Status of wetland birds of Chhilchhila Wildlife Sanctuary, Haryana, India
Parmesh Kumar 1 & S.K. Gupta 2
1,2 Department of Zoology, University College, Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra, Haryana 136119, India
1 firstname.lastname@example.org (corresponding author), 2 email@example.com
Abstract: The Chhilchhila Wildlife Sanctuary (76036Õ–76046ÕE & 29052Õ–30000ÕN), situated in Kurukshetra District of Haryana provides an important wintering ground for a diverse range of wetland birds. This study was carried out from April 2009 to March 2012 to document the diversity of wetland birds. Altogether 57 species of wetland birds belonging to 37 genera and 16 families were recorded from the study area. Family Anatidae dominated the wetland bird community with 13 species. Among recorded species, 33 were winter migrants, two summer migrants and 22 were resident species. The winter migratory birds did not arrive at this wetland in one lot and at one time. Instead, they displayed a definite pattern specific to species for arrival and departure. They appeared at the wetland during mid-October and stayed up to early April. The composition of birds in major feeding guilds in the study area showed that the insectivore guild was the most common with 35.09% species, followed by carnivore (29.82%), omnivore (19.30%), herbivore (10.53%) and piscivore (5.26%). Among the birds recorded in this study area, Darter (Anhinga melanogaster) and Painted Stork (Mycteria leucocephala) were Near Threatened species. Comb Duck (Sarkidiornis melanotos), listed in Appendix II of CITES, was also spotted in the sanctuary. The spotting of these threatened bird species highlights the importance of Chhilchhila Wildlife Sanctuary as a significant wetland bird habitat in Haryana. However, anthropogenic activities like fire wood collection, livestock grazing, cutting of emergent and fringe vegetation and improper management of the wetland are major threats to the ecology of this landscape.
Keywords: Birds, Chhilchhila, diversity, Haryana, wetland.
Apart from their beauty, recreational and economic importance, wetland birds are excellent indicators of the general health of an ecosystem and measure of its biodiversity. Out of 310 species of wetland birds found in India (Kumar et al. 2005), almost half of these are migratory and visit India from their breeding grounds in China, Russia, central Asia, Tibet and from across the entire range of the Himalaya. The availability of feeding and roosting habitats is very important for these migratory species, which in some cases migrate up to thousands of kilometers. As wetlands provide a wintering ground for many trans-equatorial species of migratory birds, several wetlands in the country have been identified as being internationally significant under the Ramsar Convention. However, wetlands in India, are facing tremendous anthropogenic pressures (Prasad et al. 2002), which can adversely influence the structure of bird communities (Kler 2002; Verma et al. 2004; Reginald et al. 2007).
Birds inhabiting wetlands for feeding, breeding, nesting or roosting are broadly defined as water birds. This comprises bird groups commonly called waterfowl and waders. In addition, several other bird groups like kingfishers, raptors and some passerines are also ecologically dependent on wetlands, hence known as wetland dependent and associated birds (Kumar et al. 2005). In this paper, water birds, wetland dependent and associated birds are collectively termed as wetland birds.
Monitoring of wetland birds provides valuable information on the ecological health and status of wetlands and can be a vital tool for developing awareness regarding the conservation value of the wetlands. The importance of local landscapes for conservation of avifauna can only be understood by knowing the structure of the bird community of that region (Kattan & Franco 2004). Due to its unique geographical location, a large number of water birds from Europe and Siberia spend a part of their winter sojourn in the ponds, lakes and canals of Haryana. However, few studies have been carried out on the status and diversity of wetland birds of Haryana (Bahuguna et al. 2008; Kumar & Gupta 2009; Tak et al. 2010). The Chhilchhila Wildlife Sanctuary (CWS) situated in Kurukshetra District of Haryana provides an excellent habitat for avifauna in the form of a water body with marshy plant growth, terrestrial platforms, earth mounds having scattered trees and bushy vegetation. Several migratory birds visit this lake every year during winter. Keeping in view the conservation value of wetland birds, systematic efforts were made during April 2009–March 2012 with the objective to have an overview of the diversity and threats to wetland birds in this landscape.
