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It has taken the Punjab wildlife department over 26 years to realise that not only had the wrong raptor been the official state bird all this while but that the bird, the ‘Eastern Goshawk’, does not even exist.
The government has now issued a fresh notification declaring that the Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis), locally known as Baaj, is in fact the state bird, correcting the anomaly in the earlier notification, dated March 15, 1989, that had announced the ‘Eastern Goshawk’ as the official bird.
Ornithologists say that there is no such bird as the Eastern Goshawk but there is a Eastern Chanting Goshawk which is a bird of prey endemic to Africa and has no connection to Punjab.
The 1989 notification has added to the confusion by not mentioning the biological name of the species it had declared the state bird. It reads: “The President of India is pleased to declare the ‘BAJ’ (Eastern Goshawk) as the state bird of Punjab and in exercise of the powers conferred by sub section (I) of Section 16 of Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972 (central Act no. 53 of 1972) and all other powers enabling him in this behalf, the President of India is also pleased to declare the whole year to be a closed time throughout the state of Punjab for the ‘Baj’ (Eastern Goshawk)”.
Without the species name, ornithology experts say they literally had no idea as to which bird the Punjab government had made the official one. “What exactly did they mean when they declared the Eastern Goshawk as the state bird? One assumption is that they were referring to the Eastern Chanting Goshawk which is an African bird. The other assumption is that they wrongly named ‘Northern’ as ‘Eastern’. But no mention of the biological name was a blunder. Locally people give multiple names to birds but scientifically there is no ‘Eastern Goshawk’,” an ornithologist told The Indian Express.
The Northern Goshawk, on the other hand, has significance in Sikh history. Tejdeep Kaur, ornithologist at the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), explains: “The Northern Goshawk is a bird of prey that as per beliefs, was a companion of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh guru. Its population, however, has been dwindling in Punjab and it is rarely sighted. It has moved from ‘less common’ category to ‘rare’ but it can be found in semi-forest and barren lands”.