The Background of World Migratory Day
May 13 is designated as the World Migratory Bird Day by the United Nations Environment Program through two intergovernmental treaties that it presides over, the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). Since 2006 the World Migratory Bird Day is held every second weekend of May. The slogan of this year’s campaign is “Their Future is Our Future- A Healthy Planet for Migratory Birds and People,” The countries observing the day will focus on “Sustainable development for wildlife and people”.
Many animals typically tend to inhabit one region. But many others migrate to different parts of the world. This is most common among birds, because their ability to fly makes long-distance travel easier and crossing of geographical barriers such as mountains and oceans possible. Their reasons for migrating are usually due to the environment becoming less suitable. This is often because of a change of season, with birds in the northern hemisphere going south. Birds can leave an area because the food supply decreases. They also migrate when they need to produce young and regard another place to be better for breeding. Countless species of birds travel vast distances during their migrations, with many of them traveling across the world. The bird with the longest migration is the Arctic tern, which every year travels from the Arctic to the Antarctic and vice versa (that is because the tern can get to have summer all year round by switching hemispheres).
What makes migratory birds special is that they are global species. Birds that regularly make long journeys are important in that they can make various regions on Earth their habitat. This allows them to be abundant and exploit certain environments more than stationary animals can. For example, if an environment is abundant in resources at some times and deficient in others, animals that cannot move in and out of there quickly will not prosper there as much as animals which can. Land animals are capable of migration but flying animals like birds can do it much quicker, farther, and with less restriction, allowing to them to move in and out of vast areas of the Earth which fluctuate in their bounty, such as the entire northern latitudes of the planet.
As the planet in general is the habitat of migratory birds, they are very important for the environment of the whole world and provide essential ecological services. Migratory birds also serve as global bioindicators. Ecologists often assess what is happening to a certain environment by looking at what is happening to living things, called bioindicators, which are particularly sensitive to environmental changes.
Problems Facing Migratory Birds
At present, the plight of the migratory bird is a worrying story. Migratory birds face a lot of threats, many of which are particularly associated with their migratory lifestyle. Humanity is harming environments all across the planet, so that there are few pristine places left for birds to live in. During their migrations, birds are very vulnerable because human beings have made their migrations harder and more dangerous in a variety of ways.
Traveling long distances is not an easy task. Many birds stop frequently and briefly rest and feed in certain habitats, known as stopovers, along their migration route. Their migration routes, which tend to be fixed, are known as flyways and most migratory birds travel along the same general routes on the planet. For example, many migratory birds do not like to travel over stretches of water and so those that travel between Africa and Eurasia usually travel into the Middle East and through Israel and the Suez Peninsula. Many birds also like to stop at the same general spots, creating world stopovers.
Stopovers and the rigors of migration are where birds are at their most vulnerable. Habitat destruction is one of the main threats to migratory birds. Birds that migrate without relying entirely on stopovers need to eat a lot to store energy for the trip but they can be prevented from doing this if the environment they are preparing to leave is deficient in food supply. Birds suffer the same way if the habitats that they use as stopovers are being destroyed. If birds are not properly nourished, they become more likely to suffer starvation and exhaustion along their trip. They can be unable to finish the journey and have to stay where they did not intend to and they could even starve to death. Birds that suffer from exhaustion are more likely to become disoriented and stray off their path or collide with objects such as other birds and buildings. Habitats can be degraded by humans deforesting, building cities, and agricultural development. Wetlands, which are the preferred stopovers for most birds, are among the environments most likely to suffer degradation as these are often drained by people.
Because migratory birds congregate en masse in a limited number of places as stopovers, they are vulnerable to many things, such as disease and predation. Stopover and flyover areas are hotspots for bird hunting. Birds are often hunted to the point of endangerment at these places. Some stopovers are in impoverished or food-insecure areas where people need to hunt wild animals to sustain themselves. Stopovers can be filled with unnaturally large numbers of predators, such as cats, that can kill large numbers of birds.