Materials and Methods
Chhilchhila Wildlife Sanctuary (76036Õ–76046ÕE & 29052Õ–30000ÕN) is located at a distance of about 20km from Kurukshetra University towards west in Kurukshetra District of Haryana, India (Fig. 1). It has a shallow water body having an embankment of stabilized soil. It is a rain-fed lake, and therefore, the volume of water keeps on changing depending on the season and the amount of rainfall received. The depth of the water varies from 4.5m in rainy season to 1.8–2.7 m in summer. There is a temple located on the edge of the sanctuary, which is devoted to a local deity. Spread-out over an area of about 28.7ha, the sanctuary provides varied habitats for a diverse range of resident and migratory wetland birds with marshy plant growth, terrestrial platforms, earth mounds with scattered trees, bushy vegetation and surrounding fertile agricultural fields. The predominating vegetation of the sanctuary is typically the dry deciduous type. Common tree species are Acacia arabica, Azardirachta indica, Zizyphus jujuba, Eucalyptus sp., Cassia tora, Ficus benghalensis, Ficus religiosa, Dalbergia sissoo, Prosopis cineraria and Prosopis juliflora. The dominant shrubs are Capparis deciduas, Calotropis procera, Adhatoda vasica, Alhagi maurorum and Xanthium strumarium, while Parthenium, Amaranthus spinosus, Chenopodium ambrosiodes, Achyranthes aspera, Malvastrum sp. and Boerhavia diffusa are the prominent weeds in the study area. Aquatic plants in the lake are Hydrilla sp., Typha sp., Cyperus sp., Azolla sp. etc. The climate of Kurukshetra is tropical monsoonal. There are three major seasons i.e. rainy (July–September), a cool dry (October –February) and the hot dry season (March–June). Temperature varies from a high of 450C in summer to a low of 30C in winter. The normal annual rainfall is 582mm.
Observations were made during July 2009–June 2011 with April 2009–March 2012. Regular surveys were done by systematically walking on fixed routes through the study area. The birds were observed during the peak hours of their activity from 0600–1000 hr and from 1600–1800 hr with the aid of 7×35 Nikon binoculars. However, opportunistic records were also collected during other time periods of the day. Birds seen were recorded along with habitat type, season and frequency of sightings of a particular species. Photographs were taken whenever possible (Images 1–3). Identification of birds was done using field guides (Ali & Ripley 1987; Grimmett et al. 1999), and only those species with confirmed identity are reported in this paper. The checklist was prepared using standard common and scientific names of the birds following Manakadan & Pittie (2001). Residential status of the birds as resident, winter visitor and summer visitor has been assigned strictly with reference to the study area on the basis of presence or absence method. The status of the recorded bird species was established on the basis of frequency of sightings following Kumar & Gupta (2009) as common recorded 9–10 times out of 10 visits, fairly common recorded 6–8 times out of 10 visits, uncommon recorded 3–5 times out of 10 visits, rare recorded 0–2 times out of 10 visits. Feeding guilds were classified on the basis of direct observations and available literature (Ali & Ripley 1987). The conservation status of the bird species was assessed according to the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, CITES (2002) and IUCN (2010). Data on threat factors were collected by direct observation and personal interviews with local people.
