Every year billions of birds fly vast distances across the continents. Known as migratory birds, they need an unbroken chain of healthy ecosystems along the path of their migration. To raise awareness concerning the need for the conservation of migratory birds and their habitats, World Migratory Bird Day is celebrated twice every year- on the second Saturday of May and October. This year the first of these days is being celebrated today.
With increasing population pressure and demand for development, the ecosystems that these birds are dependent on for carrying out a full migration process are more and more at stake. These ecosystems go beyond state boundaries, thus require the attention and intervention of more than one state for their protection and conservation.
To highlight the ecological connectivity and integrity of ecosystems that support the natural movements of migratory birds, and also the need for international cooperation to protect these ecosystems, this year's theme for World Migratory Bird Day has been chosen as "Birds Connect Our World".
First celebrated in 2006, the campaign has grown in popularity with more countries, organizations and people joining the event every year. On this day people around the world celebrate the cause by organizing public events such as rallies, bird festivals, educational seminars, and bird watching tours. Bangladesh is no exception to that. With each passing year the country has witnessed more and more organizations celebrating the day to promote the need for conservation of migratory birds and their habitats.
Migratory birds use well established routes between their breeding grounds in arctic and temperate regions and non-breeding sites in temperate and tropical areas. These migration routes are known as flyways. Bangladesh falls under the East Asian/Australasian Flyway of bird migration.
This flyway extends from Arctic Russia and North America to the southern limits of Australia and New Zealand and encompasses large parts of East Asia, and all of Southeast Asia. It also includes eastern India, Bangladesh, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. According to BirdLife International, a global partnership of conservation organizations, the scale of avian movement along this flyway is awesome, with over 50 million migratory waterbirds, including 8 million waders, using the route annually. For many of these birds, Bangladesh is their final wintering destination.
Traditionally migratory birds in Bangladesh were seen as game birds. Amateur hunters in winters ravaged their wintering habitats- the haors, baors and beels, in search of large flocks to shoot for fun and some quick cash. Selling of poached migratory birds at the traffic lights in metropolitan cities in winter was a common sight. Migratory birds here used to be referred to as "Guest birds". And since no one "invited" these birds, they could easily be dubbed "unsolicited guests" and treated as such.
Fortunately, since then the attitude has changed for good to some extent. Thanks to the activism of nature enthusiasts and bird lovers, who through their relentless organized campaigning and activism, successfully raised awareness about the need for conservation in general and protection of migratory birds and their habitats in particular. As a result, new laws have been enacted and enforced and social stigma attached to hunting and selling of migratory birds.
Of all the seven hundred plus bird species on its national checklist, Bangladesh has so far hosted over three hundred species of migratory birds. While majority of these are winter migratory, about six are summer and ten are spring/ passage migrants.
Bangladesh Bird Club (Bbc), the oldest and the biggest platform for ornithologists and bird enthusiasts in Bangladesh, has been doing the hard job of keeping track of migratory bird counts here every winter since 2000. Bbc has been the only organization till date that has been conducting bird census in all the Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) of the country every year as part of the International Waterbird Census (IWC), coordinated by Netherlands based Wetlands International. The data collected and collated by Bbc is critical in understanding not only the number and status of winter migratory birds in Bangladesh, but also the state of health of our natural wetlands. Long term repeated data collection also helps understand the trend of bird migration in Bangladesh. Bbc has also been conducting forest bird surveys for years and the data has been published internationally.
Bangladesh has been the wintering ground for several globally threatened bird species, the famous Spoon-billed Sandpiper being the most coveted celebrity among those.
Advancement in the techniques and technology in migration tracking has made bird watching more interesting. Experts of Bangladesh Bird Club, in collaboration with the IUCN, have been ringing migratory birds for years now. Tagging migratory birds with GPS trackers, specially made for the purpose, has made it easier for bird watchers to track the paths and migration habits of the tagged birds real time. This information is invaluable in protecting the migratory birds and their habitats. The information helps ornithologists better understand the sites and ecosystems used by the birds in the migration process. A drastic alteration of the staging grounds (on-ground short or long stop-over sites for birds on their migration flight paths) may cause an irreparable damage to the migration process, endangering the survival of the species itself in the long run.
The collected data may be used by Environmental Impact Assessment experts to assess the impact of prospective development projects situated on the bird flight paths.
We need to understand that protecting the migratory birds and their habitats is of utmost importance to the existence of human race on earth. We live in a world where all ecosystems are integrated and dependent on each other. For this reason, the issue of connectivity has become a central topic for biodiversity and sustainability. One can hope that the knowledge and enthusiasm generated by celebrating the World Migratory Bird Day would help raise awareness on the importance of ecological connectivity for migratory birds and complement the global efforts of conserving the many habitats of these birds.
Obaidul Haque is the general secretary of Bangladesh Bird Club, and an associate professor of International Relations at Dhaka University.
He can be reached at [email protected]