Winter sanctuary in Nepal proves a killing field for yellow-breasted buntings

Winter sanctuary in Nepal proves a killing field for yellow-breasted buntings

KATHMANDU — Ornithologist Hem Bahadur Katwal, who studies farmland birds, says he’s excited about an upcoming trip to visit Nepal’s plains when the monsoon rains end in September.

This is the time when the cold starts creeping in over the lands farther north — Russia, Mongolia, China — and thousands of migratory birds flock to warmer Nepal. Although he says the sight of these visiting birds elates him, Katwal adds he feels sad deep down as many of the birds may never get to return to their homes.

“Every time we go to the field in winter, we encounter eateries selling ‘delicacies’ made of meat from farm birds,” he says. “They are sold as bagedi meat” — or yellow-breasted bunting (Emberiza aureola). The menus on display are particularly disheartening, says Katwal, who has closely observed both international and national efforts to save this species that’s on the verge of extinction.

Once common across the Northern Hemisphere, the yellow-breasted bunting is now a rare sight in its range countries as well as on its migratory routes, including in Nepal. Until 2004, the bird was listed as a species of least concern on the IUCN Red List. Just eight years later, however, its conservation status worsened, to endangered, and today it’s considered critically endangered.

Various studies show that both their population and range are declining fast. According to BirdLife International, the species’ population is estimated to have declined by 84.3-94.7% between 1980 and 2013. BirdLife says it believes that although the decline may have been slow initially, it could have accelerated in the last few years.

Lead Image: A yellow-breasted bunting seen in a farm in Nepal. Image by Mannshanta Ghimire/Wikimedia. CC by 4.0.

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