WHICH BIRDS CAN FLY NON-STOP OVER LAND AND SEA, IN SEARCH OF FOOD AND WARMTH?

Here's a closer look at some of the birds that perform great feats of endurance by flying non-stop over land and sea in search of food and warmth.

The Arctic tern

The bird that probably sees more daylight than any other creature in the world is the slender, graceful relative of the seagull, the Arctic term. This 33- to 35-cm-long bird makes the most spectacular migration, travelling over 35,000 km every year. It breeds in the Arctic summer and then flies south, reaching in time for the Antarctic summer!

The terns breed on the Arctic coasts of Alaska, Greenland, Canada, Europe, and Siberia, some nesting within 700 km of the North Pole. They raise their young on the abundance of insects and fish during the short-lived Arctic summer when the sun almost never sets. As winter closes in, they begin flying south. After a journey halfway around the globe, they gorge on the small fish and plankton of the Antarctic ocean throughout the southern summer- once more in almost perpetual daylight!

Shining bronze cuckoo

The Arctic term is not the only avid seeker of the sun. Though it may be the long-distance migration champion, there are other birds that perform greater feats of endurance by flying non-stop over land and sea in search of food and warmth.

The fledglings of the shining bronze cuckoo are abandoned by their parents. With no adult bird to guide them; they fly out each March from their breeding grounds in New Zealand.

They accurately follow the path of their parents to Australia, and from there, turn northwards to Papua New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago. Out of the total distance of 6,400 km, 2,000 km is over open sea! One mistake can be fatal, for the birds cannot swim.

Ruby-throated hummingbird

The ruby-throated hummingbird flies 800 km non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico to South America every autumn. Scientists are baffled, because the bird weighs just 3.5 gm, not enough to store so much energy.

What guides birds across such distances so accurately? Scientists discovered in 1977 that deposits of magnetic iron oxide in the skulls of migratory birds may act as a built-in compass. Some believe that the instinct to migrate maybe encoded in the genes, compelling the birds to behave as their ancestors did, even without apparent reason.

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WHY DO BIRDS FLY IN A V FORMATION?

Many large birds such as geese, ducks, and swan fly in well-defined V formations, especially during migrations. It is their method of conserving energy so that they can fly long distances without taking a break. The V formation also helps birds maintain visual contact with one another. As each bird flaps its wings, it creates uplift at the tip of its wing. This reduces the air resistance for the bird flying behind. Thus the bird at the lead position works the hardest to break through the air. Therefore, after some time another bird takes over the position.

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WHAT IS THE STORY OF TOKY BIRD?

At a time when we constantly speak about the threat of extinction that several species faces across the globe, one bird species has beaten all odds to return from extinction in the wild. Let's find out more about this remarkable conservation story.

When Kin-Japanese for gold died in 2003 aged 36, not a single wild-born Japanese crested ibis was left in the country. Known as toki, there was little hope for a species that was synonymous with Japan.

Wild toki once lived across Japan, as well as in Russia, Taiwan, and South Korea. Toki meat was presumed to have health benefits, and the bird's feathers were used in everything from dusters to hats. Which meant, the bird was hunted mindlessly. Inevitably, by the early 20th Century, only a few dozen birds remained in Japan most of them on Sado island and the nearby Noto peninsula. At this juncture, the species won protected status. Just when things appeared to get better for the species came chemical fertilizers and For birds that fed primarily on paddy, this spelled disaster, and "by 1981 just five wild toki remained in Japan, all on Sado, where officials took them into protective captivity". In a case of strange coincidence, the same year, as many as seven of these birds were discovered in the wild in China. While Japan's captive breeding programme wasn't exactly successful, China's was. In fact the latter gifted two of its birds to the former in 1998. The following year, the couple reached Japan, within months had their first chick, and made national headlines.

Gradually over two decades, their population grew enough for Sado to consider releasing them into the wild. Today, there are about 500 wild birds, drawing tourists to their delicate pink plumage and distinctive curved beak. Meanwhile, "China's wild population now numbers over 4,450, and a South Korean project released 40 toki for the first time in 2019".

