The Wildlife Institute of India (WII), along with the Indian Institute of Remote Sensing (IIRS) and the Government of India’s Department of Biotechnology, has begun a study of the migration of the pied cuckoo from Africa to India and back, by tagging two of the birds with satellite transmitters.
This is the first study in the country that seeks to trace and observe the migratory routes of the pied cuckoo. Equally importantly, it will help gather data and information on climate change, scientists involved in the study say.
Dehradun-based WII, under the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, is India’s apex institute for the study of wildlife science. IIRS, also in Dehradun, is a constituent unit of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
The arrival of the pied cuckoos (Clamator jacobinus, also called pied crested cuckoo and Jacobin Cuckoo) in the Himalayan foothills has traditionally been seen as heralding the onset of the monsoon. Last week, researchers tagged two of the birds with transmitter chips made by Microwave Telemetry, an American company specialising in wildlife satellite tracking technology.
“These birds have high site fidelity, that is, they come back to the same location year after year. We believe that the pied cuckoos that come to the Himalayan foothills are from Africa, but this has never been ascertained through collected data. Also, we still don’t know which part of Africa they come from,” Dr Suresh Kumar, a scientist with WII’s department of Endangered Species Management who is involved in the study, told The Indian Express.
“There is a community of pied cuckoos in southern India as well, but those are resident birds and not migratory, Dr Kumar said. The pied cuckoo is one of the few species that come to India in the summer, he said. “Most other migratory species come in winter from colder places like Mongolia, Siberia, northeastern China, Kazakhstan, etc.”
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Gathering information about the migratory route of the pied cuckoo can be invaluable for research on “climatic variations” taking place in the world, Dr Kumar said – especially since the species has such a close association with the monsoon. “Farmers have traditionally relied on the arrival of the pied cuckoo as a signal to sow seeds, as they know that the monsoon will be upon them soon. This signal is never wrong, because the pied cuckoo arrives in India riding the monsoon wind,” he said.
Researchers around the world have been documenting how various bird species are adapting to climate change and variations, and studying the pied cuckoo “will give us information on the monsoon, changes in the monsoon and monsoon winds, erratic rainfall, seasonal fluctuations, water vapour pressure, etc.,” Dr Kumar said. “What happens to these birds, for instance, if the monsoon is poor or erratic?”
The pied cuckoo migration study is part of a larger project called the Indian Bioresource Information Network (IBIN) funded by the Government of India’s Department of Biotechnology (DBT), which aims to put relevant Indian bioresources information online.
Dr Gautam Talukdar of WII, another scientist involved in the pied cuckoo migration study, said the IBIN project “consists of various biodiversity and environmental parameters which will help in assessing the likely impacts of projected climate change on the potential distribution of pied cuckoo in the altered climate change scenarios”.
One point that research on the effects of climate change has not looked at in sufficient detail is the extent to which species have already adapted, Dr Talukdar said. “The extent of the effect of ecologies changing can be seen in the movement of species from a region that has become less favourable due to climatic variations, to a more favourable region. We want to look at this range shift.”
Migratory species. Dr Talukdar said, have a wide range of adaptability. “Climatic regimes are governed by temperature and wind and water currents, or the conveyor belts that they result in. Extreme weather events take place when there are disruptions in these conveyor belts. The movement of a species such as the pied cuckoo, can indicate any such disruptions,” he said.
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