SPOTTED: The Sukhna Lake in Chandigarh, north India is a safe haven for several species of birds and the lake is now playing host to the River Tern (Sterna aurantia). A bird species rarely found in northern parts of the country, this is the first time that it has been spotted in the region.


The River Tern is a beautiful member of the terns family with a grayish white body and a black patch on the head making it appear as if the bird is wearing a black wig. The bright yellow beak and a swiftly moving tail adds to the attractiveness of the species. Sadly, River tern has been classified “Near Threatened” on the IUCN Red List. Its population is estimated to be about 50,000 globally. But human disturbance and dam construction process have begun to disturb the birds and affected their numbers.

At the lake, the bird was spotted at the entrance of the rowing canal, dipping its prominent yellow bill into the water for fish and cleverly making its way among the rowers.

Also known as Ganga Cheel, the river tern lives in freshwater lakes and rivers, and rarely in estuaries; feeds on fish, small crustaceans and insects. It breeds on sandy islands from February to May.

Kuldeep Kumar, deputy conservative of forest, said,

“River Tern feeds by plunge-diving for fish, tadpoles and aquatic insects in rivers, lakes and water tanks. This species breeds from March to May in colonies in less accessible areas such as sandbanks in rivers. Its numbers are decreasing is due to pollution of their habitat, Habitat destruction and the larger effects of climate change are among the most prominent factors responsible for its condition.”

He added, “Sukhna Lake is an ideal place for them and as it has forest cover and these birds feed by plunge-diving for fish that is easily available in Sukhna. The extinction of these birds was quiet rapid, so it is a good thing that they have been sighted in Sukhna.”

The Sukhna Lake, is an artificial lake constructed in 1958. It is an example of citizen participation with government initiative in water and soil conservation; which along with massive afforestation has resulted in the development of a very good forest in hilly catchment area, thereby providing an ideal habitat for a wide variety of fauna.

These birds are normally found occurs across a wide range in southern Asia, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and southern China and rarely in Iran and Afghanistan. They are also being sighted regularly in Southern India, probably due to the abundance of reservoirs. However, in Sukhna, they have been spotted for the first time and hopefully this is not the last time they are seen here.

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Image courtesy RedOrbit

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About Ramya Naresh

Ramya is a homemaker who likes to live in harmony with Nature, believing that each form of life is a wonder in itself. She values living in the present and looks forward to each day in all its freshness. She is a Senior Writer with India's Endangered.

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