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WHAT PERCENTAGE OF THE BIRD POPULATION IS DECLINING?

Close to 48% of bird species the world over are known or suspected to be undergoing population decline.

We often come across reports on how several factors - invariably human-induced - are continuing to affect our environment and wildlife. Along comes a new study that says that about half the bird species in the world could be showing population decline.

Scientists studied data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature's "Red List to understand the population changes among the more than 10.000 species of birds in the world. And the results haven't been comforting. It has revealed that close to 48% of bird species the world over "are known or suspected to be undergoing population declines". In addition, the status of 7% of all species is not clear. Comfortingly though, the population of 39% of species has remained "stable" while "6% are showing increasing population trends".

This study comes on the heels of a 2019 study that discovered that about "3 billion breeding birds" were lost in the last five decades in just the U.S. and Canada. Sadly, the new study is a revelation that population decline is more global than previously thought. The scientists also feel this could be an indication of "a new wave of extinctions of continentally distributed bird species".

So what has caused this decline? It is likely the combined and continuing effects of climate change, habitat loss and degradation, and overexploitation of species. It is important to tackle these issues with urgency because the population decline in birds is not a standalone concern. They are indicators of the health of our natural world, and since our natural world is connected in myriad ways, what affects birds deeply impacts wildlife habitats, other wildlife, and humans too.

Thankfully, the study authors mention that all is not lost yet because fortunately, "the global network of bird conservation organizations taking part in this study have the tools to prevent further loss of bird species and abundance".

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HOW CAN WE TAKE CARE OF ANIMALS AND BIRDS IN SUMMER?

During summer months, not just us, even wildlife struggles with soaring temperatures and lack of water. With just a little thought, we can make their lives easier.

Birdbaths

All the regular places that normally provide birds with water are likely to have dried up, leaving them looking for newer options. While the search can be physically exhausting in itself. not finding water can add to an animal or bird's stress, and can even be fatal.

The amount of drinking water to be made available to birds is not much. Birds also enjoy bathing, and it helps them keep their bodies cool. Both their drinking and bathing needs can be met through birdbaths. When buying birdbaths, do make sure they are wide and shallow; deeper ones can lead to accidental drowning, especially among smaller birds. It is important to keep the birdbaths filled and cleaned regularly Birdbaths may provide water and moments of fun to even smaller creatures such as squirrels.

Food

As mercury shoots up, it may become difficult for animals to go looking for food. While grains and seeds can be put out on plates for birds and squirrels, milk, boiled eggs and rice can be made available for stray dogs and cats. Bowls of water too can be kept outside the houses for stray animals. Sweets, fried snacks, junk food, etc. are not suitable for stray animals, and may even trigger allergic reactions in them.

Watering plants

Plants and trees are home to an innumerable variety of insects, reptiles, and amphibians. Keeping plants watered will help these creatures survive too. In fact, it is said that during summer, earthworms may bury themselves so deep into the soil that birds may not find enough to feed on. So when insects grow well in well-watered plants, they become healthy meals for birds and other creatures. In addition, keeping flowering plants healthy will help butterflies feed on nectar. This helps in pollination, and butterfly caterpillars become food for birds.

Watch out!

It is said that encounters with snakes near residences may increase during months since these reptiles are actively seeking out shaded places to tackle high temperatures. While it may not be possible for us to provide them shelter, it is very important to be aware of our surroundings - they may find shelter in shrubs, among tall grasses, small covered spaces such as a motor box, etc. Irrespective of whether they are venomous or not, it is important to ensure they are not harmed. One can seek the help of wildlife rescuers so the creatures are captured carefully and let off into the wild safely.

Caring for pets

• Take them out for a walk when the sun is down.

• Play with them indoors.

• Ensure there's plenty of cool water available for them.

• Never leave them in a car, even for a few minutes.

• Make sure they get a lot of rest in a well-shaded place.

• If there are signs of heat stress, give them medical help immediately.

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