I am interested in a little mystery - the origin of the term "Jatinga bird mystery". It would be unpardonable if a scientist coined that term, for there is hardly any mystery in the entire matter nor is it specific to that location. It might of course have been a way of getting tourists or obtaining funds for misguided research.
The first time I heard the phrase was when still at school. One evening there was a documentary screening at the Indian Institute of Science Gymkhana and the question was asked by a student and posed to an old man named Salim Ali who had just woken up from a nap for the entire duration of the screening of a documentary (about Bharatpur - and remember that it was a time when TV penetration was low and Doordarshan was dull) and I do not remember hearing a cogent answer. One interpretation was that the birds were "committing suicide" in Jatinga (that was also a time when there were Disney films with Lemmings committing suicide and neither Snopes nor Dawkinism existed) ! Fortunately the government website today seems to be slightly more enlightened and points out that the locals kill the birds after confusing them with lights on foggy nights. There is still some mystery mongering, perhaps aimed at tourists, as a last word on their page though.
|Punch. January 11, 1879. p. 11|
All this came to mind, strangely enough, while browsing through some ancient digitized versions of Punch Magazine (thanks as always to the Internet Archive). It is quite a challenge to imagine the conditions of that time and identify the humour in those brilliant cartoons. Some of them can still be thought provoking, for instance - how does one evaluate the consequences of new technology. It is easy to dismiss cautions when the predictions such as those of the early Luddites and technophobes are hyped. So exactly how did lights affect birds? It seems like very little is known in the Indian context. The numerous lighthouses around the country must be trapping a range of birds during their migration and numerous birds must be dying there. Perhaps some qualified organization will find a way to communicate with the government bodies that control lighthouses and actually find out how many birds are disoriented or killed. Jones and Francis (2003) note deaths of up to 2000 birds in a night at a single lighthouse. There are a number of factors that contribute to increased mortality, including cloud cover, bad weather and phase of the moon. Apparently fewer mortalities occur towards the full moon. Birds are also attracted and killed at flares on offshore oil rigs. The use of green and blue coloured lights may reduce the number of bird mortalities. (More here )
|Luminous fungal colonies (via Earth3D 1.0.5)|
So make sure you switch off those lights early tonight. Good night.
- Merkel, Flemming R (2010) Light-induced bird strikes on vessels in Southwest Greenland. Technical Report 84. Pinngortitaleriffik, Greenland Institute of Natural Resources (search beams used by ships to locate icebergs disorienting and causing bird deaths)
- Jones, J. and Francis, C. M. 2003. The effects of light characteristics on avian mortality at lighthouses. J. Avian Biol. 34:328–333.
- Mark W. Miller (2006) Apparent Effects of Light Pollution on Singing Behavior of American Robins. The Condor 108(1):130-139 (American Robins sing during the night due to artificial lighting)
- Wiese, FK, Montevecchi WA, Davoren GK, Huettmann F, AW Diamond and J Linke (2001) Seabirds at risk around offshore oil platforms in the North-west Atlantic. Marine Pollution Bulletin 42(12):1285-1290
- Hanneke Poot, Bruno J. Ens, Han de Vries, Maurice A. H. Donners, Marcel R. Wernand, and Joop M. Marquenie (2008) Green Light for Nocturnally Migrating Birds. Ecology and Society 13(2):47.
- Travis Longcore and Catherine Rich (2004) Ecological light pollution. Frontiers in Ecology and Environment 2(4):191–198
- Hölker, F., T. Moss, B. Griefahn, W. Kloas, C. C. Voigt, D. Henckel, A. Hänel, P. M. Kappeler, S. Völker, A. Schwope, S. Franke, D. Uhrlandt, J. Fischer, R. Klenke, C. Wolter, and K. Tockner (2010) The dark side of light: a transdisciplinary research agenda for light pollution policy. Ecology and Society 15(4): 13.
- Laura K. Fonkena, Joanna L. Workman,James C. Walton, Zachary M. Weil, John S. Morris, Abraham Haim and Randy J. Nelson (2010) Light at night increases body mass by shifting the time of food intake. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci.107(43):18664-18669
- Peter Teikari (2007) Light Pollution: Definition, legislation, measurement, modeling and environmental effects. Universitat Politecnica De Catalunya
- P. Deda, I. Elbertzhagen, M. Klussmann (2007) Light pollution and the impacts on biodiversity, species and their habitats. Secretariat of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (UNEP-CMS)
- Squires, WA & HE Hanson (1918) The destruction of birds at the lighthouss on the coast of California. The Condor 20:6-10
- Fatal Lights Awareness Program - Toronto City clause, A silent cry for dark skies, FLAP,
- Labisky, Ronald F. (1959) Night-lighting: A technique for capturing birds and mammals. Biological Notes. 40. Natural History Survey Division, Illinois.
Since writing this, I have found some rather old references to the use of lights in trapping birds.
"In the south of Spain the practice of taking Larks and other little birds with bell and lantern supplies the markets with myriads of small fry. Mr Abel Chapman has referred me to his charming work, "Wild Spain", in which he says that the engines of the fowler are the "Cencerro" or cattle-bell and the dark lantern. "As most cattle carry the ' Cencerro' around their necks, the sound of the bells at close quarters by night causes no alarm to the ground birds. The bird-catcher, with his bright candle gleaming before its reflector and the cattle-bell jingling at his wrist, prowls nightly over the stubbles and wastes in search of the roosting birds. Any number of bewildered victims can thus be gathered, for Larks and such like birds fall into a helpless state of panic when once focussed in the bright rays of the lantern". There was a time in "Merrie England" when the right of catching Larks by such means was so highly valued as to be restricted in practice to the owners of land. The title of "Low-belling" was employed to distinguish this variety of fowling from other methods. (Macpherson HA (1897). A history of fowling. Edinburgh: David Douglas. p. 60)
Lanciatoia, an Italian hunting method
|Fowling at night from a book edited by A. Philippo Gallaeo with art by Jan Van der Straet [=Joannes Stradanus] (1596) Venationes Ferarum, Avium, Piscium. A copy of this treatise on hunting can be found on the wonderful French digital library.|
While reading a book on the origins of phrases, I discovered that the phrase "beating about the bush" comes from the old practice of bat-fowling. The trappers who went at night were accompanied by those with long sticks who beat about the bushes to put the birds to flight.