ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday November 18, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 25

Fly, fly, pant, pant.. there’s more to go!

What do you do if you come across a dead-beat migratory bird?

By Malaka Rodrigo, Pic by Sasitha Weerasinghe

“The day has just arrived at my garden in Kalubowila, but the morning sky was gloomy and hinted more rains. ‘Kelie’- my female dog was suspiciously looking at a darker corner in the garage. In the shade, there was a bird. It didn’t move….. It looked at me innocently, through its wide open eyes. ‘Kelie’ was vigilant, but haven’t tried to attack, may be understanding the anguish of the exhausted bird. I have taken it to a veterinary surgeon and later handed over to one of my friend to look after it, as it couldn’t stand on its own. Small worms were fed and the bird showed hints of recovering. However, it was too weak and after three days, on Saturday 10th November, the bird – Slaty-Legged Crake died.

This was the experience of Dulani Dissanayake, a bird watcher who tried to save the life of a migrant bird that would have been exhausted after its long flight.

Over 200 species of birds migrate to Sri Lanka, during the migratory period that starts usually in late August and extends upto to March/April. The bird visitors travel mainly from Europe and northern parts of India. Circulated on the email network of the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) last week, were two more accounts of migrant Indian Pittas found in home gardens. The Indian Pitta found in Udahamulla in the garden of Sasitha Weerasinghe was also exhausted, but recovered after being fed with water.

The Indian Pitta found at Udahamulla.

But the Indian Pitta at Pelawatte in the garden of Dr. Udaya Kumarasinghe was not that lucky. This Pitta had been observed over the past few years in his garden and Dr. Kumarasinghe had even treated the bird two years ago. On that occasion, he had been seated on his verandah when the Pitta just fell off a nearby tree. He nursed it and the bird recovered in an hour or so and flew away but returned to his garden for the rest of the season. The Pitta came back last year as well. Some of the territorial birds show site tenacity which drives them to the same location year after year.

“It is common to find the migrant birds exhausted after a long flight. Those migrants who travel during the night may be attracted to the light. This is why many birds are found in home gardens. Birds that are attracted to light may collide with windows and get hurt. They can also be easy prey to domestic cats and dogs while resting. Otherwise, birds usually recover on their own,” says veteran ornithologist Prof. Sarath Kotagama. Birds may be found even in the heart of Colombo, where the lights of the buildings attract migrants. But such incidents are rarely recorded, he adds.

Emphasizing the importance of collecting data, Prof. Kotagama invites bird watchers to send their records to the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) which is also conducting the National Bird Ringing programme in collaboration with the Department of Wildlife Conservation, primarily to study migrant birds.

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Try a little TLC

Usually before the migration, birds feed a lot to gain the strength needed for their long flights. Their bodies are streamlined for flight and in addition, migrant birds employ several other mechanisms to minimize the effort of flying. Larger birds like eagles, cranes and storks soar in the sky, using the thermal upwind. They fly to a higher elevation and then manoeuvre with the wind to move forward with minimum effort.

Larger birds usually migrate during the daytime through a route mostly across a land area. Small birds like Flycatchers and Indian Pittas prefer to travel at night. Not having the advantage of soaring, they have to beat their wings continuously to travel.

If you find an exhausted bird, you need to be calm and not panic the bird further. Chase away the cats, dogs, crows and any other potential predator and leave the bird as it is to recover. If the bird seems to be extremely weak, it could be given water.

There are fears about the spread of Bird Flu through migrant birds. But Avian Influenza has not reached the island or any location that is on the migratory route.Still it is always best to take precautions before handling a sick bird. Using a pair of gloves and cleaning up thoroughly after handling such a bird is indeed wise.

The best we can do is protecting the habitats that are used by these migrants. Start the effort in your own home garden. Plant a tree, make a shade for the exhausted migrants to rest and live in peace during their stay.

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