When the grey hornbill returns home

The sighting of an Indian grey hornbill created a frenzy on a Lahore street on Monday. Wonder why? Once a native bird of Lahore, according to ornithologists, the population of the Indian grey hornbill has now gone down to an alarming level with only a few pair left in the city. So much so that the species is listed as “Near Threatened” in the country by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). 

Journalist Ali Raza wrote in The News daily, “Sitting on a big jamun tree on Canal Bank Road opposite GOR attracted a number of motorists who parked their bikes and cars along the road to sight the unusual and unexpected appearance of the bird. The grey bird, with dull white belly and a helmet like structure extending to its beak was sitting next to a hole in the treet trunk suggesting that it was his home.”

Independent bird surveys reveal that there are only 30 to 50 species left in Lahore. The number was 240 in 1965 and 101 in 1992. Experts attribute their dwindling population to lack of fruit trees in the city. The bird feed on small fruits like wild fig and berries.

Travel writer Salman Rashid in his blog Odysseylahori.blogspot writes that until the 1970s some 160 species of birds were listed in Lahore. “The conversion of suburban farm, forest and scrub land to housing estates led to large scale deforestation. Over the years it was observed that not just government agencies, but private developers as well as individual home owners are clearly repulsed by trees. Wherever indigenous forest was destroyed, the grid of new roads was bordered with water-guzzling eucalyptus... Alstonia, another alien to Punjab and now a favourite, is fastidiously shunned by all bird species.”

“With the diminishing green cover of Lahore, birdlife began to disappear. Red avadavats, munias, Tickell’s and Paradise flycatchers so common in Gulberg and Shadman were the first to go. Golden orioles, those elusive streaks of black and gold, flashing among the foliage on Davies Road and The Mall were restricted to Canal Bank south of the Punjab University. And this is to name only a few species that have permanently migrated away from Lahore.” Little wonder then, even a native evokes disbelief when it make a rare return home it has been driven out of so mindlessly.