distance of barely 100 km as the bird flies!