Taj Mahal: Through The Eyes of Ornithologist
Virat Jolli: Taj Mahal a wonder on earth is India’s finest monument. Considering its historical, cultural and unique architectural design, UNESCO has enlisted it as a World Heritage Site in 1983. It was built by 5th Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in the year 1632 A.D in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. This monument is built on the banks of River Yamuna. The monument is a marbled mausoleum and has well managed gardens planted with variety of fruit bearing and medicinal trees. Taj Mahal is known for its unique Mughal architecture but current article aims to highlight much less talked about natural aspect i.e. birdlife.
The Yamuna River, a majour tributary of River Ganga originates from Himalayas descend down at Poanta Sahib, Himachal Pradesh and enters plains of Northern India. This is one of the most important River of India as 70% of water requirement of Delhi NCT is fulfilled by it. River Yamuna falls within the flyway zone of birds that migrate from Eastern Europe, North and Central Asia. These birds use the river as stop over and as wintering site. Apart from this many resident birds also depend on the River. The proximity of Taj Mahal to Yamuna makes it an ideal site for bird watching. I along with my friend visited Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Itmad-ud-daula (Baby) in the month of March. During our visit we documented some charismatic avian fauna which are mentioned below.
At the back of main mausoleum of the Taj Mahal, one can see the majestic Yamuna, on its bank, four to five elegant Brahminy Shelducks (Tadorna ferruginea) were flawlessly floating. It is orange brown duck and is a winter visitor, migrate from Ladakh (Trans Himalayas), Nepal and Tibet. It feeds on vegetation, molluscs, crustaceans, aquatic insects, fish and reptiles. These ducks were accompanied by flock of high flying Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus), known for their ability to surpass Himalayas during winter. They were 20 in numbers. These geese somewhat resemble the Taj Mahal in their looks. They feed on winter crops. They migrate from Ladakh and Tibet. Another gorgeous duck named Comb Duck (Sarkidiornis melanotos) were seen together with Geese. Few of its individuals were resting and some floating with other ducks and geese. It’s a resident duck of India. It feeds on grain and shoots and sometime aquatic macrofauna. On the same side, around 13 individuals of Painted Storks (Mycteria leucocephala) a resident migrant, were basking in the Sun. It may be noted that these storks feed on fishes and reptiles and played an important role in ecology of fresh water ecosystem. However, its population is declining. These birds were joined by a wader Red-wattled Lapwing (Vanellus indicus) a ground bird. In between the river, on a small mound had a solitary Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) waiting patiently to prey upon frog, crustacean, fish or reptile. It’s a resident migrant bird. From the Taj, on can see many Black Kites (Milvus migrans) hovering over Yamuna. The garden of Taj has variety of birds like Eurasian-collared Doves, Jungle Babblers and Red vented Bulbuls. Birds like Blue Rock Pigeons, Common Mynas and Rose ringed Parakeets were present in abundance.
Agra Fort: This fort is few miles away from the Taj Mahal. It is also
enlisted in UNESCO World Heritage Site. This fort was the residence of Mughal
dynasty till 1638. We visited this fort at 04:00 pm. At the Agra Fort, a small
passerine Indian Chat (Cercomela fusca)
welcomed us at the gate with its sharp repeated calls. On moving further, we
saw flock of Rock Pigeons (Columba livia)
and an Oriental Magpie Robin (Copsychus
saularis) jumping from one branch to another. Birds like Common Mynas (Acridotheres tristis), Eurasian collared
Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) and
Black Kites were also spotted.
|Blue Rock Pigeons at Agra Fort|
On the second day of our tour at Agra, we visited Itimad-ud-Daulah
popularly known as the Baby Taj. It is believed that Shah Jahan took
inspiration from it and built Taj. This monument was built by Nur Jahan for
her father in 1628. The monument has some common resident birds such as Rock
Pigeons, Eurasian collared Doves, Rose ringed Parakeets (Psittacula krameri), and Red vented Bulbuls (Pycnonotus cafer) owing to presence of fruit bearing trees in the
garden. On the back of this monument river Yamuna flows. From there, we
recorded waders which are winter visitor, Ruff (Philomachus pugnax), they were around 109 in number. They breed in
temperate Europe and North Asia. They are gregarious and feed on weed seeds. They
were in their breeding plumage. Some Common Sandpipers (Actitis hypoleucos) were also probing along with Ruff in search in
insects, molluscs and worms. They were among the earliest winter visitor migrating
from Western Himalayas. Close to these waders another common resident bird of
India named Black winged Stilts (Himantopus
himantopus) flock was probing worms and insects in the river. A solitary
Grey Heron was also spotted. Around three Black Kites were recorded along with
a Juvenile of Egyptian Vulture (Neophron
|Juvenile of Egyptian Vulture and Black Kite |
|Local boys taking bath in polluted Yamuna River|
|Livestock and Human Pressure on Yamuna River|
The presence of variety of migratory and resident birds in the Yamuna suggests the importance of this river from conservation point of view. The stretches of Yamuna along the heritage sites need immediate attention from concerned Government authorities, e.g. optimum water should be maintain in river, treatment of sewage and industrial waste water before discharging in Yamuna, and restoration of wetland along Yamuna banks likely to bring back the lost natural heritage.