Pakistan has the large number of guest birds from Europe, Central Asian
States and India every year. The birds
from North spend winters in different wetlands
and deserts of Pakistan, which are distributed almost throughout
the country, from the high Himalayas to coastal mangroves and
mudflats in the Indus delta. And, after winters
they go back to their native habitats. This
famous route from Siberia to various destinations in Pakistan over
Karakorum, Hindu Kush, and Suleiman Ranges along Indus River down to the
delta is known as International Migratory Bird Route Number 4. It is also
called as the Green Route or more commonly Indus Flyway.
Endowed with a
remarkable geology, Pakistan spans several of the world's ecological
regions and is spread over broad latitude. The rich Indus delta
and the highlands in Pakistan are a great attraction for the guest
birds. Which is why the Indus Flyway is one of
the busiest in the world? The birds start on
this route in November. February is the peak time and by March they
start flying back home. These periods may vary depending upon
weather conditions in Siberia and or Pakistan.
There are total seven identified flyways in the world: from
Northern Europe to Scandinavian countries,
Central Europe to Mediterranean Sea, Western
Siberia to Red Sea, Green Route from Siberia to Pakistan, Ganga Flyway
from Eastern Siberia to India, Manchuria to
Korea and one from Chakotaka to California.
Besides these there are many regional and smaller routs all over
Birds' migration is of many different forms: diurnal (taken during day),
nocturnal (night flights), altitudinal (from heights to lower parts) and
latitudinal migration from north to south. The reasons for bird
migration are complex. One of the most important reasons is that food is
not available in indigenous habitats during
winter seasons. Other factors include changes in
temperature, reduced hours of daylight, and instinctive behaviour. How
birds manage to navigate (find their way) is not known. There are a lot of
competing theories. One concept is that
birds simply go in the direction in which the
weather is warmer. A second speculation is that younger birds
learn the migration route from older birds. A third one says that
during their flight the migratory birds take
directions from the sun during day, moon and
stars at night in addition to landmarks like mountains, rivers and
canals falling in the way.
Why should any bird travel over 4500 kilometres to come to Pakistan? There
must be a reason. But the Siberian cranes will not tell. The regular long
journeys of migratory birds continue to be confounding riddle.
There is a lot of controversy about how
migration developed. Scientists on the basis of
evidence are yet unable to answer as to why the birds take such long and
difficult flights fraught with countless hazards when they even do
not know what lies ahead. Many arrive at their
destinations starving, disoriented,
exhausted. Some do not make it at all, for one reason or another.
The strange phenomenon of birds' migration is centuries old. Homer and
Aristotle are said to have been observing the event of birds' migration.
They could at best call disappearing of birds from an area as
hibernation. Their hypothesis has not stood the
empirical observations of today. American
Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and Canadian Department of Wildlife
in 1920 jointly carried out the first scientific
study by tying Aluminum rings with the feet of birds and tracking them
with radio. Useful work in this
field is continuously being under taken ever since in almost every country
interested in conservation of natural life including Pakistan. These days
the bird watching, ringing and tracking is carried out with the
help of modern and sophisticated equipment like
radio, radar and satellites.
The Indus Flyway is important due to the diverse species and large number
of birds that take this itinerary: different species of waterfowls,
cranes, teals, pintail, mallard and gadwall, the
list goes on. Some extinguishing species like
white-headed duck, houbara bustard and Siberian crane also travel on this
route. As per an estimate basing on regular counts at
different Pakistani wetlands, between 700,000 and 1,200,000 birds
Pakistan through Indus Flyway every year. Some of the birds that come to
our country from northern latitudes arrive at coastal creeks. The
remaining birds land up in lakes, which are
fondly and proudly maintained by landowners.
Only a few places in the world have such plentiful variety of
winged life as the wetlands of Pakistan.
