Little cormorants return to their rocky perch at Jayanti Sarovar in Jamshedpur. Telegraph picture
Little cormorant — the agile hunter from the high seas — has returned to Jamshedpur’s Jayanti Sarovar after a gap of nearly three years, courtesy cleanliness campaigns that have helped raise the water level of the landmark lake.
Microcarbo niger or little cormorant is a close cousin of the Indian cormorant (Phalacrocorax fuscicollis), albeit slightly smaller and lacks its big brother’s peaked head. But, these little winged creatures are smart foragers. They hunt singly or in loose groups and have been spotted by keen birders around the Sarovar for the last one week.
K.K. Sharma, a member of the Ornithological Society of India (Bihar-Jharkhand) said there was a time when the seabirds were regular visitors at the lake.
“They hunt in lowland freshwater bodies, including small ponds, large lakes, streams and sometimes coastal estuaries. Hence, the Sarovar was a big draw until depletion of water level started three years ago,” Sharma said, adding that he was pleasantly surprised to find a little cormorant perched on a waterside rock a few days ago.
Morning-walkers at Jubilee Park, which houses the lake, have witnessed more than 10 little cormorants. “Their brown plumage and often whitish throat patch make them very distinct from their Indian cousin,” the bird expert pointed out.
Sharma said the birds were widely distributed across the Indian subcontinent. “Earlier, they were seen around Jayanti Sarovar in numbers more than 30 and round the year. They are like natural indicators of the depth of lake water,” he said.
According to ornithologists, the little cormorant dives underwater to hunt fish. They require a minimum water depth of four feet to prey on fish and snails.
The birds cannot survive on shallow waters owing to two reasons. First, the escape of their prey (fish) is easy because when the water level is low, mud offers perfect cover. Second, turbid water, with presence of suspended solid particles, disturbs hunting because it is not very transparent.
“Earlier, even during monsoon when the water level rose, these birds did not frequent Jayanti Sarovar because of dense growth of aquatic plants. Now, things are better,” said Sharma, who also heads the zoology department at Jamshedpur Co-operative College.
Incidentally, Tata Steel subsidiary Jusco had undertaken a major cleanliness drive this year after the death of nearly 200 fish on May 5. The campaign against floating algae, weeds, water hyacinth and other aquatic plants ended in June after which the level of dissolved oxygen rose, giving fish a new lease of life. Desilting and dredging was done at the inlet and the water level shot up following heavy rain.
And, where there is fish, there are winged hunters too.
Birders said the little cormorants, which had so long moved to nearby wetlands like Subernarekha, Hudco Lake (Telco) and the artificial reservoir inside Tata Steel, were flocking the Sarovar again.
“It is a pleasure to see these seabirds dive into lake water and come flying out with fish. We hope to catch them in action round the year,” said Divesh Makhani, a Sonari resident and bird-watcher who frequents Jayanti Sarovar.