Read also: Protecting the last home of the Spiney babbler, Carol Inskipp and Rupendra Karmacharya
Every winter since 1987, more than 360 volunteers from Himalayan Nature have counted birds in 60 wetland spots across Nepal. They finish by mid-January. The data for this year is still to be tallied, but preliminary findings confirm the fears of ornithologists that the numbers continue to fall.
Some of the counting locations include favourites of migratory birds like Kosi Tappu in the east, Bis Hazari lake in Chitwan, the crane sanctuary in Lumbini, Ghodaghodi Lake in Kailali, and Bardiya National Park. Aside from the Tarai, this year the bird counting was also done at Rara Lake.
Birds have also stopped coming to Kathmandu locations including Taudaha for many years now. Though the number of migratory birds is stable in Chitwan and seems to have grown in Ghodaghodi Lake, the decline across Nepal is notable, and worrying.
Baral says some rare species of geese have not been seen for several years now and that there could be many reasons for this.
“The habitat of birds are shrinking along the migratory routes and in our own wetlands,” he explains, “rapid urbanisation and the increasing use of pesticides could be other reasons. On top of that, we now have climate change that impacts on birds, as it does everything else.”
The implications of this decline are far-reaching. Birds, especially water birds, have an important role in the ecological cycle. They also eat insects and rodents, protecting crops.
While yearly fluctuation of bird numbers is normal, and a slight reduction in two consecutive years is not cause for concern, experts say the long-term trend is disconcerting.
“We do not have much control over the birds’ migratory routes, but even within Nepal, there is a lot we can do,” says Baral. “We must control hunting and poaching and manage our wetlands better, keeping them free from pollution.’
He says that if this is done, birds that have gone elsewhere this winter may come back next year.