Nature Quest: First flamingo in Bangladesh
A hunting party found a flock of five large birds feeding at the braided Jamuna river towards the end of December last year. For years the hunters have been shooting down migratory ducks just for pleasure.
Never before did they see such a huge bird with a strange bill. They shot at the flock and one bird fell on the ground. They collected the carcass and took their photos with it. One of them held the dead bird's bill up above his head while its feet touched the ground. They considered that extraordinary trophy a new feather in their foolscap.
Since the hunters did not have the wherewithal to identify their strange trophy, they privately sent the photo to someone they knew could identify the bird. That's how the people who study birds came to know about the first appearance of flamingos in Bangladesh. No flamingo had ever been sighted in the country before.
A rare sighting like that called for a celebration in the bird-watchers' group, but with the image of a dead flamingo in hand nobody was excited. The question they asked was how many flamingos had survived the gunshots of other marauders in our wetlands!
Then when spring came, a bird-watcher photographed a flamingo in Moheshkhali island of Cox's Bazar. We saw the lovely image of a flamingo feeding on the muddy bank of Kohelia Channel in Matarbari, once known as a noteworthy bird-habitat.
Maybe, this single bird is the lone survivor of the flock seen in Jamuna or the one who travelled alone for the first time in Bangladesh. Perhaps, it is a young bird that in autumn left Chilika Lake, the breeding ground of Greater Flamingo in Odisha, and has been exploring new feeding ground here. We know that the newly fledged chicks of many species of birds disperse far and wide seeking new foraging territories.
Although the Greater Flamingo has been living in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Odisha, it had never been seen in Bangladesh. In 1967, Prof Harun-er Rashid speculated the occurrence of Greater Flamingo in East Pakistan, and following his lead the Ripley Guide in 1982 named Bangladesh as a country where that species could occur. The speculations finally came true in December last year, albeit in an unfortunate circumstance.
Flamingo is a very strange bird in many ways. It stands five feet tall but weighs only three kilograms on average. Like pigeons, it feeds crop-milk to its chicks. Its white feathers turn pink to crimson-red when it feeds on the right algae and plankton. It has a long life of up to 30 years. It lives in large flocks, and may die young in zoo if not kept in a flock of 20 or more. There are only six species of flamingos in the world with a single species -- Greater Flamingo -- in the two continents of Asia and Europe. Besides, Africa has a second species of flamingo. The Americas have four species, but Australia has none.
The hunters did not know that the bird they killed was of high status, as it is rarely seen. To them our advice is: if you don't know a bird, don't shoot it. Take its photos, which may make you famous. Killing birds is outlawed in Bangladesh and may also land you in jail sooner or later.