The Mystery of Jatinga

Bird's suicide at Jatinga

Bird's suicide at JatingaIn one of my articles on the North East, I came across a comment by a reader about Jatinga, which is situated in my home state of Assam. Although, I was aware of the existence of this place, it was through the comment that I came to know that here migratory birds come to commit suicide. It’s very strange at times when you get to hear some extraordinary facts related to a place. This made me all the more curious about Jatinga.

Jatinga is a small village in Assam and is located 330 kilometres south of Guwahati. It has come to be known as the valley of death for birds. Indeed, strange are the ways of nature.

What Exactly is the Bird Mystery?

It is said that every year, during the months between September and November or the late monsoons, several indigenous as well as migratory birds flock to this village after sunset around 7 to 10 pm and kill themselves by crashing into trees, houses, buildings and search lights. There is a 1.5 km stretch of land in this village where this peculiar phenomenon takes place. Also the weather should be windy, foggy and misty. This is a unique phenomenon that is taking place every year and has caught the attention of the scientists around the world, as well as tourists.

The Birds

Not only the migratory but the local birds as well come to this village to die. There are some bird species which are considered to be “suicidal” in nature but not all of them. Some common species of birds that come during this season to take part in this unusual activity are Black Bitterns, Kingfishers, Tiger Bitterns, Pond Herons, among others.

What do the Villagers Think about this Phenomenon?

For many years, the local villagers thought that evil spirits present in the skies above were the ones who brought down these birds. The new generation feels that this is a blessing of God. The villagers get a chance to trap these birds and relish the exotic delicacies. This Bird Mystery has converted the small Jatinga village in Assam to a renowned tourist destination in recent years.

Do These Birds Really Commit Suicide?

As already mentioned, the birds die in this village every year. It is only during late monsoon that this happens. This has made many ornithologists and scientists ponder as to what exactly is the cause of these deaths? Do these birds actually come here to die? Some scientists are of the opinion that the birds do not commit suicide. Rather, it is the atmospheric conditions that lead to the deaths of the birds. During late monsoons, due to heavy floods in the water bodies and the presence of fog, mist and wind, the birds get disoriented and move in those areas where they see light. These are the search lights and the lights in the houses of the villagers that are switched on after the sun sets. Some birds crash themselves in these lights and get injured. They are then deliberately killed by the villagers.

Some Unanswered Facts

Though scientifically it can be said that birds do not commit suicide, still there are certain facts which remain unanswered even today.

1. When the villages try to attack these birds with stones and catapults as they come nearer to the lights, why don’t they move away or put up any resistance to protect themselves?

2. Why this extraordinary activity takes place only in that well-defined 1.5 km long stretch and not anywhere else?

3. Why do the birds come only from the North to die? Villagers have pointed out that the search lights placed in the southern part of the Jatinga village have failed to attract any birds.

4. Due to heavy floods and monsoons, the birds lose their natural habitats. So they try to migrate to other areas and while doing so they cross over Jatinga migratory path. But it is still not clear as to why the birds fly only at night and not during the day?

5. Why the birds get deliberately or voluntarily trapped in this path every year?

6. No doubt, in the presence of fog and mist, the birds find it difficult to see and they move towards those areas or objects where they see light. But why does it take place only at Jatinga?

7. It is a known fact that as soon as the sun sets, the birds get back to their nests and sleep. Why should these birds then fly at night?

Thus, there are many questions that still need scientific research from various angles. While it is matter of concern that thousands of birds are dying here, there is no doubt that Jatinga has become a well-known tourist spot of the country. In fact, for tourism development and promotion, the state government had organised the first “Jatinga Festival” in 2010.