The Mystery of Bird Suicide in Jatinga, India

by Sankalan Baidya
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In northeastern Indian state of Assam is a world-renowned small village named Jatinga. This small village is a perfect solace for those who want to be in the midst of calming and mesmerizing natural beauty.

It is all serene and peaceful out there. Lush green landscapes guarded by high mountain ranges is a treat for city eyes.

However, it is not really the beauty of the village that has pushed it to the top of fame ladder. It is the mysterious Bird Suicide phenomenon that has managed to grab attraction of people worldwide.

The locals have termed the phenomenon as ‘avian harakiri’ and the world recognizes it as mass bird suicide. However, birds don’t really commit suicide, do they? This is exactly what has puzzled experts for years.

What really happens?

In a mysterious phenomenon, every year during the late monsoon months of September to November, hundreds and thousands of birds fly right into the village and crash straight into trees and buildings.

Some die because of the shock from the direct hit. Others are so badly injured that they become easy victims to villagers who capture these birds and feast on them.

This happens every night between 7 PM and 10 PM between those months.

The history of Bird Suicide

In late 19th century and early 20th century, the place or the village in question was actually occupied by an indigenous tribe known as Zeme Nagas.

They were the first people to observe the unusual phenomenon. They had no idea of what happened but they were scared to their bones.

The entire tribe decided to leave the place. They sold their lands to Jaintias and left in 1905. The Jaintias settled down and they too observed the phenomenon. However, they were not afraid and considered it as God’s gift.

Scientific studies and facts about Bird Suicide

There was absolutely no doubt that this mysterious phenomenon would attract scientific attention and that happened. A number of studies were conducted by many renowned orthinologists. Here is what was revealed by those studies:

Jatinga remains shrouded by monsoon fog which disorients the birds.

The village lights attract them and they fly straight towards those lights.

It is during their descent that they hit trees and walls causing death for some and serious injuries for others.

Disheveled, dazed and tired birds become easy prey and are brought down by the villagers using bamboo sticks and catapults.

Some uncanny findings

While the aforementioned facts make quite a lot of sense, there are other facts too that are pretty uncanny. Here is what the studies found:

bird suicide

Birds land only in a specific strip of the village. The strip is only 200 meters wide and 1.5 kilometers long.

Birds fly in only and only from the north.

If lights are placed on the southern side of the village, the birds are not attracted to the lights.

Birds are all local birds. They are not long-distance migratory birds.

There are 44 different bird species that meet this unfortunate fate. They include some exotic species like Pond Herons, Tiger Bitterns and Black Bitterns.

These birds come from hill slopes and valleys of the nearby areas.

A few more findings from Bird Suicide studies

It was found that during the monsoon months, the nearby valleys get flooded and these birds lose their natural habitat. Thus, they fly out to a different place in search of temporary shelters. It is just that Jatinga happens to be sitting on the path they take for short-distance migration.

The puzzle that cannot be solved

There is absolutely no denying of the fact that the scientific studies revealed quite a number of interesting facts but they weren’t really complete. Experts failed to put together the entire puzzle and solve it once and for all. What’s really baffling about the Bird Suicide phenomenon? Here is what scientists cannot really answer:

Scientists are yet to understand why the birds fly through the exact same route year after year only to meet their gruesome fate.

The birds in question are all diurnal. This means that they fly only during the day. So the question is, “why do these birds fly during the night when they are supposed to be fast asleep?” This is the concern that was put forward by late Salim Ali – one of the most popular orthinologists of India.

No matter what causes these diurnal birds to fly during the night, the villagers at Jatinga seem to be least concerned. They are rather happy that every year, they get to feast on exotic delicacy for free which would have otherwise cost them a fortune!

Sources: 1, 2, 3

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