For many of us 90s kids, who grew up in a Delhi that was far less crowded, possessed spacious roads with sparse traffic and was littered with humble dwellings that lacked modern gizmos, waking up to the melodious din of the countless sparrows, parrots, pigeons and even crows has to be the most cherished memory. The serene and soulful mornings were undoubtedly the best way to kick start our days.
However, with the gradually changing times and modern social, economic and technological developments, the traffic worsened effectively poisoning the air, mobiles replaced the few and far between landlines thereby, imbuing the atmosphere with harmful radiations and the ever multiplying city swallowed the grasslands and greenery that surrounded us. Therefore, if today you sight an agile sparrow or even a crow for that matter you are indeed lucky!
However, if you are an avid bird watcher, nature lover or simply a person looking for a much needed respite from the blindingly fast moving and polluted city, all is not lost! Thanks, to the timely intervention of our government, India has an astounding number of National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries that have been specifically set up to preserve our natural heritage. Out of all the protected areas there are over 58 bird sanctuaries that are known to host more than 1200 species of birds, both local and migratory thereby, attracting hordes of tourists, birders and ornithologists all year round! Here is a list of Top 10 most famous bird sanctuaries in India that you can visit to escape the city and rejuvenate in the lap of nature!
10. OKHLA SANCTUARY, UTTAR PRADESH:
Is strategically placed at the Okhla barrage constructed over the Yamuna River in Noida, which in turn lies on the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh state border. The barrage, the Agra Canal which originates from here and the surrounding marshes attract a wide range of birds throughout the year. The most striking feature of the sanctuary, which is enticing for birds and visitors alike, is the large lake, specifically made by damming the river, flanked by the Okhla village and Gautam Buddha Nagar on 2 sides. The sanctuary is known to host over 1 lakh migratory birds in the winter season and is home to over 320 species of resident and migratory birds that thrive in wetlands and woodlands. It also has a number of endangered, vulnerable and threatened species of birds, like the Indian vulture, bristled grassbird, sociable lapwing, black bellied tern, sarus crane, baikal teal, grey headed fish eagle etc. It was here that the leucistic coot, identified by its remarkable white plumage, was spotted for the first time in India in 2011.
9. BHARATPUR BIRD SANCTUARY, RAJASTHAN:
Is perhaps, the most well-known bird sanctuary in North India that boasts of over 230 species of resident birds making it a major tourist attraction in the state. Located in Bharatpur, Rajasthan the sanctuary has been declared a national park now and is named as Keoladeo Ghana National Park. This one of a kind manmade montage of dry grasslands, swamps, wetlands and woodlands provides a diverse habitat for over 366 bird species. Described as one of the best bird areas in the world by the World Wildlife Fund, this National Park has also been declared a World Heritage Site. The wintering and breeding season of the migratory waterfowl is a delightful time to visit the sanctuary.
8. KULIK BIRD SANCTUARY, WEST BENGAL:
This scenic ‘U’ shaped bird sanctuary is a mixed deciduous forest located near Raiganj in Uttar Dinajpur district of West Bengal and takes its name from the Kulik River that flows nearby. The lively river along with a network of canals has made it a preferred habitat for about 164 species of birds in turn making it a marvellous bird watching treat. During the winter months around 70,000-80,000 migratory birds, like night herons, egrets, open-bill storks and the Indian shag among others make this sanctuary their home. Once here, you cannot afford to miss its acclaimed heronry which boasts of housing 32-40% of the total South Asian population of the open bill and it’s Nature Interpretation Centre which offers an innovative recreation of the various attractive features of the sanctuary through models and charts.
Although the sanctuary is suitable to visit all-round the year, owing to its wide variety of resident birds which includes drongos, kites, flycatchers, woodpeckers, kingfishers among others, the period between the months of October and March is an absolute marvel. Adjacent to the sanctuary is the Raiganj Kulik Park which adds to the charm of the place. Moreover, there is no dearth of lodging near the sanctuary thereby, ensuring a splendid visiting experience.
