Jatinga Valley Mystery: Luring Birds to Death

Nestling in a remote corner of Assam, Jatinga is a tiny, lush green village, fringed by misty, blue hills. Over the years, the place has been in news owing to what is hailed as the Bird Mystery.

After monsoon departs, a strange phenomenon unfolds at Jatinga every evening, a little after sunset.  Hundreds of local as well as migratory birds, inch close to  their death by crashing into buildings and trees attracted by lights burning in people’s houses. This dramatic incident has puzzled local populace, scientists and tourists. Local people often believe that evil spirits lurking in the skies were responsible for the massacre of the winged visitors.

One scientific and logical explanation doing the rounds is that the birds are generally disoriented by the monsoon fog. So they are attracted by the village lights and fly towards them, sometimes hitting walls and trees on the way. Some of the birds die, while others sustain serious injuries. In the process they become easy prey for the villagers. Strangely, these birds appear too dazed or weary to defend themselves when villagers attack them with catapults or bamboo sticks.

Studies also reveal that these birds come in only from the North and land only on a well-defined strip in the village – approximately 1.5 km long and 200 meters wide.  On the contrary lights placed along the southern periphery of the village have failed to attract the plumed creatures. It has also come to light that not all of the victims are migratory birds. Among the suicidal species figure forty four varieties which inhabit adjoining areas. These include Kingfishers, Black Bitterns, Tiger Bitterns and Pond Herons and more..Ornithologists and bird lovers opine that suicidal birds lose their natural habitats due to flooding during the monsoon season. Hence they seem to be flying out; incidentally Jatinga lies on their flight path. However it is still ambiguous as to why the birds fly only after sundown, or why they get voluntarily trapped at precisely the same spot every year. Anwaruddin Choudhury, a well-known ornithologist from Assam had commented thus, “It is not suicide, to be precise…..but the fact remains that birds are attracted by light and fly towards any object with a light source. This phenomenon still puzzles bird specialists. India’s legendary ornithologist, the late  Dr Salim Ali, had remarked,  “The most puzzling thing to me about this phenomenon is that so many species of diurnal resident birds should be on the move when, by definition, they should be fast asleep. The problem deserves a deeper scientific study from various angles.” Many decades ago this somewhat shocking spectacle was observed by the Zeme Nagas, who inhabited the area at that point of time. Fear propelled them to leave the place for good. They were replaced by the Jaintias, who considered it a blessing.  Afterwards they were proved partially right. For one, the phenomenon has proved to be a crowd puller- drawing wildlife experts, ornithologist and tourists to this place, during the latter half of each year. In fact the government organized the Jatinga Tourism Festival for the first time in 2010. This is an annual event now. Last but not the least the dead birds when roasted; provide an exciting array of barbecue for the local foodies!!