While flying, migratory birds are vulnerable to many things that human beings build. When windows reflect the sky or trees, birds sometimes mistake them for the sky or trees and try to fly into them, which often results in them dying or being injured when they hit the glass. Thus, migratory birds are put greatly at risk if major cities are located along flyways, especially if they have skyscrapers. Antennae towers and wind turbines are other forms of construction which birds are prone to colliding with. Finally, the artificial lights of cities, especially on tall towers, can disorient birds and make them more likely to collide with something. They tend to be attracted to lights and so fly towards the buildings.
Climate change is one of the major threats to migratory birds. It disrupts the traditional schedules and ranges of migratory birds. Many migratory birds are very sensitive to the timing of the availability of food compared to the timing of their breeding activities and suffer if there is a mismatch between the two events, which is likely to happen with changing temperatures. Climate change can lead to the destruction of stopover habitats. In addition to all this, climate change can result in a greater frequency of weather disasters such as hurricanes which harm birds or disrupt their migration flights.
Conservation of Migratory Birds
What makes the issue of protecting migratory birds challenging is that it is international in scope. Almost all migratory birds have destination habitats, stopovers, and flyovers that span different countries. This means that conservation efforts to help them have to cross borders as well. And depending on the countries that have to be involved, this may not always be easy. Many intergovernmental treaties have been created to maintain cooperation between nations on the issues, the biggest of which are CMS and AEWA. Many countries are not party to these two treaties, however. Four of those which are not party to CMS are Canada, the United States, Russia, and China.
Protecting migratory birds and their journeys hinges mostly on the flyways and stopovers where they concentrate. The limited amount of areas in the world to focus on can make this conservation goal easy. What we basically need to do is set aside stopovers as conservation zones. Wetlands are the environment most in need of conservation. They have a lot of other important functions in addition to hosting migratory birds. People often use wetlands for many things, such as water purification and agriculture. Measures to reduce the poaching of birds at stopovers and flyways are very important, as is the reduction of unnatural predation. For example, cat populations should be removed from stopover sites or pet cats should be kept inside during migration season. As for disease, if migratory birds truly do promote avian flu and other diseases, then the solution to the problem is to prevent the prevalence of the disease among them. Ways must be sought of doing this at stopover sites.
On the issue of artificial lights disorienting birds, some major cities organize a lights-out campaign in which all non-important lights on state buildings are kept switched off during peak migration season.
Stopover areas can be provided with food and other things that birds need. Ordinary people can do this themselves and so turn urban areas into habitats for migratory birds. Bird feeders and water can be put out everywhere. This is an effective short-term strategy for bird conservation, keeping birds provided for until their habitats can be restored, but it may also end up being a long-term solution. In a changing world, perhaps a good way to preserve wildlife is to create new situations to suit their needs in addition to trying to keep things the way they always were.
In addition to stopover habitats, the permanent habitats of migratory birds also need to be protected. It is no use migrating if they cannot store up enough fat reserves for the journey or if they arrive at their destination and find it is not what it should be. That is where preserving the natural environments of the world comes into play and is ultimately what we should be working towards in migratory bird conservation.
Migratory Birds in Pakistan
Pakistan is an important land for migratory birds. It lies along the Central Asian Flyway where birds travel to Siberia in the summer and areas around the Indian Ocean in the winter. The Indus Basin in particular is a major route for birds, known as the Indus Flyway. Four million birds used to travel along it every year. There are several major stopover sites for migratory birds in Pakistan, particularly the many lakes and wetlands within the country. In addition, Pakistan is also a major destination for migratory birds traveling south in the winter, as its highlands and the Indus Delta are bountiful habitats. They usually start coming in November, peak in February, and leave by March. Birds that migrate through and to Pakistan include geese, cranes, bustards, ducks, and mallard. These annual visitors are an important part of Pakistan’s wildlife. They perform all the usual ecological roles birds play and they are also beneficial for people. For example, many birds help with agriculture by eating crop pests, spreading seeds, and pollinating plants. Without them, millions of dollars would have to be spent on pollinating plants by human hands. Migratory birds are also a big part of Pakistan’s landscape and the large numbers of them around Pakistan’s wetlands and lakes provide quite a sight. That makes them valuable for tourism and sightseeing.