Results and Discussion
Fifty seven species of wetland birds belonging to 37 genera and 16 families were recorded from the Chhilchhila Wildlife Sanctuary from April 2009 to March 2012. The checklist of recorded bird species along with their abundance, feeding guilds, residential and conservational status is given in Table 1. The family Anatidae represented by 13 species, dominated the wetland bird community of the study area (Fig. 2). It accounted for 22.81% of the total number of wetland bird species of the sanctuary. Among the recorded species, 33(58%) were winter migrants, 2(3%) summer migrants and 22(39%) were resident species (Fig. 3). The status of some bird species like Spot-billed Duck, Common Moorhen, Great Cormorant, Grey Heron, Large Egret and Median Egret observed in Chhilchhila Wildlife Sanctuary was different from their Haryana State status (Tak et al. 2010). The summer visitors, namely Cotton Teal Nettapus coromandelianus and Lesser Whistling Duck Dendrocygna javanica were spotted during summer seasons from April to August. The winter migratory birds displayed a definite pattern specific to species for arrival at and departure from the wetland. They appeared at the wetland from mid October and stayed up to April. The peak of winter population of migratory birds was observed during the months of January and February. The present study revealed that Northern Shoveller Anas clypeata, Northern Pintail Anas acuta, Common Teal Anas crecca, Common Pochard Aythya ferina, Common Coot Fulica atra and Gadwall Aythya ferina arrived in October; Spot-billed Duck Anas poecilorhyncha, Mallard Anas platyrhynchos and Comb Duck Sarkidiornis melanotos arrived in November. As far as the departure time was concerned, Mallard generally departed in February. Birds like Spot-billed Duck, Common Pochard, Eurasian Wigeon Anas Penelope, Tufted Pochard Aythya fuligula and Red-crested Pochard Rhodonessa rufina departed in March. Common Coot, Northern Shoveller, Northern Pintail, Common Teal and Gadwall departed as late as April. Based on the frequency of sightings, two species were rare, 13 uncommon, 21 fairly common and 21 common. The basic requirements of migratory birds at their wintering ground are adequate food supply and safety (Lakshmi 2006), which are fulfilled by this wetland as it was situated amidst fertile agricultural fields. The composition of birds in major feeding guilds in the study area showed that the insectivore guild was the most common with 36.84% species (Fig. 4), followed by carnivore (29.82%), omnivore (19.30%), herbivore (10.53%) and piscivore (3.51%). The diversity of the wetland birds documented during the present study may be due to the presence of a wide spectrum of feeding niches. The wetland birds are in general heterogeneous in their feeding habits (Ali & Ripley 1987). Thus wetland birds exploit a variety of habitats and depend upon a mosaic of microhabitats for their survival. Many studies have demonstrated the importance of habitat heterogeneity in wetland bird richness and abundance (Svingen & Anderson 1998; Edwards & Otis 1999; Fairbairn & Dinsmore 2001; Riffel et al. 2001; Z‡rate-Ovando et al. 2008; Datta 2011). In the present study, irrigated agricultural fields surrounding the sanctuary, with scattered trees probably provided shelter and suitable foraging grounds for the wetland birds. This habitat by supporting different food sources like fish, crustaceans, invertebrates, water plants and plankton further adds to the diversity of wetland birds (Basavarajappa 2006). The population of some of the birds such as Black-winged Stilt and Little Cormorant was found to be high in winter, but a couple of birds observed in summer and monsoon confirmed their status as residents. Among the birds spotted in this study area, Darter Anhinga melanogaster (Birdlife International 2012a) and Painted Stork Mycteria leucocephala (Birdlife International 2012b) are Near Threatened species. Comb Duck, a bird species listed in Appendix II of CITES was also spotted in the Sanctuary. The spotting of these threatened bird species highlights the importance of Chhilchhila Wildlife Sanctuary as an important staging and wintering ground for wetland birds.
The avian heritage of this landscape is under threat due to increased anthropogenic activities resulting in habitat destruction and fragmentation. It is an alarming sign for conservation of the avian diversity of this landscape. Direct observations as well as personal interviews with local people during surveys revealed that anthropogenic activities like livestock grazing, soil digging, encroachment, use of forest wood as a source of fuel by local people, cutting of emergent and fringed vegetation are some of the major threats to the biodiversity of this landscape (Image 4–7). The wetland needs to be patrolled to minimize disturbance, in particular during the breeding season. The only source of water in the lake is rain water and uncertainty in the amount of rainfall coupled with decreased inflow of water from surrounding agricultural fields due to intensive agriculture is also posing a threat to the richness of biodiversity in the sanctuary. Thus, for sustainable upkeep of the wetland, alternative arrangements of water supply from the nearby canal are required. Regular surveys related to waterbird species diversity and awareness of the local people should be conducted for a detailed assessment of the wetland.
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