Climate change has affected just about every living creature on planet earth. Birds are not immune to it as well. Bird habitats are dwindling due to rising temperatures, greenhouse gas emissions, and drying of water sources and wetlands. As a result, the number of raptor species such as eagles and vultures are declining too.
Tulsi Subedi, who holds a doctorate in biodiversity conservation and has been researching migratory birds since 2012, says the sightings of birds of prey over the Kaski district area have been decreasing in recent times. He adds that, until 2012, around 14,000 carnivorous birds used to fly over the place in the migration season but their number has come down to around 6,000-8,000 of late. This number includes 33 different species of raptors.
Census of raptor species are conducted every year from the second week of September when they migrate in huge numbers, flying over Kande and Thula Kharka of Annapurna Rural Municipality in Kaski district. Migratory birds have been counted every year since 1983.
Steppe eagles (locally known as Gomayu Mahacheel) are the most common raptors flying over Nepal’s skies. Around 8,500 steppe eagles migrated via Kaski’s Kande and Thula Kharka in 2013 but their number declined to 4,300 in 2020, says Subedi. The bird census report of 2021 is yet to be finalized.
According to Subedi, reduction in the number of prey species, habitat loss, temperature rise, and unfavorable migratory environment could be the reasons for the decline in the arrival of birds, which mostly come from Magnolia and China to escape extreme cold there. The steppe eagles prey on small rabbits, rodents, and small birds. Bird species migrating from Mongolia arrive in Pokhara before going to India and Pakistan.
Himalayan griffons (Himali Gidda) are the second most common raptors arriving in Nepal, and come from central China. The species sometimes stays in Nepal or goes to India’s Madhya Pradesh, returning to China in the month of May. While steppe eagles go to Mongolia from here, while Himalayan griffons come from Mongolia. Likewise, the slender-billed vultures (Khairo Gidda) come to Nepal from Europe and fly south from here.
Cinereous vultures (Raj Gidda), slender-billed vultures, and Indian vultures (Lamo Thunde Gidda) are among the other birds that arrive in Nepal to avoid the extremely cold winter. But these birds don’t incubate their eggs here. According to ornithologist Krishna Bhusal, the Indian vultures have been frequent visitors to Nepal.
“The slender-billed vultures, which come to Nepal for shelter as they migrate to escape extreme cold, have been prolonging their stay here,” says Bhusal. The birds of prey mostly enter Nepal from over the Kanchanjunga and Makalu Barun Himalayan ranges. Some birds coming from the east stop at Thula Kharka to take thermal air.
It is not just the number of visiting raptor species that is declining. The number of water birds coming here to escape extreme cold are down too, says Pokhara Bird Society Chairman Manshanta Ghimire.