PESHAWAR - Environmentalists are observing an alarming decrease in number of migratory birds visiting Pakistan every year during their long journey from Siberia to India crossing Pakistan.

The migration journey starts from Siberia in Russia from September and ends in India at Bahartpure via Central Asian Republics, Afghanistan and Pakistan, informed Dr. Mumtaz Malik, Former Chief Conservator Wildlife Department Khyber Pakthunkhwa. From end February the return journey starts and completes in end of March or start of April.

This route is known in the international migration routes as Indus Fly-Way No 4 or `Green Route' and the distance covered by birds during migration is calculated around 4,500 kilometers, said Dr. Malik.

During early winter, the weather starts getting harsh in northern regions of the world leaving no choice for wild birds but to leave their home grounds and move towards comparatively warmer regions in the south.  Millions of wild birds that breed in Arctic regions take flight from their homelands and travel along several routes to reach the warm wintering grounds. Migratory birds add colour and music to the wild during winter.

People who love wildlife, especially bird-watching, take the best advantage of this great opportunity to watch these amazing creatures in real.  They spend time in the fields watching, identifying and photographing birds.

These birds mostly consists of waterfowl, hobara bustard, cranes, teals, gallard, geeze, spoon bills, waders, falcons and gadwall.

"It is quite alarming that birds, migratory as well as native, are disappearing," said Ghulam Rasool Khatri, Field Coordinator WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature. Ghulam Rasool who is engaged in conservation of Keenjar Lake, Pakistan's largest fresh water reservoir, said the number of migratory birds making stopover at lake has been reduced from 205,000 to meagre 13706.

In 1987-88, about 65 species of waterfowl were recorded in Keenjar Lake.  However, during another census held in 2010, it was revealed that a number of waterfowl have avoided visiting the lake and number of birds is also reduced drastically.

Breeding birds at Keenjar Lake include Night-heron, Cotton teal, Pheasant tailed jacana, Purple Moorhen, besides some passerines. The Cotton teal has disappeared in the recent years and has not been seen on the lake for few years, Ghulam Rasool informed.

"In every season, flock of migratory birds is decreasing due to shrinking habitats mostly wet lands," observed Niaz Ahmad, District Forest Officer (DFO) Wildlife Department KP.

Almost 12.4 per cent of a total of 9,865 species of birds in the world are currently classified as globally threatened and 192 of them are considered critically endangered. In Pakistan, an estimated population of one million birds migrates during winter.

Besides offering scenic attractions, migratory birds superbly contribute in balancing the ecology of different territories as well.

They travel long distances, cross boundaries of countries, pass through waterways and during the course of journey they stay on various lands and waters. They consume a variety of plants, insects and other organisms that are essential to be cut back time after time from a particular ecological location.

During migration, birds make stopovers at different wetlands. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa most of the sites where migratory birds make stop over are at Nowshera, Tanda Dam in Kohat, across river Kabul and Indus, Karak, Lakki Marwat etc.

Many sites that birds depend on are under threat from human activities, thereby posing a grave risk to migratory bird species, Niaz warned.

Direct human activities such as land reclamation and deforestation, as well as indirect human influences, such as climate change, damage these sites through habitat fragmentation and degradation, he added. Large numbers of important sites have already been damaged, or lost entirely. Consequently, the conservation of the remaining important sites is crucial for the protection of avian migratory species. DFO Niaz said the Wildlife Department is taking steps to made journey of migratory birds safe by controlling hunting of birds under its policy titled as Management of Waterfowls along river Kabul and Indus in KP. The measures for preservation of migratory birds include organisation and empowerment of communities along wetlands in the whole of province for controlling hunting.

Several hunting huts have also been set up in the province which offer opportunity to communities to generate income through charging hunters for providing hunting facilities at huts and issuing permits.

About 90 per cent of amount collected by communities through issuing of permits it spent on community uplift and remaining 10 per cent goes to national kitty, Niaz added.

He said the Wildlife department has also decided to reduce `Bag limit' of hunters from 20 to 10 birds.

Similarly, The Wildlife Department of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa also delivers lectures in nature school clubs in connection with World Migratory Birds Day to be observed in May around the globe.

However, DFO Niaz agrees with the argument that apart from measures so far taken, there is a need to do more to conserve these species across their migratory ranges ,otherwise, it will have very negative impact on environment of the region.