Community Protection for Indian Skimmers

“Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land.”

Aldo Leopold

The Indian subcontinent is land gifted with ribbons of meandering rivers, cutting through geological formations to shape the landscape over millions of years. Along with these large river ecosystems, marshes, lakes, estuaries and countless other water bodies are dotted across the country presenting abodes to the many wildlife inhabitants that coexist with their environment. Therefore, it is imperative that the key areas that nurture the biodiversity prevalent within them, are shielded from the adversities presented to them in the current paradigm of human development. 

One such species that is currently in dire need of renewal is the Indian Skimmer. It is highly admired and is among the bucket lists of ardent birders across the world. With only three such species belonging to the Rynchopidae family including the Black and the African Skimmer, the Indian Skimmer falls under this category of shorebirds that are specialist fish eaters. Akin to terns, these birds exhibit a similar profile with black pointed wings and white under parts. Though, the unique feature that sets the species apart from all the other birds of our world is that they sport orange coloured mandibles with a yellow tip, where the lower one is bigger than the upper. This allows the skimmers to cut the surface of the water as they dip down to prey on fish, larvae and crustaceans. It’s a sheer pleasure to watch them in action, gliding inches above the water as they lower their mandible for the catch of the day. Their presence is a crucial indicator that the habitat they reside in is a healthy one. However, with few remaining pockets of ecosystems that exhibit ideal conditions for their nesting and prey base, the Indian Skimmer is listed under “Species of High Concern’ according to the report State of India’s Birds 2020.

With a distribution range that encompasses rivers such as the Chambal, Denwa, Beas, Ganga, Mahanadi along with estuaries on the eastern and western coastline of India. The population of the remarkable birds has been declining. The reason for this can be attributed to several threats in the form of –

  • Natural Predators
  • Predation by Feral and Domestic Animals
  • Hydro Projects
  • Chemical Based Agricultural Practices Near Habitat
  • Industrial Effluents
  • Cattle Encroachment
  • Illegal Sand Mining

Breeding in colonies on exposed mudflats, Skimmers along with certain other shorebirds have a tendency to return to the same nesting grounds year after year. They rely on sites that have given such as exposed sandbars that serve as suitable spots to lay eggs with abundant prey right at their doorstep. Though, keeping the dangers in mind, many organisations with the aid of forest departments across states have joined forces to set up community based task forces that will ensure the protection of the birds from factors which include domestic animals and cattle grazing. In Satpura National Park which, wildlife lodges have an ongoing tradition with the forest department to hire individuals from nearby villages in order to safeguard nesting sites during the breeding season. Such practices of appointing guardians have also been implemented in places such as the Chambal which boasts a significant population of the species. Although, with the current COVID 19 pandemic reigning in, it has been rather difficult to initiate the plans, but with such conservation based methods which include the local community coming in, the future for these vital species paves a shift for the better.

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