Beijing, July 3: Where have all the birds gone? The pretty flowers and trees are there aplenty in the Chinese capital and elsewhere in the country, but the birds are missing. Here, a swallow doesn’t necessarily make a summer.
Accustomed to seeing birds of all kinds in India, from cawing gatherings of crows, flocks of pigeons serenading one another on balconies and any possible place, parrots squawking to each other in the trees and many other bird species, the near-absence of our flying friends in China is a startling revelation.
In Beijing’s sanitized environment, with its endless rows of spectacular high-rises, neat gardens and boulevards, you very rarely get to spot the feathered species.
There are no familiar bird droppings on the balconies, no birds sitting on power cables – a familiar sight in India- and no flocks of pigeons pecking for grain on sidewalks, sharing space with pedestrians.
“During the early days of Communist China (in the 1950s), the Chinese leadership told the people to kill all birds as they ate the grain, and that reduced the bird population,” Ranjit Kumar, diplomatic editor of Navbharat Times, who has visited China several times and keenly follows developments there, told IANS.
Millions of birds died during those years, and the after-effects of that decision can be seen even today. A small flock of birds flying in the Beijing skyline is a rare sight, and once in a while, if you are watchful, you might get to see some sparrows in the gardens.
“In India, you get to see so many birds. You guys are lucky. In Beijing, we don’t have any birds,” said a senior official of the Chinese embassy in New Delhi, pointing to the large green lawns of the embassy in the Indian capital that had crows, pigeons, mynahs, sparrows, parrots, thrushes and many more bird species chirruping and squawking in happy unison.
That statement by the Chinese official had seemed too incongruous to believe, till one saw it first hand in Beijing.
In China people kill birds with slingshots for the meat. “They use the gulel (sling shot) and aim stones at birds to kill them for the meat,” said a China watcher, who did not want to be named.
China, which did not have much forest cover, launched an afforestation drive in earnest in the 1980s. This added to the green cover and the bird population started making an appearance.
The near-absence of birds was also noticeable during a journey by the IANS correspondent by the bullet train from Shanghai to Beijing – a distance of over 1,300 km.
The power cables were bare, and the skyline for miles did not show up any birds, except once in a while.
The gradual appearance of the bird population in China has made its presence felt in another way – bird hits.
The 24th Air Division of the PLA Air Force, situated on the outskirts of Beijing at Yangcun, has placed coloured flags and scarecrows in the air fields to scare away the birds.
“Yes, we are now facing the problem of birds,” a PLA Air Force official told a visiting group of Indian journalists.
At Beijing Airport too, finding out ways to avert bird hits is gathering focus. The China Daily last week devoted an entire page to the issue and elaborated on the devices used to shoo away the birds, including “bird-frightening devices such as automatic bird distress recorders, automatic gas exploders and raptor-like kites, to stop birds from coming close. There is also wire mesh, about six metres tall, to block birds from entering the runways.”
Hopefully, the bird population in China will thrive, like they do in India and elsewhere in the world.
(Ranjana Narayan can be contacted at email@example.com)