7. SALIM ALI BIRD SANCTUARY, GOA:
Is one of the many effectively rejuvenating alternatives that the picturesque state of Goa has to offer. Named after the most revered ornithologist that India has ever seen, Dr Salim Moizuddin Abdul Ali, the sanctuary is located at the western tip of the Chorao Island next to the Mandovi River and has an estuarine mangrove habitat. For the uninitiated, an estuarine water body, typically found in the coastal areas, is an eccentric blend of ocean and river water and a mangrove habitat consists of tropical evergreen trees or shrubs that thrive in shallow coastal water.
An estuarine mangrove habitat therefore, is an ideal breeding ground for a wide range of fishes and insects, which in turn makes it a perfect home for birds, like striated heron, western reef heron, little bittern, red knot, jack snipe etc. An early morning ferry ride from Ribander to the sanctuary will give you an exceptional opportunity to witness the sanctuary stirring itself awake from its slumber, while the sun paints the sky in beautiful hues of orange and yellow. The sanctuary not only encompasses a watch tower that overlooks the entire reserve and provides a panoramic view, but also offers canoe rides that gives you the opportunity to sail around the sanctuary and experience it like never before. If you decide to visit during the winter months, make sure to catch a glimpse of the migratory coots and pintails.
6. MAYANI BIRD SANCTUARY, MAHARASHTRA:
Is strategically situated atop a longstanding British built dam near Vaduj in Satara district of Maharashtra. The dam was specifically fashioned to facilitate irrigation in the nearby villages with the help of a network of canals. The sanctuary and the nearby area therefore, encompasses a wetland ecosystem that is home to about 400 species of birds. Birds like storks, kingfishers and northern shovellers can be sighted here throughout the year. Out of the various migratory birds that grace the sanctuary during the winters, like common spoonbill, coot, painted stork and brahminy duck among others, the Serbian flamingos are a treat to watch. The period between the months of November and January is ideal for visiting. The sanctuary has facilities like a watch tower, scenic nearby parks and guest houses to ensure an unhindered visiting experience.
5. THATTEKAD BIRD SANCTUARY, KERALA:
Is an evergreen low lying forest placed in the midst of the tributaries of Kerala’s longest river Periyar and is aptly christened ‘Thattekad’ which signifies a flat forest. Situated 12 kms from Kothamangalam, the sanctuary’s favourable location in the midst of a lively river has made it an enriched wetland ecosystem that is known to accommodate a multitude of forest dwelling as well as water birds. Beautifully summed up as the “richest bird habitat on peninsular India, as good as eastern Himalayas” by the bird man of India Dr Salim Ali, the sanctuary is known for its impressive assortment of eccentric birds, like oriental darter, grey fronted green pigeon, large billed leaf warbler, yellow browed bulbuls, whiskered terns, collared scops owl etc.
The famed section titled ‘Cuckoo Paradise’ houses different varieties of cuckoos, like large hawk cuckoo and Indian hawk cuckoo among others. The sanctuary also boasts of a number of highly adept and knowledgeable guides who are proficient in guiding you to the best avifauna hotspots and the Inspection Bungalow inside the forest owned by the Forest Department of Kerala offers lodging opportunities. There are homestay and resort accommodations too within the sanctuary.
4. RANGANATHITTU BIRD SANCTUARY:
Is a breath-taking marvel of nature consisting of 6 islets created by the meandering river Kaveri in the district of Mandya, Karnataka. Also known as ‘Pakshi Kashi of Karnataka’, the sanctuary is considered to be one of the most distinguished bird sanctuaries in India, which boasts of over 170 species of birds and attracts lakhs of visitors throughout the year. Created upon the insistence of Dr Salim, who perceived it as an indispensable nesting ground for a plethora of birds, the sanctuary is home to birds, like woolly-necked stork, painted stork, Indian shag, black headed ibis, Asian openbill stork, kingfisher, lesser whistling duck and streak throated swallow among others. It houses about 50 kinds of pelicans and hosts about 40,000 migratory birds annually. The period between the months of June-November is usually the nesting season of water birds and the sanctuary morphs into an astounding spectacle to behold. A tour of the sanctuary in the ranger guided boats is the best thing you will ever experience.
