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Save insects to save migratory bird species

Save insects to save migratory bird species

Nepal with its diverse geographical and climatic variation can offer habitat for a wide range of migratory birds. Around 212 species of migratory birds visit and spend nearly six months in the different parts of Nepal. Birds like waterfowl, eagles, storks, cranes and other species make this land a temporary habitat during different weather conditions.

Around 150 birds from Russia, Europe, Mongolia and other northern countries migrate to Nepal during winter seasons to avoid the harshest cold. They arrive in Nepal flying thousands of kilometers over the mountains and seas and return following the same route in summer. During this journey, they have to go through difficult conditions like cold weather, harsh wind, predators and also humans, our polluting activities and environmental degradation. Similarly, in search of more pleasant temperatures and breeding sites, around 62 species of summer migratory birds arrive in Nepal from Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and South India.

Migratory birds use different habitats like wetlands around ponds, lakes and rivers, farmlands, grasslands and forests. These habitats are mostly used by the winter visitors and being the destination for winter birds, not only do they provide warmer temperatures but also a habitat with an abundance of food sources. They prefer mostly insects, small fishes, plants, seeds and other organisms.

Insects are abundant in green areas with higher forest biomass and are a good source of protein for migratory birds as well as others for survival and continuation of lineage. Understanding the type of insects they prefer helps in conserving the birds, insects and their habitat. 

Human activities like habitat fragmentation, encroachment, dumping of sewage, using chemical fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides for better crop production decrease the insect population. Birds store fat in their body while starting their journey and ample availability of the food species, such as insects, are vital for this accumulation process. This accumulated fat provides energy while flying for long hours. On the contrary, in the present scenario of decreasing habitat and foraging areas, due to human encroachment and pollution there are threats to declination in the population of insects and birds. Anthropogenic activity in light pollution in urban areas also is a major reason for the decline of insects as they are nocturnal and are easy to trace by predators.

Relationship between birds and insects

Bird migration is one of the crucial components of bird biology. Migration to distant land is in search of suitable temperature, breeding and foraging habitat. In the course of migration and breeding for birds, insects are the main source of diet providing necessary nutrients in non-stop flight as well as safety from predators. There is a complex relationship between birds and insects. It is important that the timing of bird migration and abundance availability of preferred insects coincide. If the birds arrive early or late or when insects are less in number, birds may starve but if birds arrive when the insect numbers are high then the birds can get plenty of nutrients. There is an evolutionary relationship between birds and insects. Birds and insects evolve in response to each other. Birds have specialized beaks in course feeding behavior with time. This evolved specialized beak allows them to catch insects. On the other hand, insects themselves have defensive abilities like camouflage and toxin-producing capacity to protect from predatory birds. Birds are effective pest control as they consume most of the insects preventing the overpopulation of insects. Numbers of certain insect species damage agriculture crops and other plants mis balancing the ecosystem. Sometimes birds act as a vector in transferring certain infectious diseases. Hence it is better to understand the food behavior of those migratory birds.

What can we do?

Being the migratory birds, coordination between countries should be encouraged, protecting the habitats underneath the path of the migration route, controlling illegal hunting, using alternatives of pesticides to minimize its effects on the environment, educating people about the significance of birds and insects, and cleaning up urban gardens. Moreover, restoring the habitats by creating insect’s insect-friendly gardens or urban forests, restoration of grasslands, and wetlands, and planting insect-friendly vegetation can increase insect diversity and population. Not only insects are a good source of nutrients for birds but also help in pollinating crops.

In addition, supporting organic farming and agroforestry, prioritizing diverse crops or plants over monoculture, and using fewer toxic pesticides and insecticides also help in increasing insect numbers. Likewise, maintaining dead leaves on the ground which is used as a habitat, breeding and feeding ground by insects is also a positive marker. Doing so helps in the nutrient cycle. Removing invasive plants and planting native plants is good for the local ecosystem and can be consumed by local insects thus increasing the number. Insect-favoring landscaping gardens and bird-friendly designs are the next better steps where they can find a healthy environment to survive and breed for healthy generations.

For the conservation of migratory species, it is essential to ensure that they are protected in both the habitat and multilateral environmental agreements are vital in that regard. Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), is an important multilateral agreement to protect the migratory species. However, Nepal has only signed the CMS for the birds of prey. Nepal needs to sign and rectify the convention and join the global movement to protect additional migratory species. 

Likewise, public awareness is key for educating bird-insect relationships. World Migratory Bird Day is celebrated twice every year in May and October. This year, World Migratory Bird Day will be celebrated on May 11 and Oct 12, aligning with the cyclical nature of bird migration in different hemispheres. With the slogan of Protect insects, protect birds. Some Insects can be petrifying to look at but it is the source of food for 55 percent of world birds. So, we need to save insects and appreciate them for their helpful qualities to protect many bird species, including migratory birds.