A first-of-its-kind study by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) will use cellular technology to study migratory patterns of flamingos and other migratory birds.
The study was scheduled to begin in 2020 but due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant restrictions, the permission needed from the Union government’s Department of Telecommunication for using the tracking devices was delayed.
The BNHS plans to study 10 migratory birds – six flamingos and two each curlews and ibises – found in wetlands in the Mumbai region between January and March. They will be fitted with cellular and satellite devices to track their movement.
The birds will be tagged with GSM-based (Global System for Mobile Communications) and GPS-based (Global Positioning System) tracking devices that will map details such as altitude, location, trajectory and speed.
Rahul Khot, assistant director of BNHS, who leads the flamingo studies, said, “This is a pilot study and thus, we are using both cellular and satellite devices. There is a possibility that we might not get cellular networks in extreme or high altitude locations where these birds migrate from.”
“Satellite tracking will help in devising better conservation methods and understanding the movement of birds through signals that point out their habitat use, flight pattern and distance. At present, we only have one part of their whole journey, which is their destination.”
“We are expecting the Centre’s approval in a week and can begin the study in January,” Khot added.
While GSM tags will be used in areas where cellular network is available, GPS tags will be used for satellite mapping in other areas. According to the BNHS, the tracking devices will help researchers get better data on the birds’ breeding spots, changes in route patterns over the years, stopovers and their final destination.
The BNHS has ringed flamingos and other migratory birds visiting Mumbai. Bird ringing or bird banding is the attachment of small, individually-numbered metal and coloured flag to the leg or wing of a wild bird to enable individual identification.
“A comprehensive data will be available to us within a year with satellite tagging, which we can use to suggest conservation methods,” Khot said.
The Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) is the second largest flamingo habitat along the west coast after Kutch in Gujarat. In January 2019, there were 1.21 lakh flamingos across 16 locations in MMR in areas such as Sewri mudflats, Thane creek, Vitawa, Uran wetlands and in Navi Mumbai. The BNHS is expecting a similar uptick in the number of flamingos visiting Mumbai wetlands in 2021-2022.
The study was proposed as early as 2013 but was put on hold as the Centre had banned the import of satellite transmitters used to put radio collars on birds, citing national security concerns. The Department of Telecommunications, under the Ministry of Communications, had issued a notification in early 2015, banning the import of all satellite telemetry devices.
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