Every year, migratory birds from the Himalayas and faraway places like Siberia fly to the relatively warm, swampy lands in Bangladesh to escape the freezing cold, and feed on snails and tiny fishes, which are abundant during this part of the year in the rice crops in haors, baors and the swamps in the coastal areas.
Between November and April, about 500,000 birds of 150 different species travel to Bangladesh.
Bangladesh: A host for the guest
Winter is the king of all seasons in this tropical land, the equivalent of spring in the temperate countries. It is ideal for the blooming of life, what scientists call bio-synthesis. As global interest veers from material sciences to life and the environment, the Bangladeshi winter gains in importance.
The history of migration dates back to prehistoric times. Birds have been travelling vast distances for hundreds and thousands of years, migrating from one continent to another; in search of food and favourable survival conditions.
Globally the nesting grounds of birds – the wetlands – are being protected by the Ramsar Convention. Bangladesh is also a signatory to this convention and as such has an obligation to protect these sites. There are three Ramsar sites in Bangladesh: The Meghna estuary, Tanguar and Hail-Hakaluki Haors. The latter two are in the north-eastern district of Sunamganj.
Sites for birds
There are about 207 species of birds that live or visit Bangladesh. Among the birds, 30% are waterfowls, 26% waders, 20% bush and herb land birds and the rest are grassland, air hawking prey. Of these fresh water birds, 129 species (62.3 %) are resident and the other is migratory.
The wetland environment, some of the famous species that visit Hakaluki, include the great crested grebe, widgeon, egret, large egret, heron, night heron and snipe. The wetland hosts a tenth of all migratory birds that arrive in Bangladesh every winter.
Hakaluki Haor (water body), the biggest lake in the country is spread over Sylhet and Moulvibazar districts, which covers 45000 acres of land.
Also, the urban and suburban places where the guest birds gather are Peelkhana, Dhaka National Zoo and Botanical Garden, Bangabhaban compound, Ceramic Lake (Mirpur), Jahangirnagar University and other large water-bodies around the city.
The species of birds that usually travel the country are: Spotbill pelican, pelican, Scavenger vulture, Bengal Florican, Pinkheaded duck, Greater Adjutant and King Vulture. Endangered migratoey birds species also roaming our lands include: Poceps cristatus, Phalarocorax carbo, Anhinga rufa, Neophron percnopterus, Leptoptilos javancus, plegadis falcinellus,. anser, Carina scutulata, Haliaeetus leucoryphus, Anthropoidis virgo, Rostratula bengalensis, Esacus magnirostris and Palargopsis capanesis.
The arrivals of these birds provide winter entertainment for tens of thousands of residents who travel to suburban areas to watch the birds. Bangladesh Bird Watchers' Society and Natural Conservation Committee organise bird watching festivals each year at Jahangirnagar and Mirpur Ceramic Lake. Bird lovers feed them and photographers come in groups to take pictures.
The decreasing number of birds
Ironically, people are still unaware of the importance of migratory birds and the global ecological balance they make. Unfortunately, the sale of these birds for their meat, is patronised by many a people. Dr Monirul H Khan, professor of Zoology of Jhangirnagar University said that affluent urban dwellers are the largest group of wildlife customers.
“There should be a law against the consumers too, which will result in the protection of wildlife,” he said.
Dr Khan has done extensive research on lakes and major rivers in the country's northern region. Based on his experience, he suggested proactive efforts to preserve water bodies and wetland areas. “Real estate companies are filling up large water bodies and building up apartments. If this trend continues for another five years, I am afraid we might lose all the water bodies which were considered safe havens for the migratory birds” he said.
Mostafa Feeroz, another Zoology professor of Jahangirnagar University said that rampant use of insecticide and pesticide are causing great damage to the environment and also preventing migratory birds from coming.
“The JU sanctuary which is considered the safest haven for migratory birds was almost deserted at the beginning of this winter. But the numbers have increased tremendously since the beginning of this year.”
Jashodhon Pramanik, an environmentalist and prominent animal rights activist said, "The decreasing number of migratory birds visiting Bangladesh each year can be attributed to bird flu culls all over the world.”
Also, the decreasing number of wetlands and plantation of out-of-place foreign trees after the local ones were cut down are another reason. As incredible as this may sound, there are no actual laws in place to punish poachers or pet shops that sell migratory and extinct birds.”
He said that he has raided Katabon pet shops several times and apprehended dozens of shop owners selling illegally acquired migratory birds. The Environmental Department sadly, does not have any laws in place for the protection of these birds. All the pet shops technically have the license to legally sell "birds".
The term "Birds" has no further specification in the 1974 Wild Life Conservation Act, which is a major loophole for poachers and traders. No specific laws are in place to protect these birds travelling from foreign lands – they all fall under the category of generic birds under the wildlife conservation act and are illegally sold in licensed pet shops.
Shared from Dhaka Tribune.