Ornithological Climate Change Indicators

Map showing peafowl-sightings between 1990-2010 (Source: Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society)

Map showing peafowl-sightings between 1990-2010 (Source: Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society)

Map showing peafowl-sightings in Kerala between 2010-2015 (Source: Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society)

Map showing peafowl-sightings in Kerala between 2010-2015 (Source: Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society)

Few of our readers will fail to notice that eBird and Citizen Science are important elements of the RAXA Collective DNA. Stories related to Kerala and the state’s healthy birding population are equally on our radar.

The folks at India Climate Dialogue recently turned to eBird observations to document changes in climate patterns in Kerala, an important watershed state for the Indian subcontinent using peafowl population as one of the indicators. Especially during mating season, the birds find it difficult to move their trailing feathers in areas of dense foliage, so they’re attracted to drier climactic areas. The eBird data above illustrates their movement into Kerala, meaning more areas are opening up.

High heat in February-March is not unusual in Kerala, and in reality it is this heat trough that pulls the monsoon from Indian Ocean into the Indian subcontinent. The heat epicentre heralds the monsoon and runs like a pilot car through the peninsula, taking the same path that the southwest monsoon will follow a few months later. Since the southwest monsoon starts from the coast of Kerala, it is the state that has to feel the heat first, so that pre-monsoon showers start in May and the monsoon arrives in June.

Even though the southwest monsoon started late in June 2015, there were showers right into the first week of January 2016. However, the state has gone dry within weeks of the rains ending…

…“Our group has been tracking the spread of dry-land birds in Kerala systematically and we are seeing a pattern,” said Dr P.O. Nameer, head of wildlife research at the College of Forestry, Kerala Agricultural University, Thrissur. “Even though we need to do some more work correlating our observations from the field with historical weather and habitat data, our initial findings indicate that birds that seek drier tracts are moving into Kerala.”

This should raise eyebrows in a state that has an average annual rainfall of more than 2,500 mm in a year. Three of  Kerala’s 14 districts – Kasargod, Kannur and Kozhikode – get more than 3,000 mm in a year, and Wayanad gets 2,965 mm.

The most common observation repeated ad nauseam across the state is of the appearance of the peafowl in recent years. “A few years ago, when we saw the bird in our farm, it was a novelty. Now it has become more of a disturbance,” said Mukundan Nair, a homestead farmer living at the edge of Thrissur city.

Read the entire report here

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