Migration magic


Migration has to be one of the most fascinating occurrences of the natural world. The younger generation should be encouraged to study and list the migratory patterns, especially of birds visiting their areas seasonally.

YIt was not until the early 19th century that migration began to attract serious scientific attention. First, it was bird migration that scientists were interested in, and soon migration in other forms of life also began to be studied. They wanted to know which animal species migrate, why and how they do, and what it is that inspires them to move. Even today, there are a lot of questions about migration that remain unanswered. In birds, there are two main kinds of migrations.

Some species are ‘locally migratory’, which means they move locally, over short distances, say, from one district to a neighbouring one, usually immediately after the breeding season, and then hop, skip and jump around in nearby areas. Such local migrants may not stay in an area for long. Several dozen bird species in the Himalayas also migrate ‘altitudinally’, which means that with the approach of the cold season, usually by early September, these species move to lower altitudes (for example, from the peak of a mountain to about halfway down), and some even scatter over the north Indian plains in the Himalayan foothills.

The second main form of migration is ‘long-distance winter migration’, which is the southward movement of species before the onset of winter. These species may travel anywhere between 1,000 to 5,000 km, and usually stay in their wintering grounds for at least four months, often till mid-March. Migration is fascinating. Why not be a part of this exciting study and start your very own migration research project by keeping track of birds in your neighbourhood? Before you begin, remember, most long-distance migrants arrive between mid-August and end-October (and a little earlier in the northern and central parts of the India than in the south). Also, it is very important that you have a good field-guide for bird identification (for example, Sálim Ali’s Book of Indian Birds), and a pair of binoculars. To start you off, below is a list of some of the more common migrant birds that undergo seasonal migration in India.

BIRD (common name) REMARKS
1. Rufous-backed Shrike LM (R)
2. Grey-headed Myna LM (R)
3. Brahminy Myna LM (R)
4. Rosy Pastor WM
5. Grey Drongo WM (R)
6. Golden Oriole LM(R)
7. Redshank, greenshank, all other sandpipers, sand-plovers, stints dunlins WM
8. Little-ringed Plover LM(R)
9. Most ducks and geese (except Lesser-whistling Teals, spotbills and Comb ducks or nuktas) WM
10. Brahminy Kite LM (R)
11. Osprey WM
12. Harriers WM
13. Indian Pitta LM (R)
14. Blackbird LM (R)
15. Wagtails (except Large Pied) WM (R)
16. Pied Bush Chat WM&LM (R)
17. Collared Bush Chat or Stonechat WM(R)

(Important note: Birds with LM marked after their names are ‘Local Migrants’ found over many parts of the country. Those with WM marked after their names are long-distance ‘Winter Migrants’, mostly arriving from the high Himalaya and central Asia. Remember, however, that all LM species may not necessarily be local migrants everywhere. Those with a capital R after LM are resident in parts of the country. Similarly, some of the Winter Migrants are resident in the Himalaya and will have an R marked after WM. Take down careful notes about when you saw the first bird of the species, what it was doing, what it ate, how many you think there were, and anything else that you think may be important.)

If you like, take your research a step further and do some insect watching too. Don’t let their tiny size fool you – these little fellows will travel far and wide in search of food or better weather conditions! Even fish, turtles and in fact, thousands of other life-forms migrate seasonally, to feed, breed, lay eggs and ensure the survival of their species. Remember, if you learn to live in nature’s wonderland, you’ll never, ever be bored.


Bittu Sahgal

The writer is Editor, Sanctuary magazine