Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Why Have Two World Migratory Bird Days?

Conservation of migratory birds and their habitat not only help us maintain the ecological balance and understand the effects of climate change but also helps the tourism sector to reap economic benefits as travellers across the world visit the natural habitats where these birds congregate

Why Have Two World Migratory Bird Days?
WMBD: Raise awareness about conservation of migratory birds Image credit:

Every winter, many forests and waterbodies across India host a large number of migratory birds. Some birds are local migrants while others fly over long distances to enjoy the mellow winter in India. And this annual activity has been a boon to winter tourism in the country because travellers, especially bird watchers and bird photographers, follow in their wake.

In fact, the trend is evident across the world because migratory patterns vary from region to region. According to the World Migratory Bird Day, majority of birds migrate from northern breeding areas in the summer, to southern wintering grounds. However, some birds breed in southern parts of Africa and migrate to northern wintering grounds, or horizontally, to enjoy the milder coastal climates in winter. Other birds migrate in terms of altitude, moving higher up a mountain in summer, and residing on lowlands during the winter months.

Migratory birds have a key role to play as indicators of the health of our environment too, especially in these times of climate change. In simple terms, their arrival or absence or change in migratory paths indicate a host of factors such as the state of the forests, water bodies, natural grasslands and wetlands, if there has been habitat loss through pollution of wetlands and marshes or if there is an increase in unsustainable use of natural areas through demographic pressures, etc. 

Therefore, the conservation of migratory birds and their habitats across the world need international cooperation. In 2006, World Migratory Bird Day was initiated by the Secretariat of the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement in collaboration with the Secretariat of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.

Interestingly, it was time when the world was faced with the spread of the Avian Influenza (H5N1) and many believed – wrongly so according to experts – bird migration was a key reason behind the global spread. Although conceptualised as a global platform for study and conservation of migratory birds, the inaugural year also focused on dispelling the wrong notion by declaring the 2006 theme as ‘Migratory birds need our support now!’ The campaign was launched at an event called Wings which was held on the edge of the Great Rift Valley in Kenya.

Since then, every year the theme is changed to focus on various aspects, such as Migratory Birds in a Changing Climate, Migratory Birds – Ambassadors for Biodiversity, Barriers to Migration, Save Migratory Birds – Every Species Counts, etc.

World Migratory Bird Day is organized by a collaborative partnership among two United Nation (UN) wildlife treaties – the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) and the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) – and the non-profit organization, Environment for the Americas (EFTA). 

The 2022 campaign is also being actively supported by the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP) Secretariat, BirdLife International and other dedicated organizations.

Why celebrate World Migratory Bird Day on two days?

Traditionally observed on the second Saturday of May and October, the two celebrations of World Migratory Bird Day are a way to reflect the cyclical nature of bird migration as well as the fact that there are varying peak migration periods in the northern and southern hemispheres, according to the World Migratory Bird Day website. The two-day observance of World Migratory Bird Day also gives more people the chance to celebrate and contemplate migratory birds during peak migration times in different parts of the world.
Usually, World Migratory Bird Day is officially celebrated on the second Saturday of May in Canada and the US (May 14 in 2022), and the second Saturday of October in Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean (October 8 in 2022), and other countries.

What is the theme for 2022?

The theme for 2022 is ‘Dim the Lights for Birds at Night’ to draw attention to light pollution and how it threatens birds across the world despite readily available solutions.

According to a release from CMS, light pollution is increasing around the globe. More than 80 per cent of the world's population is currently estimated to live under a “lit sky”, a figure closer to 99 per cent in Europe and North America. The amount of artificial light on the Earth’s surface is increasing by at least 2 per cent each year and could be much greater. It is a growing threat to wildlife, including many species of migratory birds.

Said Amy Fraenkel, Executive Secretary of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, “Natural darkness has a conservation value in the same way as clean water, air, and soil. A key goal of World Migratory Bird Day 2022 is to raise awareness of the issue of light pollution and its negative impacts on migratory birds. Solutions are readily available, and we hope to encourage key decision-makers to adopt measures to address light pollution.”

According to the release, light pollution alters the natural patterns of light and dark in ecosystems. It can change birds' migration patterns, foraging behaviours, and vocal communication. Attracted by artificial light at night, particularly when there is low cloud, fog, rain or when flying at lower altitudes, migrating birds become disorientated and may end up circling in illuminated areas. Depleted energy reserves put them at risk of exhaustion, predation, and fatal collision with buildings.

Said Jacques Trouvilliez, Executive Secretary of the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds, “An enormous diversity of birds, active at night, experience the impacts of light pollution. Many nocturnally migrating birds such as ducks, geese, plovers, sandpipers and songbirds are affected by light pollution causing disorientation and collisions with fatal consequences. Seabirds such as petrels and shearwaters are attracted by artificial lights on land and become prey for rats and cats.”

In 2020, CMS parties endorsed and issued guidelines on light pollution covering marine turtles, seabirds, and migratory shorebirds. They recommended six principles of best lighting practices and called for Environmental Impact Assessments for relevant projects that could result in light pollution.

Many governments, cities, companies, and communities around the world are already taking steps to address light pollution but if that is enough only time will tell.