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Birds of Lahore - Sustainers of City’s Biodiversity 

By Uzma Saeed, Conservation Officer, WWF - Pakistan

 

Lahore the city of gardens is heart of Pakistan. The city has seen the heydays of the Mughals, Sikhs and the British; all left their footprints on the history and cultural mosaic of the city. Resultantly Lahore is a treasure-trove of monuments, historical relics and remains which these nations have left in this historical metropolis of Punjab.

Blue Rock Pigeon and Common House sparrow (Male) (Scientific Names: Columba livia and Passer domesticus)

According to a survey done in the year 2006 the population of this city is counted as 10 million inhabitants thus in terms of population it ranks as the second largest city of Pakistan and 15th largest in South Asia.

Though an ancient city; over the years Lahore has considerably expanded. However, along these modern additions, the ancient monuments, old gardens, trees, graveyards and traditional bungalows having attached gardens, large expanses of lawn and old roadside trees some of them can still be seen, are gradually disappearing. These green areas and old endemic trees of Lahore are home to many resident bird species as well as many summer, winter and transit migrants. Thus Lahore is a hub of a variety of bird species.

In urban Lahore, there are areas which can truly be classified as places of breeding, nesting and roosting for several bird species. The grounds of different habitats such as Lahore Zoo and the Lawrence Garden, Mayo and Jinnah Gardens, GOR, Jallo Park, Kinnaird College, Aitchison College and many others are home to various bird species..

Ornithologists of preceding times  documented  the number of bird species in  Lahore. According  to one study conducted  in 1965 there were 240  bird species in  Lahore. In another study (1992)  only 101  bird species from the parks of Lahore  were  recorded. However, with an increase in the  rate of urbanization, the ecology of Lahore  has  been considerably affected and  population of  birds in Lahore has reduced  to just 85 including  the resident and  migratory ones. The resident  species of  Lahore are Grey Hornbill, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Parakeet, Bulbuls, Doves, Spotted Owlet, Babblers, Flycatchers, Mynas,  Woodpeckers, Crows, Kites, Ashy Prynia, Red Start, Warblers, Red Wattled Lapwing, Kingfishers, and the Oriental White Eye.

Three types of migratory birds are regular visitors of Punjab’s provincial metropolis. These are winter visitors, summer visitors and transit migrants. The winter visitors come in September and stay till May. They come from northern latitude and higher altitudes e.g. Yellow Browed Warbler, Common Starling, White Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail and Large pied Wagtail come here in search of food. Wagtails eat small insects, spiders, mollusks and soft seeds from moist soil. They roost in tall typha and reed growth on the banks of ponds and lakes..

Summer visitors arrive in summer from southern parts of the country. These include Koel, Purple Sunbird, Golden Oriole and Cuckoo species. They also come here in search of food and for breeding. They stay in urban Lahore from March till September. 

Passage migrants stop in Lahore for short period of time and go to their breeding areas further south. Rosy Pastor is a Palaearctic breeding species which is found in Lahore during transit migration in spring and autumn. It stays here from April to September. They are useful since they feed on locusts, but also eat fruits, berries and other insects.

Jungle Myna, Roufous Tailed Finch Lark and Indian Plaintive Cuckoo are the three new families of guest birds in Lahore. The breeding of the Roufous Tailed Finch Lark was observed in the Jallo Recreational Park whereas the Jungle Mynas were first time seen in urban Lahore on trees and the lawns of Kinnaird College in 2004. The recorded presence of Jungle Mynas has otherwise been observed from Murree eastwards into India. The Roufous Tailed Finch Lark is found as an erratic monsoon visitor to Northern Punjab whereas the Indian Plaintive Cuckoo is reported from Margalla Hills of Islamabad.   

Black rumped golden flameback woodpecker (Scientific Name: Dinopium bengalensis)

Blossom Headed Parakeet is a winter visitor to Lahore and the vicinity. This Parakeet was observed in Mayo Gardens in July 2004 which indicates that there might be a possibility of dispersal from their breeding areas to Lahore and vicinity. Their presence in the summer season is unusual.

All these bird species have certain habits and habitat preferences at their dwelling places which are called the ecological linkages. Trees are the backbone of an ecosystem playing important role in cleaning the environment and recharging ground water, hence offer an abode for many bird species. Trees like Pipal, Banyan, Mulberry, Jaman, Mango and Shisham provide food, (in spring, spring summer and summer monsoon season respectively) shelter, nesting holes and roosting places to bird species. Banyan trees provide food to many birds like Mynas, Bulbuls, Pigeons, Parakeets, Grey Hornbill and Koel etc. These trees produce fruit for whole year because the fruit ripens systematically one after the other on the apex of their branches. 

