4 Of The Most Beautiful Migratory Birds That Visit India Every Year
By Aishwarya Das Pattnaik
World Migratory Bird Day is a global celebration dedicated to raising awareness of birds and nature. 🕊️🐧🦅
This year's theme of "Sing, Fly, Soar – Like a Bird!" is a way to inspire and reconnect people back to nature by actively listening to and watching birds - wherever they are.
Birds can be spotted everywhere. From soaring on high peaked icy mountain caps to marshy wetlands, forests, grasslands and even our balconies – their energetic presence is felt like no other animal. This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, bird watchers are documenting migratory birds from their backyards too!
These migratory feathered visitors not only connect all these diverse habitats, but they restore our connection with our biodiverse planet and with themselves too.
Many migratory birds take excruciating journeys by flying thousands of kilometres while some elevate to just a few hundred feet. Birds migrate from one region to another to avoid harsh climate, search for food, and find nesting locations.
Catching a glimpse of them is a dream for every avid bird watcher.
But, it can be the same for you too.
Every year birds from 29 countries take a flight to India. We can spot large incoming flocks during September-October, marking the beginning of migration.
A whopping number of approximately 1,349 species of birds have been recorded as of 2019. 78 are endemic to the country, and 212 species are globally threatened, according to the Government of India.
Jacobin Cuckoo - Harbinger of the monsoon rains
Famously known as Piped Cuckoo or Chatak, these species are of culturally great significance to many in our country. Its presence is considered auspicious as they welcome the onset of monsoons in India.
These crest-headed species with a black and white plumage belong to the cuckoo order of birds found in Africa and Asia. Known to be partially migratory, they can be seen in Southern India year-round. However, this species migrates from the eastern parts of Africa during summers to North and Central India.
In North India, they breed from June to August, and in South Nilgiris, they breed from January to March.
Indian Pitta: The six o’clock bird
The Indian Pitta is a sight to watch! Colourful as they appear, they sing the chirpiest bird songs and have a loud whistle call. It has a unique stubby tail and a body filled with different shades of cerulean blue feathers. These dawn to dusk callers often heard during sunrise and sunset (around 6 o'clock) can be listened to the most during its breeding season.
The species is termed as a "local migrant" – they fly within the Indian borders. During summers, they breed in India's Central and Northern parts while migrating to the south in winters.
Blue-tailed Bee Eater: The real Angry Birds
It's obvious where the Blue-tailed bee-eaters get their names. These skilled bee hunters seal any deal with one another with a bee!
The slender boned species belong to the Meropidae family and are widely distributed across South and Southeast Asia. They make their way to North India and the Himalayan states during the summer season. These birds catch their prey in the open air, returning to a perch with it. They do not eat the insect or bee directly but rather toss and swallow it.
Steppe Eagle: The majestic national bird of Egypt
The Steppe Eagle is a large bird with strongly hooked bills and remarkably well-feathered legs. Classified as an 'endangered' species, these long-winged beasts of the skies are believed to be the second-largest long-distance migratory birds. It has an extensive breeding range from Southeast Europe, Central Asia, Russia, northern Kazakhstan to west Manchuria, north Tibet and Mongolia. From October onwards, they move south to undertake their winter sojourn to the Indian sub-continents.
The national bird of Egypt, they can be spotted mainly in North India and the Himalayan ranges. But, last year, a lone migratory Steppe Eagle was sighted in a paddy field at Velagaleru near Vijayawada – a relatively rare occurrence!
Presence of migratory birds is a positive indicator of a healthy ecosystem. They have various indispensable roles in the places they travel through and areas they reside. Some of their key contributions include, controlling pests by devouring insects and other organisms that harm crops, dispersing seeds, and playing a critical role in pollination.
How are migratory birds passage impacted?
“Migratory species are dependent on areas such as breeding and wintering grounds and stopover sites during migration. Any changes or disturbances in these places severely impact their population. Look at the Siberian Cranes, and we lost them due to hunting pressure on stopover sites. Many Shorebirds depend on coastal mudflats. Any changes in mudflats impact their wintering ranges.”, said Arpit Deomurari, an avid bird photographer and WWF India’s GIS & Conservation Technology Lead.
The most critical step for protecting migratory species is to identify their stopover sites and wintering grounds. With rising habitat loss, Arpit mentions that solid engagement with communities is essential to safeguard these key habitats for our winged friends.