Why Are More Peacocks Being Sighted In Kerala?
Why are Keralites seeing more peacocks and peahens in the state and what does it mean?
The sighting of peafowl (male peafowl is peacock and female peafowl is peahen) is a sign of climate change, because the peafowl is a dry land bird and Kerala is a wet state.
“Sighting more peafowl in Kerala is a serious issue. It indicates that our wet state is turning into a dry state, which is the natural habitat for peafowl,” PO Nameer, Professor of Wildlife at the College of Forestry in Kerala Agricultural University, told The Lede.
A recent study conducted by PO Nameer and his colleague Sanjo Jose reveals that at present, peafowl populations are on the rise.
The study reveals that under current climatic conditions, only around 19% of the state’s area – in the districts of Thrissur, Palakkad, and Malappuram in central Kerala, and Kasargod in north Kerala – are suitable habitats for the peacock.
However, with future climate change, the species could increase their range in Kerala by as much as 41-55% by the 2050s, the study adds.
“Midlands and lowlands, except in Alappuzha, Ernakulam, Kottayam, and Kozhikode districts are where this range expansion is likely to occur,” Nameer said.
“What does this mean? It means that by 2050 Kerala would be a hotter place,” Nameer said, adding that prevailing pre and post-monsoon precipitation patterns associated with the general trend of increasing temperatures is contributing to the peafowl population explosion.
Climate is considered to be a critical factor determining the geographic range of bird species. And birds are well-known indicators of climate change as they are very sensitive to vagaries of climate and known to be the best class of organisms in climate research.
The climate of Kerala is highly influenced by the presence of the Western Ghats, which is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, as it supplies a significant amount of moisture to Peninsular India.
Nowadays, Kerala is prone to seasonal drought conditions and heat stress during the summer months. There have been numerous studies suggesting a decline in annual rainfall in the southern regions of Kerala, whereas the northern regions do not appear to exhibit similar trends.
An increase of around 1.5 °C in the mean surface temperature during the monsoon season is predicted in the Kerala region for the decade 2040–2049 in comparison with the 1980s temperatures.
As per the climate projections for the 2050s based on the PRECIS regional climate model, the northern parts of Kerala would receive low precipitation whereas an increase would occur in the southern parts.
The decrease in rainfall during the southwest monsoon resulted in short term meteorological droughts in Kerala which enhances the Indian peafowl habitat.
In Palakkad, the annual rainfall received is comparatively lower than for entire Kerala and can be considered as the hotspot of Kerala from where the aridity spreads, as most of the regions of Kerala experience a significant (99%) decreasing trend in rainfall.
The lowlands of Alappuzha, Ernakulam, Kottayam, and Kozhikode districts showed ‘no occupancy’ due to the increase in post-monsoon rainfall.
The foothills and highlands of Wayanad, Malappuram, Palakkad, Thrissur, and Idukki districts also showed suitable habitat in the current climatic conditions assisted by the increasing diurnal range in temperature.
Studies show that the mean maximum temperature, minimum temperature, and average temperature in several places had increased substantially.
Nameer says that however, this increase was not the sole reason for the range expansion since some regions showed ‘no occupancy’ for peacocks due to the increasing winter and summer rainfall.
“Thus, it is confirmed that the main factor characterising the distribution of peafowl was the changes in precipitation (post and pre-monsoon season) together with an increase in temperature. These led to the climatic shift in Kerala from wetness to dryness within the humid climate,” Nameer said.
In 1933, India’s “birdman” Salim Ali conducted an ornithological survey in the erstwhile Cochin and Travancore provinces, which are now part of central and southern Kerala.
He spotted no peacocks in any of the 19 sites he surveyed.
75 years after that survey, a team of birdwatchers followed in his footsteps.
They went to the same locations to re-assess bird numbers and presence. Astonishingly, they spotted peacocks in 10 of the 19 locations.
Peafowl were found in arid habitats, mainly widespread across Central and Northern parts of Kerala.
These regions are classified as hot and dry climate compared to other regions. This indicates that similar habitat currently present in central and northern Kerala may be more prominent in other parts of Kerala in the future.
Interestingly, over the last few years, peacocks have been documented to have caused damages to large extents of the paddy crop in Kerala.
A study predicts that this can result in an escalation of this conflict with their range being predicted to expand in the next 30-40 years.
It also adds that on an average, peafowl were damaging paddy worth Rs 16,615.45 per hectare.
Sighting peacocks, though a colourful experience, is not a good sign for the state.