The bird watching has become an increasingly popular pursuit in Pakistan,
more and more people have started taking break and are seen on rendezvous
with birds. I have seen birdhouses at homes of some bird
enthusiasts. But the most exciting are usually the least expected
encounters in the wilderness. That makes the
Indus Delta and Coastal Mangrove forests
breathtaking experience for bird watchers. Each winter, the stage is set
there for migration thrills coupled with local avian population. (Other
locations that have started attracting local and foreign bird watchers to
Pakistan in order to watch the local birds are narrow belts in
Northern Areas when trees sprout, floral buds
open, honey sucking nectars and other tiny
insects swarm the air there and a range of avifauna concentrates in
foothills on the onset of summers.
Out of the guest birds two are especially important: houbara bustard and
Siberian crane. Houbara breeds mainly in the Kizil Kum Desert region
southeast of Aral Sea in Central Asia and migrates in the winter
months, and large number settle down for the
season in Cholistan and Thar deserts. It also over-winters in part of
Iran, Afghanistan, India and Arabian Desert.
There are two biologically separate populations of Houbara found in
Pakistan. Chlamydotis undulata is described as the North African race and
is smaller and darker in plumage than the Asian sub specie Chlamydotis
undulata macqueenii. Both races are migratory, but there is substantial
evidence that a small breeding population of
Chlamydotis undulata exists in Balochistan.
Whether these are totally resident birds or young birds, which miss out on
the first migration back north is unclear. As per the National
Avian Research Centre China, "Houbara's recorded average flying speed is
kilometres per hour with up to 1268 kilometres covered between stopovers
and 700 kilometres flown in 24 hours."
The Siberian crane (Grus leucogeranus), also known as Asiatic Crane and
sometime called as Sibes, is one of the most rare birds of the world. It
is snow white overall, with red skin covering
front of head, face and around the eyes. Crane's bill is thick and legs
are pinkish red. Wing tips are black which are
only visible when the bird is airborne. Both sexes are alike
but immature birds have brownish yellow plumage. The Siberian
distinctive morphology, vocalizations, feeding and courtship behaviour
distinguish it from the other Grus species. Eggs are generally laid from
late May to June, with peak production occurring in the first week
of June. In most cases two eggs are laid, with
only one chick surviving to fledging. The
incubation period is about 29 days, and chicks fledge at 70-75 days.
Siberian cranes, start from Ob River basin in Siberia and prefer to
winters at the Yakutiya River or the Poyang Lake in China, but some of
them head for Pakistan, Iran and India. Wetlands and shallow areas in
Sindh create excellent feeding habitat for Sibes.
This is one bird that deserves compassion and
special care the world over. Another of the winged creature
Great egrets (Casmerodius albus) can also be sited in many areas in
In different Pakistani habitats the guest birds live like "Pairs of Saras"
-- using the metaphor from romantic
literature. As a host it is our responsibility
to provide them comfortable and peaceful environment, which
can be done by efficiently managing the wetlands particularly those
listed as International Ramsar sites -- natural
resource reservoirs. All wetlands are active
agents for recharging water tables and aquifers besides being
home to birds. Human activities around the birds' dwellings, wars,
deforestation, water pollution, hunting, introduction of exotic fish
species and developing the wetlands for
fisheries' production on commercial scale are
some of the common disturbance that cause irritation to birds anywhere.
Bird migration superbly demonstrates the complexity and the wonder of the
web of life. The evolution of individual migratory strategies of different
bird species over the past tens of thousands of years represents a
delicate balance of nature, making it very sensitive to the impacts of
human activity. One such human influence, global
warming (caused mainly by the burning of coal
and oil since the Industrial Revolution), is poised to cause catastrophic
alteration to this delicate balance.
Think of the world without beautiful birds -- singing, humming, flying,
fluttering, flocking, diving, hopping, dipping, gliding, playing around,
and spreading colours in the sky, on ground and
at water surface making each day interesting in
this exclusive zone of beauty. To be savored in one blink of
the eye, indeed, the fascination never ends. They are symbols of
life, friends of mankind and have been used in
literature all over the world. To
me it seems that they the birds come to Pakistan from far and away to pay
tributes to the very varied topography and climate and natural diversity
of our land, to make our country more livable
and likeable. Efforts to help them live
peacefully are a valid field of activities for sustainable living
in future. The choice is simply ours!