Species diversity and winter migratory water birds increase at Najafgarh Jheel
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Species diversity and winter migratory water birds increase at Najafgarh Jheel

AWC is a citizen-science program that supports the conservation of wetland and water birds globally

Species diversity and winter migratory water birds increase at Najafgarh Jheel

New Delhi: According to the “Asian Waterbird Census” (AWC) 2023, even with the effects of climate change, Najafgarh Jheel's increased species diversity and number of winter migratory water birds require prompt notification for sustainable conservation and management.

Wetlands for the livelihood, sustenance and well-being of humans provide essential ecosystem services and contributions to people’s livelihood, and food to millions of people, act as a source & purifier of drinking water, protect from natural disasters and support rich biodiversity including a large diversity of water & water-dependent birds.

Bar-headed Geese

Water birds are one of the key indicators of wetlands’ health and provide four kinds of ecological services. Wetlands provide feeding, resting, roosting, and foraging habitats for these charismatic species. 

As per Wetlands International’s largest annual waterbird census across Asia & Australasia, “Asian Waterbird Census” (AWC) 2023 at the Najafgarh Jheel indicates the potentiality of the wetland but continuously degrading & remains ignored by the state governments for notification for its sustainable protection & management. 

Also read: Najafgarh jheel, another rich residential colony of Delhi

AWC data helps to promote the designation and management of internationally important sites such as nationally protected areas, Ramsar Sites, and IBA Sites as well as helps in identifying and protecting new sites of importance for the waterbirds. The result of the census and information is also used to promote national waterbird and wetland conservation and international cooperation along the Central Asian Flyway and East Asian – Australasian Flyway.

Graylag Geese

AWC is a citizen-science program that supports the conservation of wetland and water birds globally and it is an important tool that provides the data for the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), Govt of India's “National Action Plan for conservation of the Migratory Birds & their habitats along the Central Asian Flyway”.

TK Roy Ecologist says, "Due to global climate change impact overall migration pattern of the long distant winter migratory birds largely from far Central Asia, North Asia including Russia and Siberian part keep changing, delays, lesser migration as well the species diversity and the number of migratory birds either fluctuating or decreasing every year. Even this winter migratory water birds arrival delayed, species diversity and number mostly decreased as recorded almost everywhere in the country."

Northern Shoveler (males)

He adds further, "Najafgarh Jheel is the second largest wetland in NCR-Delhi located partly in Haryana (Gurgaon District) and partly in Delhi (Southwest District). An important habitat for water & water-dependent birds especially good habitat for foraging, roosting, and congregation for thousands of long distant winter migratory geese, ducks, and wader species. But the habitat status mainly depends on monsoon rainfall as the main source of water of the wetland was the Sahibi River but due to the construction of Massani Barrage on the river in Rewari district of Haryana killing it prematurely to die the wetland and already shrinking and largely dries up in dry season."

At the same time, this huge wetland is also the major source of agriculture, the livelihood of the surrounding villagers, groundwater source of the residents of the southern Gurgaon Distt and Southwest Delhi Distt. Major two sewage drains (Badshahpur Drain & Dharampur Drain) originates from Haryana directly pouring into the jheel and badly polluting its water. 

Ruddy Shelduck
Credits: TK Roy

Apart from global climate change impact, other major local factors of the wetland include largely human threats i.e. large scale illegal net-fishing on the floating tube, encroachment, water pumping, agriculture, and urbanization around the wetland degrading its habitat, mostly dries and shrinks in the dry season of the year.

Roy emphasises, " Even after the NGT Order 2022 to the concerned two governments for conservation and notification of the wetland under the Wetland (Conservation & Management) Rules 2017 still no physical action by the governments is visible."

As shared by the observers the wetland getting dried, shrinking at present as the water level went down and villagers do agriculture on the dried wetland. "Large-scale illegal fishing on floating tubes stopped recently due to low water levels still net fishing goes on up to some extent. Resident & and migratory water birds now roosting and foraging on the main wetland of the revenue lands where initially at the arrival period migratory water birds couldn't stay, used to away from the wetland due to fishing disturbance but the water birds are largely winter migratory birds now foraging and roosting on the other part of the private land of the jheel while flocking together on their migration way before migration back, says Roy.

During AWC 2023 recorded partially increased species diversity i.e. 79 from 71 species (2022) and a much increased total number of birds including winter migratory i.e. 26,539 from 10,592 (2022). Out of 79 species resident species 31 & migratory species 48 include 14 species of IUCN Red-listed threatened birds and a total of 62 scheduled bird species under the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA), 1972 in comparison to the previous year. 

Among the long distant winter migratory major water bird species whose larger number was recorded this year:-

  • Bar-headed Geese: 1,269 which migrate from Central Asia
  • Northern Shoveler: 5,450 which migrates from North Asia
  • Gadwal: 2,325 which migrates from central Asia
  • Common Teal: 2,225 which migrates from north Asia
  • Northern Pintail: 1,625 which migrates from north Asia
  • Eurasian Coot: 1,294 which migrates from the temperate east, and south Asia
  • Eurasian Wigeon: 1,093 which migrates from north Asia
  • Great Cormorant: 1,002 migrates from east Asia
  • Graylag Goose: 308 which migrates from Central Asia

IUCN Red-listed Threatened Species recorded on this wetland:-

  • Black-headed Ibis: Resident species
  • Black-tailed Godwit: Winter migratory species
  • Common Pochard: Winter migratory species
  • Painted Stork: Indian resident species
  • Greater Spotted Eagle: Winter migratory species 
  • Oriental Darter: Resident species
  • Northern Lapwing: Winter migratory species
  • Wooly-necked Stork: Resident species
  • Eurasian Curlew: Winter migratory species
  • Ferruginous Duck: Winter migratory species
  • Sarus Crane: Resident species
  • Oriental Darter: Resident species
  • River Tern: Indian Resident Species
  • Curlew Sandpiper: Winter migratory species

Interesting and uncommon sighting of a few migratory species on the wetland in private land areas of the jheel:-

  • Common Crane: migrates from Russia, the Siberian part
  • Osprey: migrates from Europe, Russia, Siberian part