Habitat for birds
nearly gone in RP
Manila Times, Philippine Star, Business World - Feb 13, 2009
CANDABA, Pampanga: Black-crowned night herons
take off to roost at sunrise as the day shift arrives for
a feeding frenzy at the Candaba marsh in the Philippines.
Thirty years ago the marshes covered some 32,000 hectares,
but thanks to the spread of agriculture and urbanization,
just 72 hectares remain. Today, ornithologists count some
12,000 birds a day- a fraction of the number three decades
"In the 1980s they would routinely count
100,000 wild Philippine ducks and mainland Asian garganays
[wild ducks] in one day, just for the two species," said
Michael Lu, president of Wild Bird Club of the Philippines.
Among the 50 or so wetland areas in the Philippines,
the Candaba swamps - covered in reeds and water hyacinths
and bisected by high earthen levees - are a key staging ground
for birds ranging from huge purple herons to tiny Arctic warblers
that return to continental Asia in the spring.
They had flown several thousand kilometers
south months earlier, just before the winter.
But as the swamp has shrunk so too of course
has the supply of fish, snails, insects and other food. What
remains is hemmed in by rice paddies and communities that
raise hogs and domesticated ducks.
Last bird habitat
The honking transients jostle each other
on a huge fishpond owned by Mayor Jerry Pelayo of Candaba,
who has earned his environmental spurs by setting aside half
the property for the seasonal visitors.
"This is the only place that remains
as habitat for the birds," said Carmela Espanola, a wildlife
biologist for the University of the Philippines. "A lot
of the wetlands are under threat because people keep reclaiming
them," Lu said. Since the area is all titled property,
if owners drain the swamp the habitat would disappear and
there is nothing the government could do, Lu said.
The Philippines situation is also unique
in that a lot of people still hunt wild birds, Lu said.
Candaba farmhand August Sombillo used to
belong to these ranks. The 38-year-old father of six told
Agence France-Presse he used to hunt snipes that strayed into
the six hectares of rice paddies he tends nearby. The great
winter migration coincides with the only time of the year
that the marsh water ebbs low enough to allow rice planting.
The meat of the pointy-beaked wading birds
was a key-protein source for his family who subsist on his
annual share of the grain produce that adds up to less than
100 bags of unmilled rice.
But the mayor has banned the trapping of
birds, unilaterally declaring the marsh a protected area and
asking restaurants in surrounding towns to stop serving wildlife
Pelayo said he has also asked hog farmers
upstream not to dispose of pig waste in streams that empty
into the swamp.
Numbers in decline
The Environment department, which conducts
an annual census here, said there had been some good news
with the endangered black-faced spoonbill and the rarely seen
pied avocet returning this year after a three-year absence.
However the main trend is toward a decline.
"The big ones like the spot-billed pelican used to come
here in Candaba," Espanola told Agence France-Presse.
"There used to be cranes and woolly-necked storks, but
they have been extirpated in the Philippines."
The decline mirrors the status of birds endemic
to the country -of the 593 birds found in the Philippines,
181 are indigenous. Of these, 25 are considered endangered,
half of them critically. --AFP