“Turning over the pages of History, Looking down for a mystery, Compelled! Scientists moved in herds, For it’s a call from the Jatinga Birds..”
India- the land is a home to a population of 135.26 crores of people and this large population follows several hundreds of faiths and beliefs. This majestic land has a glorious past and a worth remembering present, but amidst all these, in the pages of her history there lies engraved some deep and strange mysteries which over the time being, has attracted the researchers from all over the world. Some mysteries are solved and some yet to be solved, but each one of them has bewildered the scientists in a unique way.
Mystery, the world itself arouses curiosity among the local people and researchers. Every mystery in every nook and corner of the world has some dark secrets and superstitious beliefs hidden within them which need to be found and solved. Similarly, one such phenomenon is discovered in Jatinga, Assam, which has compelled many ornithologists and wildlife researchers to ponder over this mystery.
Jatinga, a small village in Assam, usually remote, but comes alive to the fact that this small piece of land has proved to be the “Bermuda Triangle of Fowl Deaths.” A village, inhabited by only a small population of 2500 people has seen the bizarre phenomenon of thousands of birds, of all colors and breeds flying to their deaths every year. This remains unexplained in spite of the researches and experiments undertaken by many renowned ornithologists of the world.
“Bird Mystery of Jatinga”, as the phenomenon is commonly known as, is used to refer to the puzzling mystery of the death of birds without any reason in particular. The residents of Jatinga, live in obscurity, tending their crops or raising poultry for the whole year, except for the two crucial months, when this curious happening takes place. In the months of August and September, every year, hundreds of birds come to Jatinga, drawn to the place like moths to a flame and end their lives.
By 1910, people of Jatinga discovered that every year in between the months of August and October, generally after the monsoon season, and only on the dark, moonless nights, around thirty-forty species of birds suddenly become disturbed and disoriented between the hours of 6:00-9:30 pm in the evening and converge, plunge towards the lights and torches of the area and flutter down to their deaths. The birds fly and crash themselves into the buildings and trees for apparently no reasons. Those birds which are not killed in this way, hover low above the village, until they are brought down by the villagers and those which are saved, refuse to eat or drink, ultimately succumbing to their deaths. This mass bird suicide is a mystery lingering over the minds of ornithologists all across the world, one reason being that, birds do not have suicidal tendencies, other reason being, it makes Jatinga a creepy destination to visit.
In many parts of the world, people light lamps to trap the migratory birds but here in Jatinga, it is all total a different thing as there are no migratory birds, rather, the birds attracted to deaths are mostly diurnal and live within ten to fifteen kilometers range of the village. Studies have established that this crazy force driving the birds to their exists only here in Jatinga, as the efforts of the people, lighting lamps on poles in order to attract these birds, only two kilometers away from this place has proved to be futile as no birds flew through in that way. Studies also suggest that a combination of high altitude, fog and winds disorient the birds and hence they are attracted towards the spherical, bright lights as a source of flight stabilization. There are also facts which suggest that the birds are disoriented because of some magnetic disturbances existing under the Earth along that ridge.
The superstitious Naga inhabitants of Jatinga earlier believed these flying birds to be evil spirits who had come to scare them and they used bamboo sticks and poles attempting to kill them. The Nagas fled the place, being scared of these flying spirits. Jatinga, was again inhabited by the people after a few years though the phenomenon had continued every year. Later on, as sixty five year old, Joseph Suchiang, recalls, they started Annual Bird Catching Carnival in those months, and all the villagers would have plenty to eat during that time. The villagers set up huge lights to attract the birds and they would knock them down to the ground.
Many ornithologists from all over the world, being fascinated by this mystery have come to this place to find clues and have noted down their findings. First, in 1957, British ornithologist E.P. Gee, in his book, “The Wildlife of India”, wrote that this whole thing is extraordinary and is only confined to this spot. Then explaining the conditions, he wrote that September is the best month. It must be foggy, cloudy, with a slight rain. Then the winds must be from south to north and nights should be really dark, otherwise the birds won’t come. He stated that as many as two hundred birds can be killed by a single man during one night.
Later on, in 1977, Dr. Sudhin Sengupta, an expert on bird behavior from the Zoological Survey of India, lived in Jatinga between August and October. He, from his experience wrote that hundreds of birds just dropped from the sky and some of the birds even flew into his room as the lights were on. He further stated that the birds were all in a dazed condition and they rarely tried to escape. According to him, the Earth’s magnetism, pull of gravity and electrical disturbances over the valley region are responsible for this phenomenon. Sengupta could not u ravel the mystery but returned to Jatinga almost every year, meticulously collecting data and conducting experiments.
India’s best known ornithologist, Dr. Salim Ali, wrote that the most puzzling thing about this is that the non-migratory birds should be fast asleep at that time. He even discovered that the moment the birds arrive over Jatinga, they become completely disoriented and confused, that is, the behavior of the affected birds completely changes. The birds also tend to lose their flocking instinct over this area.
The forest department, with the help of the local divisional forest officer H.P. Phukan erected a high steel tower for bird watching, fitted with powerful electric lights, before a span of two years, to attract the birds, but no success, as the majority of the birds still dropped in the main village. It has been further established that the birds are not attracted to the entire village of Jatinga, but only to a strip of about 1.5 km long and 200 meters wide. Then, it has also been discovered that birds always fly from the north, that is, they fly against the wind. After such experiments being conducted by Phukan and Sengupta, the mystery has only deepened as the additional facts discovered have put forward even more confusing riddles yet to be solved. The forest department also maintained a record that thirty eight species of birds have been listed in the village’s catch including partridges, green pigeons, bitterns, doves and types of kingfishers, although there are certain species which are able to resist the fatal call. There are several poems written down by many renowned poets describing this happening and also urging people to save and protect these birds of Jatinga, Assam. Records show that the number of birds’ deaths have reduced but that is due to the disturbance in the ecological balance of nature.
From the point of view of the mystery, only a few pieces of the jigsaw puzzle have been found till today. It will require the support and studies by scientists belonging to several disciplines, like, ornithologists, geologists and geophysicists to come together, join the remaining pieces and solve this baffling puzzle. The Indian Government along with the wildlife experts should set up units in particular to look into the mystery. Until and unless the research scholars, tge scientists and most importantly the Government come together in this search, the “Jatinga Bird Mystery” will continue to be one of the most bewildering and great mystery of the time.
By ARMANA MITRA, CUTTACK, Odisha