Migratory Birds and Loktak Lake

Loktak Lake is not just a source of livelihood, but a goddess to the people of Manipur and a mother to the fishing community. It is the cradle of Manipuri civilisation and culture.

BySanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh

Updated 26 Feb 2024, 5:33 am


Migratory birds, including those from Siberia, have started flocking the Loktak Lake and its surrounding smaller lakes and marshy lands. Several migratory birds and a variety of waterfowl have arrived at Loktak Lake. The lake is also the breeding ground of a number of migratory birds. More than 30 rare migratory birds such as brahmani duck/ruddy duck, pochard, red-legged falcon, geese, snipe, shiri, etc. from Siberia, mainland Russia and the Himalayan range visit Loktak, the only fresh water lake in the Northeastern region particularly in the winter months of November, December and January.

But, environmentalists are concerned with the sharp reduction in the number of these birds in the last few years. They say that about only 20 types of aquatic birds visited the lake in the last few years. Over-hunting, gradual decrease of the habitat and the climatic changes are the reasons behind the sharp reduction.

Birds like ukong, gull, Kanga, red-legged falcon, which were seen in flocks 10 years ago, are no longer seen visiting the lake. Gulls numbering around 30 were last seen flocking at the Pumlen Pat a few years back. But this bird no longer visits the Pat, environmentalists have observed. Red-legged falcons coming from the lakes in Siberia which flocked at Loktak have now shifted their flocking places at the banks of Barak, Makru and Irang rivers.

This bird will remain till December and then shift to the lakes in south India, Sri Lanka, etc. Deforestation, urbanisation and use of insecticides, to meet the demands of an expanding population coupled by climate changes has threatened Manipur's rich biodiversity and rendered certain fish and bird species extinct. Ornithologists conducting a head count of migratory water birds at Manipur’s Loktak Lake, the largest freshwater lake in South Asia, have expressed disappointment over spotting fewer winged guests this time.

The census, organised by the Bombay Natural History Society and supported by Manipur's Environment and Climate Change Department and Loktak Development Authority, covered Loktak and the Keibul Lamjao National Park (KLNP) last week.KLNP, the largest floating park in the world and home to the rare and endangered brow-antlered deer, locally known as Sangai, served as the focal point of the head count.

According to the state coordinator of Indian Bird Conservation Network (IBCN), the census exercises were conducted at 50 spots across Loktak and Keibul Lamjao and each spot was manned by four ornithologists using telephoto cameras and binoculars. Students and researchers also supported the head count. Although the final census report is pending, however the team anticipates the total bird count to be less than 12,000, with a significant drop in species by around 10.


This decline is disheartening compared to previous figures, when over 20,000 birds of more than 20 species were spotted, and in some years, even over 30,000 birds were witnessed.However,it is noted that all the resident waterfowl species, such as lesser whistling ducks, coot, pheasant tail jacana, were still observed. The census included certain migratory bird species like coot, ferruginous pochard, gadwall, but Baer’s pochards from Mongolia, seen in previous years at Keibul Lamjao, were notably absent.

The team attributed the dwindling figures of migratory water birds at Loktak to factors such as construction of private fish farms along the lake shores disturbing shoreline birds, an increase in the number of fishermen, poaching, and the use of LED bulbs by fishermen at night.

Amid Manipur’s battle against protracted ethnic violence, the Loktak Development Authority (LDA) and the fishing community that is facing the impact of indiscriminate hunting of waterfowl and the illegal use of the electric shock method for fishing have been urging the public to emerge as responsible guardians of this invaluable natural resource. The lake is not just a source of livelihood, but a goddess to the people of Manipur and a mother to the fishing community. It is the cradle of Manipuri civilisation and culture.

Altogether 32,853 wild birds including different species were sighted during this year`s bird count.

