Located in the Southern Province – Hambantota disctrict, Bundala National Park is an important breeding ground for international migratory birds that are escaping the winters. Around November – April every year, the park sees an uprising in the overseas bird community. Sri Lanka is the preferred destination of choice for a variety of migrating birds – and these birds usually pick the same stop over site every year. Hence this is the peak season for bird lovers to explore the different species of birds at the park.
Bird lovers would understand how fascinating it is to observe bird migration. Every year, as the visiting season approaches, these overseas birds are attracted to Sri Lanka because of the geographical position of the island – lying just below the tip of the subcontinent of India. Sri Lanka seems to be the final destination of the birds’ long journey – escaping their northern homes in cold climates.
In April 2005, Sri Lanka launched the National Bird Ringing Program – a scientific study of bird migration patterns, at the Bundala National Park. 15kms east of Hambantota are the wetlands at Bundala – a paradise for migrant birds, and this is the base for the ringing program. Bird ringing is a delicate operation and usually takes place at dusk. Nets with small eye size holes – known as mist nets – are looped around the Bundala lagoon as a trap for birds. When birds get entangled to these nets, they are taken to the camp for recording of statistics. Every time a bird is brought to the camp, an individually numbered ring is attached to its legs which makes it easier to study their migration patterns.
Four times a year this ringing exercise takes place – three during the migration season and one in July. The three operations that are conducted during the migration period take place as follows:
The National Bird Ringing team observed that birds start arriving around mid August in Sri Lanka, which is much ahead of the winter in their native lands. They spend approximately six month in the island and return to their original breeding grounds towards the latter part of April the following year. From 492 bird species recorded in Sri Lanka, about 36% of these (169 species) are migrants. The bulk of migrating birds are from the waders, ducks, and coastal bird families.
If you are a careful observer of birds and wildlife, you will be interested to know that it’s not just at Bundala National Park where you can see these beautiful species during your Sri Lanka round tour. Some common migrant birds visit home gardens, hotels, and populated urban areas such as Colombo city. So don’t be surprised if you look outside your hotel room and come across an Indian Pitta, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Brown Flycatcher, Barn Swallow or the Forest Wagtail!
In fact the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka – an affiliate of BirdLife International encourages bird lovers to observe and study migratory birds (MigrantWATCH). Some of them arrive in Sri Lanka in an exhausted state after their long journey. We, as humans and bird lovers should protect such birds if we see them in our gardens. If you think a bird is injured or troubled and needs expert help, do report to relevant authorities of the MigrantWATCH program.