Thousands of Amur falcons, small birds of prey that undertake one of the longest migrations, started arriving on October 7 in Wokha district in Nagaland and Tamenglong district of Manipur. The first winged visitors arrived with unerring precision on the same day as last year.
Wokha district is a declared second home of the Amur falcons. In neighbouring Tamenglong, officials and wildlife lovers have won over many tribals who were earlier trapping the birds during their famous migratory journey.
Most bird catchers have turned bird lovers, and the species is recognised as friends of the tribals. The falcons eat various insects, thus helping farmers. The turnaround is a radical change from the past, when hundreds of trussed up Amur falcons would be on sale in village markets and towns, while some would be sold fried or smoked.
When he was Union Minister for Environment, Prakash Javadekar witnessed enthusiastic public response to conservation, and government initiatives taken up in Manipur and Nagaland to save the migrating Amur. On a visit to the Doyang lake areas, 200 km from Kohima on November 15, 2015, he announced that it would be developed as an eco-tourism spot for bird watchers.
At just 150 grams, an Amur falcon, Falco amurensis is a small bird, the male mostly grey in colour, and the females having dark-streaked cream or orange underparts. The species flies non-stop from Mongolia to northeast India covering 5,600 km in five days and nights, a small part of its 22,000 km circular migratory journey. The birds halt briefly in Myanmar. After a month or so, they reach central and western India en route to South Africa.
In Tamenglong, the tribals see the falcons as messengers of god, their arrival indicating a good year and a bountiful harvest. The birds eat winged termites and other insects that destroy crops.
“Our forefathers never killed these avian friends. However, the younger generation started decimating them by the thousands using nets, slingshots and guns,” laments an elderly tribal. Though the species is protected under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, enforcement was weak as only skeleton staff is present in hilly Tamenglong. The bird roosts in the four forest ranges in the district.
More recently, people from all walks of life, youths in particular, have joined hands for conservation. As a part of the awareness campaign, the first Amur falcon dance festival, including a beauty contest, was held in the district on October 25 last year.