Even though this year`s figure was lower than last and previous years, never-seen species of birds were sighted this year, but more than 34,000 birds were sighted last year. Out of around 60 species of wild birds sighted during the count, Whistling Teal locally known as Tingri was seen the most and altogether 14,000 Tingris were sighted. One area where the maximum number of wild birds flocked together was the northern side of the lake`s Ningthoukhong sector, the report said, pointing out that the number of birds seen this year was lower than previous year because of trapping and hunting of wild birds by some locals.

Moreover, common Shelduck (local name Thangong Arangba), Glossy (Ibis Kakshu), Grey Leg Geese (Kanga) and Mandarin Duck (Sana Nganu) were also seen after a gap of many years. Of the thousands of migratory birds that have landed this winter at Loktak Lake, in Manipur in northeast India, the rare sighting of a once-abundant songbird with distinctive bright yellow under parts holds a different meaning for birders.

With a push from conservationists and strong participation of local community, especially youth, the state government aims to ramp up the number of dwindling birds around the shrinking Loktak Lake by setting up this sanctuary in a one square kilometer wetland patch in Thinungei village to the west of Loktak Lake. Nestled in the northeastern state of Manipur, India, Loktak Lake is the largest floating freshwater lake in South Asia. Its most distinguishing characteristic is the Phumdis, or floating islands that dot the lake’s surface.


The Phumdis are caused by the lake’s unique geographical and geological features. During the rainy season, the lake covers about 286 square kilometers but reduces to about 40 square kilometers during the dry season. The phumdis, made up of flora, biological materials, and soil, float on the lake’s surface, making it a mosaic of green islands. The floating mass continually shifts and responds to changing seasons and weather conditions. Loktak Lake’s dynamic nature distinguishes it from other lakes and makes it an ecological wonder.

Loktak Lake is home to a variety of flora and fauna. The Phumdis are home to various plant species, including grasses, shrubs, and aquatic plants. The endangered sangai deer, commonly known as the dancing deer due to its elegant movements, is found in the Keibul Lamjao National Park, which spans a large chunk of the lake. The sangai is the state animal of Manipur and is found nowhere else on the planet. Fishing is an important activity in the Loktak Lake region, supporting many local populations.

The lake is filled with fish species, such as Indian major carp, essential to the local economy. Besides its ecological richness, Loktak Lake has enormous cultural value for Manipur’s indigenous inhabitants. It is not just a source of income for them but also a part of their cultural legacy. The lake has been a significant resource for fishing, agriculture, and transportation for generations.

The Phumdis are used for farming, and traditional cottages called “Phumshangs” are constructed on them. One of Loktak Lake’s most unique and physically stunning features is the traditional fishing technique called “Phumdi phishing.” Fishermen use cone-shaped nets to catch fish from their small, circular boats. This technique is not only a monument to the local communities’ inventiveness but also an important component of their cultural identity.

While Loktak Lake is undeniably a natural wonder that blends stunning beauty with ecological value and cultural significance, it suffers several environmental challenges. Pollution is a significant issue, primarily from agricultural runoff and home sewage. Introducing invasive aquatic organisms like water hyacinth endangers the lake’s fragile ecosystem. 

To address these issues, conservation activities have been launched. The Keibul Lamjao National Park, which encompasses a large chunk of the lake, has been declared a Ramsar Site and is internationally recognized for its importance as a wetland. Several organisations and government agencies collaborate to safeguard and preserve the lake’s distinct environment. It emphasises the importance of protecting these delicate ecosystems for future generations by demonstrating the interconnectedness of nature and human life. A visit to Loktak’s Floating Lake is not only an opportunity to observe nature’s wonder but also an opportunity to connect with a way of life that is truly unique and inspiring.

(The views expressed are personal)


First published:


loktak lakeKeibul Lamjao National Parkphumdisfresh water lakefloating lakeMigratory birds

Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh

Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh

Assistant Professor, JCRE Global College, Babupara, Imphal. The writer can be reached at sjugeshwor7@gmail.com


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