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Changing weather patterns, construction work affecting Himalayan birds, say experts

Pithoragarh, Feb 3 Changing weather patterns and ongoing construction work in high altitudes have taken their toll on the winter habitats and migration timing of Himalayan birds in this district of Uttarakhand, experts said.

These glacial birds now migrate to lower heights by about a fortnight to escape snowy chill that has begun to hit the Himalayan region earlier than normal in recent years.

"As snowfall and cold have begun to hit this Himalayan region around 15 days earlier than normal for the last few years, the Himalayan birds, especially dark breasted rose finch, snow partridge yellow and red finches are now migrating a fortnight earlier from the glacial area at 4,000 metres to 3,000 metres," said Surendra Panwar, a bird conservationist who runs an NGO named Monal, named after the state bird of Uttarakhand.

High-altitude Granadilla that was found at a height of 4,500 metres in the region can now be seen at 3,500 metres, he said.

According to Pithoragarh District Forest officer Vinay Bhargawa, there is no survey available on how the weather change is affecting Himalayan birds. However, data shows that out of a total 340 species of birds in the district, 239 bird species belong to Munsiyari region alone, he said.

He said the Forest Department is organising a bird festival in Munsiyari from February 28 to March 1 to quantify habitat parameters of Himalayan birds for the next 5 years in order to find out the effects of weather change on these birds.

Panwar, who is studying nature and habitat of migratory birds, said birds like Satyr Tragophan, Snowcock and Snow Partridge, which earlier used to flock together in a single large group, are now seen divided into several smaller groups in areas where road construction is going on in the high Himalayan region.

"It indicates that food on which these birds depend during the migratory period has gone scarce due to road construction work, depleting their traditional food reserves," Panwar said.

According to Panwar, the traditional places where these birds were seen during their migration period have now been abandoned by these flocks. "They are now being seen in smaller groups in new places," he said.

Ram Narayan, a Munsiyari-based bird lover who had co-authored a research paper on behaviour of migratory birds in Himalayan region with Paul Elsen of Princeton University in the year 2016, said "depleting habitats due to human encroachment, untimely snowfall and rains are the challenges the sensitive birds are facing". 

These migratory birds who reside in glacial areas are now a days seen in lower areas like Kalamuni, Khalia Top, Bhujani, Nanda Devi, and Papri regions, which are at an average of 3,500 metres high, in the district.

These flocks return to glacial areas at an hight of more than 4,000 metres in March-April and breed there, Panwar said.

Some Himalayan migratory birds, seen in lower valleys in March and April months, are now being seen in the month of December.

"Satyr, the bird that habitated in Khalia Top region at 3,500 metres throughout the year, has now come down to 2,500 metres in early December to get a respite from the chilling cold this year," he said. PTI CORR ALM DPB DPB

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