What are the reasons for the proliferation of birds of prey in parts of the city, and how it’s impacting public life?
aw meat sellers on bicycles are a common sight on the Ravi Bridge and along the Canal. They attract passersby who purchase portions of meat from them before throwing it in the river for kites and vultures to prey on. This activity is often associated with sadqa (charity).
Similarly, in several major parks in the city, you find people feeding their leftover food to pigeons as well as crows. While these acts of kindness and/ or charity appear harmless, they can cause a variety of problems.
Then, heaps of rubbish lying about in the streets also drive scavengers in hordes.
According to Dr Zulfiqar Ali, a professor of wildlife and environmental health at the Institute of Zoology, University of the Punjab, crows and kites are instinctively opportunistic. They rummage through garbage bins and landfills in search of food. “There are reports that kites, despite being the less aggressive kind, swooped on shopping bags that carried meat.”
Dr Ali identifies a host of problems related to the increase in the population of birds of prey. “They are often considered a nuisance when they are only performing the tasks wired into them by nature. They’re an integral part of the ecosystem and help in pollination, seed dispersal and insect control,” he explains.
Environmental journalist Syed Muhammad Abubakar says urban areas of the city are witnessing a decline in bird populations due to the increased tree-cutting. However, in this scenario, certain species such as feral pigeons, crows and kites have thrived. Among these, “the house crow has demonstrated a remarkable adaptability to urban environments,” he adds.
Their adaptability to urban environments has led to their proliferation, as nests appear in crevices and parts of buildings, bridges and other structures that are normally hidden from view. Crows and kites often build nests on utility poles and electrical transformers, which can cause serious damage, disruptions in power supply, and can potentially spark fires. In such cases, the birds’ life is at risk too.
The LESCO recently launched a drive to purge its transmission lines of birds’ nests.
Dr Ali highlights certain other situations in which crows and kites can pose serious safety concerns to human life. “During their nesting season, crows can exhibit aggressive behaviour, especially if they perceive a threat to their nests or young. They may swoop down and dive-bomb the people, causing them serious injuries. While kites are generally less aggressive, they too may become defensive if they feel threatened.”
Further, there have been incidents where a bird struck an aircraft in flight or on the runway. “As such, the birds can damage the aircraft and jeopardise the safety of the passengers and the crew,” says Dr Ali.
From time to time, the civil aviation authorities launch public awareness campaigns in which they appeal to people to stop feeding the scavengers.
Dr Ali says it is important to consider “a balanced approach that takes into account both the intentions behind the act of charity and its potentially negative consequences. Though feeding birds seems like a compassionate act, it’s important for the public to know that these birds can lead to over-reliance on human-provided food, which can disrupt their natural behaviours and alter their natural feeding patterns. It can also lead to birds’ concentration in areas where they are used to receiving food.”
He suggests that rather than providing for their food, the people should use natural food sources for birds. “Planting native plants and creating bird-friendly habitats in public spaces can provide natural food sources, shelter, and nesting opportunities for the birds. Further, it will promote a healthier ecosystem, and encourage birds to forage for their natural food.
“By taking a thoughtful and responsible approach, individuals can make sure that their charitable intentions align with the wellbeing of the birds and the environment.”
Measures to check the growing
presence of birds of prey in the city
Dr Zulfiqar Ali recommends:
u Nest management and relocation programmes to minimise chances of aggressive behaviour near the nesting sites;
u Implementation of measures at airports to reduce the risk of bird strikes, such as using scare tactics, habitat modification and employing trained bird control personnel;
u Collaboration between wildlife officials, utility companies and local authorities to prevent nesting on electrical infrastructure;
u Effective waste management practices to avoid scavenging birds;
u Responsible bird management strategies should be based on scientific research and take into consideration the overall well-being of both human communities and bird populations
The writer is a media veteran interested in politics, consumer rights and entrepreneurship