Meera Bhardwaj:

Many bird species including Little Terns have flocked to Tungabhadra backwaters for breeding. Apart from this species, Small Pratincole, Oriental Pratincole, Kentish Plover, Black Winged Stilts are also seen nesting in the backwaters of TB Dam in Karnataka.

In fact, the population of Sternula albifrons have been declining due to degradation of its habitat, pollution and human disturbance. The Tungabhadra backwaters near the World Heritage Site of Hampi in Karnataka is witnessing the breeding activity of Little Terns since last week. Birders report nesting and breeding activity of this and many other species in the backwater area which is dry now.

Noted researcher and bird conservationist Dr Samad Kottur has studied and documented Little Terns and many other bird species for 15 years in the TB backwaters. He has recorded the breeding locations of Little Terns and also written about it in his book on “Birds of Hampi”. Kottur adds, “Little Terns come regularly and breed in the backwaters of Tungabhadra Dam. They are very sensitive to any human disturbance. They are common here and are half the size of River Terns. It is the season now for breeding and once the birds become big, they fly away by June 15.”

Reporting the breeding activity of these birds, naturalist Pompayya Malemath said, “Presently, the water level has receded and the birds can be seen breeding in solitude in the dried-up bed as there is no disturbance by humans. Within three weeks, hatching starts and we were fortunate to see how the mother taught and fed its young ones.”

Little Terns also known as White Shafted Ternlets are found to breed in coastal and inland waterways. Beautiful & delicate, the Little Tern feeds by plunge diving into the waters while the male offers fish to females which is part of its courtship display. Black cap with white forehead chevron as also a black tipped yellow bill marks the plumage of a breeding bird.

Birders say, “We were thrilled to see the mother teaching the newborns how to go about in their new life. This time the waters started receding very late and even the sightings of Flamingoes were very less – just about 600-800 were observed.”

Dr Samad Kottur adds, “Our observations have revealed a lot of human disturbance to many bird species in the backwaters area. Year after year, when this area becomes fully dry, farming takes place which destroys many breeding locations. Even borewells are installed here. The agricultural waste which is dumped here once the water level rises after monsoons finally reaches the dam where the silt level is rising and rising.”

The Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and Birdlife International has identified 467 Important Bird Areas (IBA) in India and out of this, 37 are in Karnataka. In fact, the Tungabhadra Backwaters area has been identified as IBA, KA:41.  However, if this area has to be protected further and declared as a Ramsar Site, it needs in depth study, research and documentation as information is very sporadic.

Strongly migratory, Little Terns have a widespread breeding range across south Asia, Australia, temperate Eurasia and Africa. Those that breed near coastal and inland waterways are supplemented when both the populations move towards the coast during winters.