Migratory bird arrivals at Punjab’s Harike wetland decline this season, latest census shows

The arrival of migratory birds at Harike, northern India’s largest wetland, has declined by 12% this year since 2021, according to the latest census of these waterbirds.

The Forest and Wildlife Preservation Department’s census counted 65,624 birds from 85 species in Harike, said Gitanjali Kanwar, World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) coordinator for India.

Every winter, 90 species of migratory birds come to the wetland from Siberia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Russia, among others, once the waters in their home ranges begin to freeze.

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In 2021, the census recorded 74,869 migratory birds from 88 species. In the previous year, 91,025 of 90 species were counted. There was no census in 2022 due to COVID-19.

In 2018 and 2019, 94,771 birds of 94 species and 1,23,128 birds of 83 species arrived at the wetland, respectively.

The reason for the decline in migratory bird arrivals this year has yet to be determined. Whether the decline will be at a global or regional level remains to be seen, Ms Kanwar said.

Punjab has seen fewer migratory birds in all wetlands this year, she added.

Rare species of migratory waterfowl

The Harike Wetland covers 86 square kilometers at the confluence of the Sutlej and Beas rivers in Tarn Taran, Ferozepur and Kapurthala districts and is home to rare species of migratory waterfowl in winter.

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The birds start arriving at Harike, aka Hari Ke Pattanin September before returning in March.

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“Backward migration has already started,” Kanwar said.

Among the species that arrived at Harike this season were 34,523 coots, 8,381 greylag geese, 7,432 gadwall, 2,262 pochard and 1,807 shoveler.

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Spoonbills, variegated storks, shelducks, strip-headed geese, teal and shorebirds such as gulls, terns, sandpipers and plovers were also counted.

Ms Kanwar said some species like the merlin, black-necked grebe and common merganser were sighted only after a long time.

Apart from Harike, these waterfowl also arrive in wetlands in Keshopur Miani, Nangal, Ropar, Kanjli and the Beas river.

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