However, in present times, the presence of migratory birds is suffering a serious decline in Pakistan. Many of these birds are declining overall and are becoming endangered. Some are close to extinction. Migratory birds are also choosing to avoid Pakistan and use other places as wintering grounds and stopovers. This is because of various environmental problems in Pakistan. There is widespread habitat degradation, including bodies of water decreasing and being polluted. Pakistan’s wetlands are in serious trouble and severe water depletion is occurring in Sindh and the Indus Delta. Because of water usage in Punjab, the Indus River has significantly shrunk in Sindh. Hunting and capturing of migratory birds is also rampant. Much of it is illegal but it still goes on.
Even if problems in Pakistan do not seriously affect migratory bird species because they can live elsewhere, what happens to them is a barometer of the state of environmental health in Pakistan, which ultimately affects the people of Pakistan. In addition to this is the environmental harm that Pakistan will incur if birds abandon the nation. This is what the theme of this World Migratory Bird Day is about, sustainable development for people and wildlife, exemplified by the slogan “Their Future is Our Future.” This occasion should therefore motivate Pakistanis to become more environmentally conscious and more importantly, more environmentally active, and to realize that their country prospers if its environment is protected. Not only should we observe World Migratory Bird Day this year,we should continue to do so. The occasion this year should not just be an event celebrated but should bring change. Our nation, which is a signatory to CMS, should start doing more to protect migratory birds and our environment in general.
International Efforts on Migratory Bird Conservation
However, the change that Pakistan needs is not just confined to Pakistan itself. The status of migratory birds serves not only as a reminder of the environmental problems a certain region faces but reminds us also that everything on Earth is interconnected and that environmental degradation anywhere is a threat to environmental prosperity everywhere. Many of the migratory birds of Pakistan are declining because of problems they face in all their habitats. One example is the Siberian Crane, a large bird that spends the summer in Siberia and winters in Pakistan, besides other places, but is critically endangered because of habitat destruction across its range, especially the damming of the Yangtze River in China. For their own interest, the people of Pakistan should be concerned about the state of environmental affairs in China. For one thing, our Indus River originates from there. Not only does the decline of birds caused by what is happening elsewhere impact Pakistan, but it represents the general environmental problems across Asia and how they impact Pakistan as well.
These problems will have to be solved by international efforts. Migratory bird conservation is one of those issues which can bring different countries together, which can bring the world in general together. But there are always problems in bringing countries together. Natural phenomena like the migration of wild birds always transcends any manmade borders or political constructs, but our collective attempts to safeguard these features of nature can be hampered by our political, economic, or social differences. The majority of countries may be willing to work alongside others in protecting the environment, but there could always be a non-cooperative country whose territory is important for migratory birds.
A country may not be environmentally-conscious and be unwilling to exert effort or make sacrifices on behalf of wild animals such as by restricting development and leaving aside certain areas for wildlife. A country may be suffering from conditions that make it difficult for people inside to focus on conservation or work in conservation, especially in the area of habitat preservation. A country could be underdeveloped or dealing with severe poverty. It could be unstable and conflict-ridden. Finally, animosity, distrust, or isolation between nations can hamper the international issue of bird conservation
Despite such issues, the conservation of migratory birds, and other environmental concerns that cross borders, is also an opportunity to foster cooperation and friendship between nations. It makes people from different countries, from different cultures and places, come together, interact with each other, visit each other’s homelands, and help each other. This promotes cross-cultural harmony and awareness. And if these different countries have differences with each other, political, religious, ideological, or otherwise, they may learn to put their differences aside if they consider working together on environmental issues. This is because they will learn that no matter what they think of each other, all countries and all human beings live on the same planet and are provided for by the natural environments of the same planet. This is what we all have in common, that we have the same home, and the most important priority for us is to take care of the environment that sustains us in order that we may continue to live and prosper. That need transcends all the little disputes that we have and requires that we all work together and live in harmony. Migratory birds may be the best way to encourage all nations and all clans to become aware of this, for when we look at how they are inhabitants of the whole world, we realize that the human race is too.
Thus is the focus of this year’s World Migratory Bird Day, “Their Future is our Future- A Healthy Planet for Migratory Birds and People,” and ultimately, it may prove to be about us just as much as the birds.
The Background of World Migratory Day