Common Myna, Golden Oriole, Koel, Bank Myna, Copper Smith Barbet, Golden Backed woodpecker, Pied Woodpecker, Yellow Footed Green Pigeon, Grey Hornbill, Red Vented Bulbul, Oriental White Eye, Rosy Pastor, Spotted  Owlet, and Alexandrine Parakeet are ecologically linked to Hareer, Banyan, Simul, Eucalyptus, Poplar, Pipal, Wild Mulberry, Mango, Shisham trees for feeding figs and insects. These birds also prefer these tall trees for nesting at approximately 10-35 feet. They also use these trees for roosting. Baya, the Weaver birds even prefer to make nest on dates’ tree at 40 feet height.

Myna species, Parakeets, Red Vented Bulbuls, Robins, Oriental white Eye, Jungle Babbler, Koel, Purple Sunbird and Golden Oriole are ecologically linked to the medium height Mango, Mulberry, Jaman, Gullahar, Dhrek, Pilkan, Guava, Peeloo, Kikar, Mesquite, Gul-e-Nashtar, and Alistonia trees for feeding figs and insects.

Birds like Sparrow Hawk, Bulbuls,  Ring Dove, Rose Ringed Parakeet,  Magpie Robin, Spotted Owlet, Pied  Myna and House Crow use these  medium height trees for nesting at  approximately 10-20 feet. Mynas,  Doves and Babblers use these  medium height trees for communal  and individual roosting. 

Pond Heron likes to make its nest  on the medium height trees like  Kikar and Alistonia at a preferable  height of 10-20 feet. This bird has  adapted to build nests on exotic trees such as Alistonia. They also make nests on Eucalyptus and Bamboo thickets.

Weaver Birds prefer medium height Beri and Dhrek trees for nesting at a preferable height of 10 feet. Red turtle Dove is ecologically linked to the medium height Mango and mulberry tree for nesting respectively at approximately 10-20 feet height.

Black Drongo (Scientific Name: Dicrurus macrocercus) 

Common Starling prefers Gul-e-Nashtar trees along canal for roosting at 20-25 feet. Common Mynas also roost along with these Common Starlings. Common Starling uses Simul tree in winter to eat insects from its flowers. Blossom-headed Parakeets are ecologically linked to Jaman and Pipal trees for roosting. They eat Guava and fruits of Mango and Beri.

Koel and Rosy Pastors are ecologically linked to figs of Jaman, Pipal, Banyan, Mulberry and Pilkan. Alistonia trees and Bamboo thickets are used for roosting by Rosy Pastors.

Small trees like Guava, Loquat, Pomegranate, Peeloo, Dhrek, Beri, Mesquite and Kikar are used for roosting by House Sparrows and Jungle Babbler. The Rose Ringed Parakeet, Koel, Oriental White Eye and Red Vented Bulbul use them for feeding. Whereas Weaver Bird, Babbler species, Red vented Bulbul and Purple Sunbird use them for nesting at 5-10 feet approximately. Purple Sunbird uses Black Siris tree for eating insects on the leaves at 6-7 feet height approximately.

Dead trees also serve as excellent breeding ground for the birds of Lahore providing roosting place in the form of holes and cavities which are used by birds like common Mynas for nesting at approximately 10-20 feet height in the parks and gardens near the Zoo. Dead and live Simul and Gullahr trees are used for nesting by Blue rock Pigeons at 15-25 feet. Birds like Crimson-breasted Barbet, Maratha woodpecker; Magpie Robin, Alexandrine Parakeet and Hoopoe also make nests in dead trees. 

Climber species and thickets of different kind of flora are also important for some birds that prefer to make nest, roost and feed near to the ground. This kind of flora also provides camouflage. Purple Sunbird is attracted to Bougainvillea and Bamboo  thickets for nesting at 5-15 feet height. Bamboo is also used by Jungle Babblers, House Sparrows, Spotted and White throated Munias for nesting, roosting and feeding respectively.

The expansive lawns of the play grounds, bungalows and of parks and gardens during the grass mowing offer a large variety of food for the birds like Mynas, Hoopoes, Pied crested Cuckoo, Munias, Common Starling and Wagtails, the insects, seeds and grubs. These birds are also attracted to these lawns when they are flooded with water. The Roufous Tailed-Finch Lark is ecologically linked to the long and thick grass for nesting preferably near the edge of dried water channels.

