Decline in wintering water fowl


Experts have called for urgent protection of wetlands following another winter with a sharp decline in the number of migratory water fowl in Nepal’s lakes and rivers this year.

Preliminary results of this year’s bird census conducted from 2-18 January show a fall in not just the total number of water birds, but also the species count – a third year in a row with such a worrying decrease.

The Kosi River this winter recorded a total of 19,522 water birds of 62 species, much lower even than the 21,744 waterfowls of 58 species counted last year. The Jagadishpur Ramsar site also recorded only 12,476 water birds against last year’s 15,496.

Birders at Chitwan, Karnali River and Badaiya Lake also counted fewer ducks, geese and other migratory species compared to previous years -- raising serious concern about the health of Nepal’s wetlands as well as the safety of the birds en route from Siberia and Mongolia.

Waterfowls breed, graze and spend most of their time in and around Nepal’s lakes and rivers in winter, migrating over the Himalaya. Over 100 species of waterfowls have been recorded in Nepal, most of them migratory.

But shrinking lakes, destruction of wetlands, pesticide use, obstructions in flight paths, climate change, depleted fish in rivers and lakes as well as hunting along migratory routes are the main reasons for the decline.

“Wetland protection is a must for bird conservation, for their survival, their food and shelter,” says Krishna Prasad Bhusal of the Bird Conservation Nepal. “Waterfowls are an indicator species, they show us the condition of the habitat.”

In January’s bird census, over 300 enumerators fanned out across 60 wetland spots across Nepal over a two week period. They did not just count birds and their species, but also collected information about illegal hunting and habitat destruction.

The good news this year were sightings of new species: the Mandarin Duck in  Pokhara, Yellow-billed Duck in Kosi and the Baikal Gairi in Barju Lake and Thopla Chuche Nadun Duck in Jagdishpur.

Nepal’s annual bird count started in 1987 simultaneously with other parts of Asia under a Wetlands International initiative, which tries to tally the total number of waterfowls in Asia at the same time.

The Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, the Nepal Bird Conservation Association, and community groups took part in the census.

Says ornithologist Hem Sagar Baral of Wetlands International: “With this census we aim to increase public awareness about bird conservation by engaging local communities.”

Nepal’s great ecological diversity, a terrain that soars from 70m above sea level to 8,848m within a horizontal distance of less than 100km means that it has more than 886 bird species, more than continental United States.

Of these, more than 150 are migratory in nature, 60 of them in summer, when migration is relatively shorter in distance.

Every winter, birds from as far as Siberia, Europe, South Africa, Central Asia and East Asia travel to Nepal in search of favourable weather and habitat.

They spend most of their time in Kosi Tappu, Bishajari Lake in Chitwan, Jagdishpur, Ghodaghodi Lake in Kailali, Shuklaphanta Lake area and Kosi, Gandaki, Narayani and their tributaries.

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