Pelicans seen in plenty

Not long ago, they were an endangered species; now, they throng the water bodies around the city. Hail the revival of the pelican!

A wonderful bird is the pelican,
His mouth can hold more than his belly can,
He can hold in his beak,
Enough food for a week!
I’m damned if I know how the hell he can!

– Dixon Lanier Merritt

If you have visited the Lalbagh lately, you would have seen a lot of people standing around the lake, cheering the presence of huge white birds or excited lens men clicking them. These magnificent birds are pelicans, one of the largest flying aquatic birds on the planet.

Pelican

Pelican at Hebbal Lake (pic: Saurabh Mittal)

The pelican is known for its huge wing span and massive frame. Its beak, especially the lower one which has a specially designed pouch to catch and hold the fish, attracts attention. The pelican’s pattern of eating and hunting, breeding and moving have been a matter of study for environmentalists and bird watchers for a long time.

This beautiful creature has seven of its species across the globe, out of which four are found in India. Its primary food is fish, but it also tends to eat most of the other available items from humans and can eat some small aquatic animals too. Lots of pelicans are seen around the lakes of Bangalore these days, to the delight of regular bird watchers. But few of us are aware that this magnificent bird was almost lost to us not too long ago.

Records show that more than one million Spot-Billed Pelicans were reported in the Asian region around 1920s, with a rapid fall in their numbers thereafter. As human population grew and encroached upon their natural habitats, their nesting colonies were destroyed and the number of these birds dropped to a few thousands in the next seventy years or so. The pelican was soon declared vulnerable and was on the list of critically endangered birds until recently. The other dangers to the bird were the fishing nets and hooks in which it would get stuck. A lot of birds perished due to this reason. The usages of chemicals, letting industrial effluents into lakes where they nested were some other reasons responsible for their choice of nesting colonies and number reduction.

Revival

Pelicans normally breed in colonies and can grow back quite fast, if protection and care is given to their natural habitats. There are almost 21 breeding and nesting sites of these birds in South India, mainly in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. In Tamil Nadu, eight nesting sites have already been brought under the protection of the government. There has been a lot of support to protect pelicans in Karnataka by different sources. Kokkare Bellur, a village outside Bangalore, is one of the famous nesting sites of pelicans (‘Kokkare’ in Kannada means ‘Stork’), thanks to the locals who have made it their business to care for the birds. The usage of chemicals in this village has been reduced to a minimum, so as to save the birds.

The Mysore Amateur Naturalists (MAN) is also actively involved in saving the pelican. And now, the pelican’s nests have grown to more than 500 in the area. The government has not extended much support in this regard, though. But for the locals and groups like MAN, the birds would have already flown the area. In Andhra Pradesh, Care for Nature’s Creatures, an environmental activist group based at Guntur, is in the forefront of this mission.

The number of pelicans in India has thus started to rise, and with awareness and support from society, the process of care and restoration of these birds can be speeded up.

So what can we do to save the pelican?

• Local authorities can provide better environment for these birds around the lakes of cities so that more numbers fly in and nest here. The cleaning of the lakes would help in restoration of the fish level in water, which is the staple diet of these birds.

• The seepage of wastes or industrial effluents into the breeding areas of pelicans around the city should be totally banned.

Pelicans

Pelicans at Lalbagh Lake (pic: Saurabh Mittal)

• Fishermen should be educated about the usage of fishing angles and nets which result in a lot of accidents with the bird.

• At places like Lalbagh, when people throw eatables, the birds come quite near and wait for the fish to come up and eat them. At times, people throw eatables towards these birds, which makes them vulnerable and cultivate a wrong habit.

• People who would like to donate to the cause supported by MAN, can visit their website

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