The birds, which arrive by October and stay till May before making the journey back home, might never return to Shivamogga due to the disturbance caused by flight operations.

Migratory bird Montagu’s Harrier may lose habitat with new airport in ShivamoggaAll photos by Ravi Kolar
news Wildlife Tuesday, May 19, 2020 - 16:54
Written by  Girisha

Montagu’s Harrier, a European/Central Asian migratory bird which visits Karnataka’s Shivamogga every year, is all set to lose its habitat at Sogane village, about 8.5 km from the city, to make way for the proposed construction of an airport.

Forest officials fear that when operational the airport might stop these visitors from making a journey to Shivamogga ever again, owing to habitat loss and the disturbance caused by flight operations. According to official sources, civil works on the airport might begin shortly.

The site where the airport is coming up in Shivamogga, Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa’s native district, is the only refuge for these migratory birds.

Every winter these migratory birds travel from European countries to settle in dry areas in the Indian sub-continent. In Karnataka, these birds arrive by October and stay till May before making the journey back home once the monsoon starts in the country. An ornithologist said that these birds arrive here for the warm conditions and in search of food.

The ornithologist said, “Montagu’s Harriers are habitat restricted species and they come here for the warm conditions and in search of food. If their habitat is lost, then these birds won’t come back.”

He reasons that, for instance, if people are displaced by the construction of a reservoir then they settle in other parts, similarly these birds will look for another suitable location and settle there but will not return to where their habitat has been lost.

Speaking to TNM, a forest officer observed that the track used by the Montagu’s Harrier will be turned into runways and the disturbance might stop the birds from returning to same location.

“The site where the airport is proposed in Shivamogga is a grassland perfectly suited for these birds. I have not seen or heard any other place in the district that has given refuge to Montagu’s Harrier at present,” he said, expressing fear that these birds might give Shivamogga a miss the next season as construction of the airport is expected to begin shortly. He is also apprehensive that even if these birds make it to the same site, they might be hit by aircraft.

Not only Montagu’s Harrier but the Pied Harrier, Pale Harrier and Marsh Harrier also travel here and settle in different habitats. Pied Harriers are very rare while Marsh and Pale Harriers settle in marshy conditions, says the ornithologist.

In Shivamogga, apart from the airport site, Ragigudda forest area on the outskirts of the city was another location that offered refuge for these migratory birds. In recent years, Ragigudda and adjoining areas have witnessed huge habitat destruction after agricultural fields made way for the construction of huge concrete structures, such as an engineering college and an agri college among other buildings. As a result, the Montagu’s Harrier disappeared from there altogether leaving only the airport site as their last refuge in the district.

While birdwatchers in Shivamogga have observed many Montagu’s Harriers at Ragigudda in the past, none have been recorded in the last seven years. A birdwatcher told TNM, “I visited Ragigudda for the last four years but didn’t come across any Montagu’s Harrier in the vicinity.”

“Vast residential layouts have come up around Ragigudda while portions of the forest area have been encroached upon. All this has caused habitat destruction for Montagu’s Harriers, among other raptors,” the birdwatcher added.

The solace for conservationists is that even if the habitat in Shivamogga is lost, dry land areas of Bagalkot and Vijayapura in north Karnataka offer the birds refuge. A birdwatcher said that he has seen Montagu’s Harriers at Ajjampura in Chikkamagaluru, Chitradurga and Jamakhandi in Bagalkot district.

Girisha is a freelancer who reports on wildlife and the environment.

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