Kids, do you know what migration is? Every year, when it gets too cold in their breeding (summer) grounds, great flocks of birds travel to regions that are warmer, known as their non-breeding, or winter grounds. Here, more food is available for them to eat and raise their little ones. This behaviour is called migration, and birds can travel thousands of kilometers year after year. It’s truly magical how they fly along the same pathways, using their sense of smell, changes in the Earth’s magnetic field, and navigation by the stars to guide them! Here are some of the most popular winter visitors to India.
Photo: Sandeep Desai.
Greater Flamingos: These Greater Flamingos Phoenicopterus roseus are seen at the Sewri mudflats in Mumbai city – a destination that these short-distance migrants visit every winter. They can be distinguished from their cousins, the Lesser Flamingos, by their pink bills with black tips. The largest species of flamingo, these birds love the mud flats and shallow coastal saltwater lagoons of Gujarat, where they have been named the state bird.
Photo: Bernard Castelein.
Northern Pintail: The Northern Pintail Anas acuta is a wide-ranging duck that breeds in the northern parts of Eurasia to the south, and further to parts of Poland and Mongolia, as well as parts of Canada, Alaska and the Midwestern-United States. During the winters, this large duck migrates south to the warmer shores of countries that have its preferred habitats, such as sheltered estuaries, brackish marshes and coastal lagoons. This fun-loving flock of pintails was seen at Bharatpur, Rajasthan, using their long necks to fish out tasty treats from the water.
Photo: Aditya Roy.
Lesser Flamingo: Indian populations of the Lesser Flamingo Phoenicopterus minor originally bred only at India’s Rann of Kutchh, but more recently are known from the Zinzuwadia and Purabcheria salt pans in the northwest of the country. This smallest species of flamingo is also the most numerous, but is near-threatened as their breeding sites are threatened by human activities. They feed primarily on Spirulina, a species of cyano bacterium from which they get carotene, which gives them their bright pink colour.
Photo: Baiju Patil.
Black-winged Stilt: The Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopusis known as a cosmopolitan species, since it has a wide range and can be found almost all over the world. This bird is resident in some places and in yet others show local movement or long-distance migration. Northern populations migrate to Africa and Central and South America. These are wide spread winter visitors in India, but many have been found to remain resident in several locations of the country throughout the year.
Photo: Chottu Khan.
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater: Like most other bee-eaters, the Blue-cheeked Bee-eater Merops persicus is a slender, brightly-coloured bird. Though it breeds in sub-tropical semi-desert habitats which have few trees, such as Acacia, it prefers to spend its winters in open woodlands or grasslands. Indian populations of these bee-eaters are found in the northwest, usually migrating to the eastern half of Africa from Ethiopia and eastern Sudan to South Africa.
Photo: Yogesh Rane.
Bluethroat: A small, insectivorous, passerine bird, the Bluethroat Luscinia svecica is a winter migrant to Africa and the Indian Sub-continent, though it can usually be found in the wet birch woods and bushy swamps of Europe and Asia. The female Bluethroat usually has a black crescent shape on its otherwise creamy under parts, while the male, seen here, has a bright blue bib, from which the species gets its name.
Photo: Kiran Poonacha.
Montagu’s Harrier: The smallest of all harriers, the Montagu’s Harrier Circus pygargus is a long distance migrant. Individuals from Eurasia escape the winter cold by going to sub-Saharan Africa and those from the eastern part of their range (Urals), migrate as far as the Indian Subcontinent, generally arriving in August and remaining till March. They can be widely found in open country, grasslands, swamps and marshes. They can also be found in the Andaman and Nicobar, and Lakshadweep Islands. Since the birds are known to return to the same nesting sites every year, scientists think they may mate with the same bird as well.
Photo: Sanket Mhatre.
Ruddy Turnstone: The Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres flies far and fast! Scientists fitted four birds with geolocators (a device that helps track the geographic location of the birds) and watched in amazement as the birds took just six days to go from Australia all the way to Taiwan and then on to north Siberia! And the speed? These birds flew at 50 to 55 km./hour! These birds are found in Europe, Asia and North America. They breed in the north and then head south. The ones going to Australia breed in east Siberia and west Alaska and on their way, they stop in Southeast Asia. In India, they are widespread visitors to coastal regions like Alibaug.
First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia Cub, March 2013.