International Visitors: Birds Come Flying In

Posted on November 29, 2006
Filed Under >S.A.J. Shirazi, Environment, Travel
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S.A.J Shirazi

Pakistan gets a 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 mud flats 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 a total of 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 regionaland smaller routs all over the world.

The Indus Flyway is important due to the diverse species and large number of birds that take this itinerary: different species of water fowls, 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 based on regular counts at different Pakistani wetlands, between 700,000 and 1,200,000 birds arrive in Pakistan through Indus Flyway every year. Out of which over 70 per cent of the admirable visitors stay in Thanedar Wala Game Reserve (International Ramsar site number(IRS) 97 where Crane Refuge has also been constructed), Tenda Dam (IRS98), Kinjhar Lakes (IRS 99), Drigh (IRS 100). Haleji Lake (IRS 101) where in the past, over 100,000 migratory birds of more than 222 species had been reported, and which was once called the Bird Watchers’ Paradise by the then president of the World Wide Fund for Nature, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh), Ucchali Complex (IRS818), Taunsa (IRS 817), Chishma (IRS 816), Rasul, Qadar Abad Barrages, and Lal Sohanra. There are 45 sanctuaries and reserves spread over anarea of about 0.90 million hectares in Sindh alone. 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 bird houses 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 to attract global and foreign bird watchers to Pakistan 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. The Margalla Hills in Islamabad are also bird rich area.

Out of the many 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. Chlamydotisundulata is described as the North African race and is smaller and darker in plumage than the Asian sub specie Chlamydotis undulatamacqueenii. Both races are migratory, but there is substantial evidence that a small breeding population of Chlamydotis undulataexists 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 stop overs and 700 kilometres flown in24 hours.”

The Siberian crane (Grus leucogeranus), also known as Asiatic Crane and sometimes 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 sighted 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 ofthe common disturbance that cause irritation to birds anywhere.

Bird migration superbly demonstrates the complexity and the wonder ofthe 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 tothe impacts of human activity. One such human influence, globalwarming (caused mainly by the burning of coal and oil since the Industrial Revolution), is poised to cause catastrophic alteration tothis delicate balance.

Pakistan is an important and active contracting member to Ramsar Convention for the conservation of wetlands and Bonn Convention for protection of migratory animals and birds. Indus Flyway Committee was established in early 70s to collect more information and improve the protection of the birds while they are in Pakistan. Zoology, Wildlife, and Forest Departments as well a few non-governmental organizations are actively working in the field. Regular mid winter bird counts arecarried out and useful database of relevant information has been gathered. The data is likely to produce important results. The experts have already concluded that the migratory birds have ecological benefits as they prey on insects and weeds thus contributing towards the betterment of agriculture. Similarly, the faecal material of the birds consists of organic matter that contributes towards the fertility of the soil.

Count them when the birds are on their way back home. How many camein. And how many are going back.

18 Comments on “International Visitors: Birds Come Flying In”

  1. November 29th, 2006 2:55 am

    Brilliant and very informative article. It reminds me once I saw a beautiful huge white dead owl in Abbottabad. I had seen such a bird before in German zoo. There it was stated that the bird belongs to Siberia. I believe the one I saw was also the migrated bird, or probably we have these huge white owls in Pakistan?

  2. November 29th, 2006 3:05 am

    [...] International Visitors: Birds Come Flying In at All Things Pakistan Pakistan gets a 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 mud flats in the Indus delta. And, after winters they go back to their native habitats. [...]

  3. November 29th, 2006 9:54 am

    Great post!

    May i ask, where was this taken from. I am the founder and member of Birdwatcher’s Club of Pakistan and would like to invite the author of this article to be a member of our club. Any contact info will be much appreciated. Thanks!

  4. Owais Mughal says:
    November 29th, 2006 10:22 am

    Nausherwan Saheb
    Author of this article is Mr. S.A.J Shirazi.

  5. Aicha says:
    November 29th, 2006 1:31 pm

    I love this site’s diversity and depth so much – it makes me so proud to be a Pakistani!

    Suggestion: There are many Pakistani women blogs of note but I don’t see them listed in your blogroll. “Koonj” and “Truth & Beauty” are just two of them.