3. EAGLENEST BIRD SANCTUARY, ARUNACHAL PRADESH:
Also known as the Eagle’s Nest Wildlife Sanctuary is perhaps, the most richly endowed sanctuary in the country, thanks to its opportune location at the foothills of the Himalayas in the West Kameng District of Arunachal Pradesh. Named after an Indian Army regiment named ‘Eagle’ that was once stationed in the area, the sanctuary hosts over 454 species of birds each year, which includes a wide variety of pheasants, hornbills, finches, bulbuls, cuckoos, herons, old world flycatchers, warblers, fairy bluebirds and thrushes among others. Lying between the Sessa Orchid Sanctuary and the Pakhui Tiger Reserve, the sanctuary serves as a connector to both the reserves and is itself an avifauna hotspot.
Despite its isolated location it is fairly accessible and attracts a number of avid bird watchers and ornithologists throughout the year. Owing to its propitious location the sanctuary is also famous for housing a variety of rare birds and a number of bird species have been discovered in the sanctuary for the first time, a prime example of which is the vibrantly coloured Bugun Liocichla a species that became known to the world only after being encountered in this sanctuary. Far removed from the bustling civilization, the sanctuary is unperturbed and serene, a state that is bound to rub off on you. The period between the months of October-April is best suited for an invigorating visit.
2. PULICAT LAKE BIRD SANCTUARY, ANDHRA PRADESH:
Serves both as a renowned sanctuary in Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh and a protected area in Thiruvallur district of Tamil Nadu. Strategically placed near the Pulicat Lake which has the 2nd largest brackish water eco-system in India after Chilika, the sanctuary is known for its unprecedented assortment of over 15,000 greater flamingos. The scenic sanctuary exudes tranquillity and typically has a mild, serene and pleasant weather which makes it ideal for various tourist activities, like trekking, bird safaris, aquatic sports and boating to name a few. It is home to a number of wetland birds, like black-tailed godvit, marsh sandpiper, shoveler, garganey, painted storks, white ibis, grey herons, spot billed ducks and grey pelicans among others. With well-equipped forest rest houses and inspection bungalows finding accommodation in the sanctuary is fairly easy.
1. CHILKA LAKE BIRD SANCTUARY, ORISSA:
Is perhaps, the most propitiously located bird sanctuary in India which takes its name from the largest coastal brackish water lagoon in India called the Chilika Lake that is situated at the mouth of the Daya River just before it empties itself into the Bay of Bengal. The lake also happens to be the 2nd largest brackish water lagoon in the world and stretches over the Puri, Khurda and Ganjam districts of Odisha. For the uninitiated, a brackish water body is essentially a cross between fresh water and sea water, where the salt content is comparatively more than that of fresh water, but is less than sea water and a lagoon is a shallow water body separated from a larger body of water by barrier islands or reefs.
The pear shaped lake is littered with exquisite islands, like the honeymoon, bird and breakfast islands that attract a number of birds, tourists and ornithologists alike. The sanctuary is dubbed as the largest wintering ground for migratory birds on the Indian subcontinent with over 160 species of birds flocking to it during the migratory season. This wonderful marvel of elemental nature is one of the most gifted biodiversity hotspots in the country with a myriad of birds, like storks, shovellers, flamingos, jacana, pintails, spoonbills, white bellied sea eagles, purple moorhen etc. It is also the largest breeding ground for flamingos in the world. It has long been alluring tourists with its enchanting sunrise and sunsets that remain etched in their minds throughout their lives. The various hotels and tourist bungalows ensure hassle free lodging and the varied tourist activities, like the aquatic safaris around the sanctuary provide a wholesome visiting experience. The sanctuary is a treat to witness during the period between October-March.
Therefore, the next time you want to escape the monotony of city life don’t miss to visit at least one of the distinguished sanctuaries listed here. After all nothing but nature has the power to calm tired minds, treat bruised hearts and soothe aching eyes!