With the increase of urbanization, some bird species have adapted the urban environment for their subsistence. Many urban structures like electric wires, electric poles, electric lamps, buildings, nest boxes, houses, ventilators, shades, roofs and canal banks are used by Mynas, Sparrows, Robins and Blue rock Pigeons for nesting, roosting and feeding.

In humid summer nights, there is abundance of flying insects near lights on road side pavements, streets, parks, and gardens. Small lizards come to eat these insects. Some amphibians like toad and nocturnal birds like Spotted Owlet eat large insects in this light. Spotted Owlets eat these toads also. The fallen insects around these lights become the food of Mynas, Red-vented Bulbul, House Crow, and House Sparrow in morning.

Pied Bushchat (Scientific Name: Saxicola caprata)

The giant large fruit bat roosts by day on large Banyan trees in Jinnah Gardens and Lahore Zoo. Palm squirrel populations are common in all areas where there are gardens. Huge flocks of Blue Rock Pigeons breed and roost at night in the walled city as well as in old large buildings outside the city’s stockade. Grey hornbill is found in fig trees particularly in the Lahore Zoo, Jinnah Gardens, Mayo Gardens and the Cantt. area.  

A study done in 2000 revealed that  population in urban Lahore’s white  backed vulture almost vanished.  The main culprit responsible for  this important raptor’s extinction is  a veterinary drug called  ”Diclofenac”. The drug is used by  the vets to inject livestock for  curing joints disease in cattle. After  having found the lethal effect this  drug has had on vulture populations  in Lahore and elsewhere, (it causes  fatal kidney failure in vultures) the  drug has been banned by the  Ministry of Environment.  

The Indian Koel is a spring and  summer visitor to Lahore. Its arrival  is usually in early April though most  of the population arrives in May. On  the contrary in recent surveys it has  been seen coming around Mid  March in Aitchison College. It is a  brood parasitic bird. It feeds  on insects and fruits and drinks  water from water taps in the lawns  of the bungalows. It lays eggs in the  nests of crows, and foster parent  crows are seen feeding full size  cuckoo nestlings.

 The predators for these birds in urban Lahore are the domestic cat,  ants, Sparrow Hawk and the House Crow.

These birds are important because they control the insect infestation in the green areas of the city and the vicinity and play important role in pollination. The seeds of the Banyan tree cannot grow until they are passed from the intestine of the Mynas, hence the role of these birds, trees and green areas in maintaining the ecological balance and vice versa does not need any overemphasis. They are important because they are part of food chain. Unfortunately the ruthless cutting of the tall, old and endemic trees is going unabated in this ancient and historic city. And all this is being done in the name of city’s development, a development which is not sustainable and hence destroying the over all biodiversity in Lahore’s urban environment. These trees are necessary for the survival of these bird species which contribute to a harmony of eco-balance. In this regard collective efforts are needed by all concerned, the general public, the stakeholders and the concerned authorities.

Rock Bunting ( Scientific Name: Emberiza cia)

To maintain and increase the number of bird populations in Lahore, government departments like Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA), the Ministry of Environment and NGOs like WWF need to develop a plan to improve the green pockets by planting trees and vegetation like bushes and thickets so that they attract a variety of birds preferring different nesting heights from tall trees nesting’s to near the ground ones besides offering different kinds of fruits and figs. These pockets are: 1: The Forest Colony, Ravi Park, Railway Station, Engineering University and Shalimar Gardens and the pocket 2 is The Aitchison College, GOR, Kinnaird College, Jinnah Garden, Lahore Zoological Gardens, Cantonment and Mayo Gardens extending up to the whole of canal area.

Stealing of the nestlings of Rose Ringed Parakeet and Alexandrine Parakeet should be checked in urban Lahore and there should be a strict implementation of the Punjab Wildlife Act 1974. The solid waste management system should also be efficient enough to avoid scavengers like the house crows and common mynas.

 

Credits:

Authors: Uzma Saeed, Conservation Officer, WWF - Pakistan.  The last two paragraphs of this article were written by Ms. Nida Masood.

The above article is based on research grant funded by WWF - Pakistan Scientific Committee's Student Grant Programme for Masters Thesis of Uzma Saeed at Kinnaird College, Lahore. This research and field work was guided and supervised by Prof. Z B Mirza. Mr Shahid Iqbal helped in the bird identification and research activities.

 


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