  6. November 29th, 2006 2:26 pm

    wonderful post, as always, Shirazi

    I just landed in Africa.. second time in three weeks… and everytime I am here I feel that some nations take pride in their natural heritage and some dont… its not a question of rich and poor… its a question of percceptions of what to be proud of… unfortuanetly, we do not

  7. November 29th, 2006 3:28 pm

    I wonder Owais if it is appropriate to give someone’s email so openly? Please do not get me wrong as I have NO intention to offend you.

  8. November 29th, 2006 3:32 pm

    Adil we are proud nation of having nuclear power do you think the nature’s beauty which is abundance in Pakistan can merely blind our eyes…

  9. Owais Mughal says:
    November 29th, 2006 3:38 pm

    Sadia. point well taken and correction made.

  10. November 29th, 2006 4:48 pm

    Dear Owais,

    Many thanks for Mr. Shirazi’s e-mail (though i agree with Sadia’s point). Mr. Shirazi has already contacted me. And since we are talking about nature and wildlife, I would like to invite all of you to visit my wildlife website We have also established a birdwatching club (Birdwatcher’s Club of Pakistan) for anyone who is interested in birding to join. You can find more information about the club at the link below:

    Thanks and regards,

    Nausherwan Ahmed

  11. Roshan Malik says:
    November 29th, 2006 5:29 pm

    I was so facinated to see the routes of these birds.
    @Shirazi Sb
    “Count them when the birds are on their way back home. How many camein. And how many are going back. ”
    I assume that we a great number of pouchers within our country who recklessly shot these migratory birds, particularly ducks in Punjab and Sind. There is a great trend of craine netting in NWFP.
    Regarding Houbara Bustards, these are all exclusively protected by the UAE royal family. They have been alloted areas in Cholistan, Thal, Tharparker, Balochistan, Rajanpur to enjoy the Houbara hunting excursion with their expensive falcons.
    I beleive once the Houbara enters in Pakistan, the luckiest one gets the exit.
    Its a sorry state of our hospitality to the migratory birds, rather than protecting them we prefer to kill them.

  12. Zafar Mansoor Tipu says:
    December 6th, 2006 12:58 pm

    It were Mr T J Roberts books on birds, mammals, wild flowers and (now) butterflies that first ‘opened’ my eyes to our biodiversity and natural beauty. SInce buying Wild Flowers of Pakistan (edited by Mr T J Roberts) I tread the wild grass carefully as more often than not one finds a small beautiful flower there. Mr Shirazi’s article is in no way less revealing. It makes me proud that we have people like him who have the gift of writing so well. More important is that he takes the trouble to share his knowledge with us all. Keep us informed Shirazi sahib.

    I stumbled across this beautiful site only tody while searching for more infor Ucchali Lake Complex, about which I came to know through Mr Shirazi’s article. His article on Astola Island was very interesting read as I also happened to visit it few years back.

  13. faisal khan says:
    June 19th, 2007 1:43 am

    The site is quite beautiful and informative. I am surprise to see the beauty of Pakistan.Really Pakistan is love of nature, and a gift of God. May it evergreen and prosperous country.

  14. Abubaker Shaikh says:
    February 3rd, 2008 5:05 pm

    Dear Friends
    this time i working for Indus Delta environment, so i established an orgnization Delta Development Programme. so i have need some picturs and deta conection with Indus Delta wetland.
    when i watch this article it is not bed, i think it is very good work.

  15. February 6th, 2008 6:29 am

    I m new at this site. At my first day, I thought about ATP just a site having different posts simply. Now after studying this post, I argu that ATP is an Informaiton Source. Gr8.
    The post comples us to think about natual haritage of Pakistan and to preserve it.

  16. Nadir Ali says:
    August 22nd, 2009 12:29 am

    Anybody can send me the email adress of S.A.J Shirazi?

  17. September 15th, 2009 3:19 am

    Its really nice informative post about birds and its way for travel specially over Karakorum, Hindu Kush, and Suleiman Ranges along Indus River down to the delta which is known as International Migratory Bird Route Number 4 it really interesting.

  18. Anonymus says:
    October 31st, 2009 2:31 pm

    wow this article saved my life on my model un topic of protection of migratory species where i represent pakistan!!

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