Celebrating our feathered friends | Sunday Observer

Celebrating our feathered friends

8 May, 2022

If you thought that live dinosaurs exist only in the Jurassic Park movie, think again. Look no further than outside your window to catch a glimpse of the modern relatives of dinosaurs. Yes, that bird fluttering about outside your window hails from those giant beasts. Birds have had 65 million years to get their act together.

Today, there is a huge profusion of birds – around 18,000 species in fact, all around the world. Many birds such as the Dodo have gone extinct while many birds face the threat of extinction.

Birds have another unique feature – they fly very long distances – mostly in formation but sometimes also alone – to get to warmer climates such as Sri Lanka when the going gets tough in colder climes. A male bar-tailed godwit, recently set a new record for nonstop avian migration when it flew 7,500 miles over the Pacific Ocean without taking a single stop. The only other animals that can emulate such a feat are marine mammals such as whales and of course, humans themselves. This process is called migration and the birds that do it year upon year are called migratory birds.

Magnificent birds

These magnificent birds are indeed worthy of celebration. In fact, there are two days of the year on which bird lovers and ornithologists (those who study birds) can admire these feathered friends. One of them falls on May 14. World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD) is an annual awareness-raising campaign highlighting the need for the conservation of migratory birds and their habitats. It has a global outreach and is an effective tool to help raise global awareness of the threats faced by migratory birds, their ecological importance, and the need for international cooperation to conserve them. WMBD is organised by a collaborative partnership among two UN treaties -the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) -and the non-profit organisation, Environment for the Americas (EFTA).

World Migratory Bird Day was initiated in 2006 by the Secretariat of the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) in collaboration with the Secretariat of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS).

Originally, the idea of designating a day for migratory birds arose in the United States in 1993, when the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology initiated celebrations of the ‘International Migratory Bird Day’ (IMBD), which encourages bird festivals and education programs across the world.

World Migratory Bird Day is officially celebrated on the second Saturday of May in Canada and the US (May 14 in 2022), and the second Saturday of October in Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean (October 8 in 2022). However, every day is Bird Day, and you can celebrate birds and host events any day of the year.

Light pollution

This year’s campaign highlights the impact of light pollution on migratory birds with the theme “Dim the Lights for Birds at Night.” There are simple steps that everyone can take to reduce light pollution and help birds. Light pollution attracts and disorients nocturnally migrating birds, making them more likely to land in areas where they are more vulnerable to collisions and other dangers. At least 500 million birds die every year from colliding with buildings around the world.

Artificial light also impacts birds in the breeding and winter seasons, disrupting feeding and other vital behaviour. Because artificial light affects birds in so many ways, it is impossible to know just how many birds are impacted by light pollution every year around the globe.

Artificial light is increasing globally by at least two percent per year and it is known to adversely affect many bird species. Light pollution is a significant threat to migratory birds, causing disorientation when they fly at night, leading to collisions with buildings, perturbing their internal clocks, or interfering with their ability to undertake long-distance migrations. 

Solutions to light pollution are readily available. For instance, more and more cities in the world are taking measures to dim building lights during migration phases in spring and autumn. Best practice guidelines are also being developed under the Convention on Migratory Species to address this growing issue and ensure that action is taken globally to help birds migrate safely.

There are many other steps that can be taken to help birds, both migratory and local. Ensure that any glass windows or lighting will not pose a danger to birds. Make sure that there are plenty of plants and trees for them to hang around. One can install a bird feeding station stuffed with bird food in the garden or even in the balcony if living in a high rise apartment.

A bird bath in the garden is another good idea. The very sight of birds frolicking about in the bath can diminish stress and reduce hypertension. However, regular cleaning of both feeding stations and bird baths is advisable to prevent the breeding of mosquitoes. Eliminating pesticide use in the garden will also be beneficial to birds.


If you have a pet cat, be aware that it can be deadly for any birds that frequent your garden. If you hear the cacophony of birds when your cat is out and about in the garden, just go and have a look. With good care, one can even save birds that are caught and wounded by cats.

If you are not a bird lover per se, now is the perfect time to start a new hobby. You will need a printed or online field guide to birds, a good pair of binoculars, a digital camera with a zoom lens, a mobile phone or separate digital voice recorder to record bird song and a notebook.

 In Sri Lanka, look out for these popular migratory birds - Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Barn Swallow, Indian Pitta, Indian Paradise Fly-catcher and Common Redshank. Plus, there are plenty of endemic birds which you can feast your eyes on. You will enjoy flying success with this hobby and passion.