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Flight rights
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
the world.
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 arrive in
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 30
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 crane's
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 spend
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 Pakistan.
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!


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