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Mass suicide of winged visitors in Jatinga

Jan 12, 2018

Mass suicide of winged visitors in Jatinga
Mass suicide of winged visitors in Jatinga | Credit : Thenortheasttoday.com

There are a number of phenomenon around us that are mysterious and strange. In spite of technology and science many of them remain unexplained. One such occurrence is reported from Jatinga, a remote village in Assam, where during the last leg of monsoons, between 6 pm and 9:30 pm, a large number of birds appear in the sky. They fly in a confused manner and strike lamp posts, flood lights and buildings and hit the ground. It is not just the migratory birds but local species of birds like Kingfishers, Pond Heron, Black Bittern, Tiger Bittern also exhibit this behaviour.

It had even baffled famous ornithologist Salim Ali and it was famous naturalist of India, Edward Pritchard Gee, who put the spotlight on the Jatinga phenomenon.

The phenomenon was first noticed by Zeme Nagas, the original inhabitants of the region, in 1905. Frightened by what they saw, the tribals sold their land to Jaintias. The new inhabitants saw the eerie phenomenon, as God's gift. After various studies Ornithologists and Conservationists found that the birds in mass numbers came from their roost when certain conditions in nature came together. In his book 'The Birds of Assam', Anwaruddin Choudhury describes that birds, mostly juveniles and local migrants, are disturbed by high velocity winds at their roost. When the disturbed birds fly towards lights as refuge they are hit with bamboo poles and killed or injured. Another theory in circulation tells us that the unusual weather conditions in Jatinga create some kind of a change in the underwater magnetic qualities, causing the birds to leave their nest in the middle of the night.

Scientists also are of the view that though the birds flew in large numbers due to unknown reasons they died because the villagers kill them for their meat. The phenomenon became so popular that district authorities created a festival around the bird suicide, called the Jatinga Festival. The first edition was held in 2010.

However, recent study points out that in last few years the bird deaths have considerably come down. The arrival of birds are scarce and conservationists are also trying to educate the illiterate villagers of Jatinga about the need to protect the birds instead of killing them, discouraging them to kill the birds or setting up lighting to attract them.