Avian Diversity in human-dominated ecosystems in and around Delhi

By Anjan Katna

Delhi, the capital city of India, is home to multiple water bodies. While some of these wetlands have been purposefully created, like the Yamuna Biodiversity Park, some came into existence by being in the periphery of various civic projects.  For instance, the Okhla Bird Sanctuary was created after the Okhla Barrage was constructed. Apart from these, areas like the Basai wetlands and the nearby river Sahibi (now known as the Najafgarh Drain) have created wetland-like ecosystems over the years. These places are home to several bird species, including many winter migratory birds. In spite of the changes accompanying the ongoing developmental activities in the vicinity, these birds have been able to survive in these human-dominated landscapes. I present a set of photographs to highlight the same.


A Black-headed White Ibis (Threskiornis melanocephalus) flies over the Basai Wetlands, as a commercial complex is underway in the background. Many such development projects have been coming up very close to these wetlands. This species is known to occur on marshy areas where it thrives by feeding on insects, frogs and fish. This bird is found across the Indian subcontinent.
A red-naped ibis (Pseudibis papillosa) soars along the wetlands created by River Sahibi as it enters Delhi. Again, development projects very close to the wetlands can be seen in the background. This species is found across the Indian sub-continent.
A black winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus) forages in the early hours in the Basai Wetland. This species is mostly found in marshes, shallow lakes and ponds. The shallow water-bodies created by the sewage treatment plant in the vicinity provide suitable conditions for the existence of this species among others.
A painted stork (Mycteria leucocephala) foraging through the wetlands created by sewage treatment plants, along the River Sahibi (now the Najafgarh drain) as it enters Delhi from Gurgaon. These birds are usually found in flocks around shallow waters. Unlike some eagles and flamingos, these birds are local residents and migrate based on the availability of resources.
A flock of greater flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus) looking for food in the wetlands full of water hyacinth, an invasive aquatic weed, along the river Sahibi.
A steppe eagle (Aquila nipalensis) takes-off from its perch near the Najafgarh drain wetlands. Apart from the residents, wetlands like these also provide resources for migratory predators like this eagle.
These wetlands also support a variety of common birds. Here, a cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) is preying on a frog in the Najafgarh drain wetlands.
A group of Sarus Cranes (Grus antigone), the tallest flying bird, in the agricultural fields and wetlands around the village of Dhanauri, Uttar Pradesh. These cranes coexist with humans and cattle in the agricultural fields. Sarus Cranes are resident species and seen throughout the year.

The co-existence of these birds in human-dominated landscapes also narrates a less known story. It demonstrates that while certain species may need protected areas for conservation, different strategies are required for conserving common or widespread species that form an integral part of the urban/peri-urban/rural landscapes. Usually these species are able to utilize the matrix of land-use types, provided they have access to food and shelter. Thus, conservation of such species would instead require a reframing of the problem and a joint effort between different development and conservation agencies, and the scientists.

About the Author: Anjan is a PhD student at ATREE. His work involves examining the movement strategies that enable survival of mesocarnivores (golden jackal, jungle cat and Indian fox) in spatially and temporally varying human-dominated landscapes. Previously, he has worked in the climate change and sustainability sector. He likes travelling and photographing various aspects of the nature and environment. His blog can be accessed at https://mywildlifevisuals.wordpress.com/.

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