First in Odisha: Endangered Indian Skimmers found nesting on Mahanadi bed

Bhubaneswar: Good news for the bird lovers of Odisha. For the first time ever in the state, a flock of endangered Indian Skimmers has been found nesting along the sands of Mahanadi riverbed in Mundali area on the outskirts of Cuttack city.

Briefing media persons here yesterday, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF) Sidhant Das said the Indian Skimmers are a vulnerable species which the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has put under the ‘vulnerable category’ of birds.

“These birds are locally migratory and are generally found in the Indian subcontinent from Pakistan to Myanmar. Earlier, there were roughly 10,000 Indian Skimmers in India whose number has declined at a fast rate of about 30 percent every year. To sustain their population, the Ministry of Environment and Forests had developed a nesting site for them in National Chambal Sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh,” said Das.

He said though the Indian Skimmers are seen in other places like Bhitarkanika, Nalabana and Satkosia, this is the first time the birds have been sighted nesting along the sand bars of Mahanadi riverbed in Mundali area in Cuttack district.

Das said the nesting of these birds was first found by Sumant Kumar Rajguru, a well-known ornithologist who later brought itto the notice of the state Forest and Environment department on February 21 this year.

“Following information and inputs from him, instructions were given to the DFO, Chandaka Wildlife Division to take steps to provide adequate protection to the nesting sites. Besides, we had requested the Water Resources department to maintain the water level in the river to ensure that the sand bars of the riverbed on which these birds have laid eggs are not inundated,” he said.

Das further said after the hatching of the eggs, the state Forest department had informed the Bombay Natural History Society BNHS). A team from the Society arrived at Mundali and fixed rings around the legs of the hatchlings to track their movement. By May 17, BNHS has done the ringing of 34 Indian Skimmers.

Principal secretary, state Forest and Environment, Suresh Chandra Mohapatra said a total of 64 nests were sighted along the sand bars in which the birds had laid 181 eggs.

He also informed that out of 64 nests, 13 were of the River Tern birds which had laid 30 eggs and one nest was of at 6 Black-bellied Tern. “These are seasonal birds are not found in Odisha,” he said.

He also said these birds have preferred Odisha as their new habitat as the water in most of the rivers in north India has been polluted. “Besides, these birds prefer sand bars having no human interference,” he pointed out.

“As these rare species are found along the sand bars of Mahanadi riverbed, the Forest department will make efforts to notify these places of the river at various places as protected areas every year. Forest staffs would be deployed in these protected areas to protect the eggs of these birds. Besides, we will ask the Water Resources department for uniform release of water from Hirakud dam so that these sand bars are not submerged. In future, we will identify the sand bars along the river bed in the upstream and downstream of the river and declare these areas as protected for these birds. Our main focus would be to raise the population of Indian Skimmers in Odisha by adopting these measures,” Mohapatra informed.

“This is more of a discovery, not an invention. This is a tremendous achievement for those who are working in wildlife. I must say this that after Chambal Sanctuary, this is the second nesting site for the Indian Skimmers. The global population of these threatened species is around 7000,” Rajguru said.

He said to increase the population of these birds, water level at Naraj has to be maintained at a constant level not to allow the ingress of water into the sand bars and steps must be taken to prevent cattle grazing along the sand bars of the riverbed. “Human interference is also a big threat for these birds,” he observed.