HK should cherish its role as bird sanctuary

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 May, 2008, 12:00am

Hong Kong may be better known as a concrete jungle, but for those in the know, it is also a haven for birds - and birdwatchers. The rare sightings of a great frigate bird and a white-tailed tropicbird within the past two weeks serve to remind us of how privileged we are to play host to so many majestic creatures from the skies.

Remarkably, a third of the total number of bird species recorded in the whole of China is found here, most of them migratory. This amounts to about 465 species. Of these, more than 100 - many of which are highly endangered - breed locally. To realise how amazing it is to find this staggering number of birds in so tiny a place, one only needs to compare the Hong Kong figure with the number of species found in the whole of Britain, with its forests, hills, green fields and wide open spaces - 560.

The frigate bird has not been seen here since the 1980s, while the tropicbird, according to the Bird Watching Society, has never had a recorded sighting, until now. It is not clear what causes the birds to fly here. One theory is that dramatic climate changes, induced by the El Nino global weather phenomenon, have altered the migratory patterns of many birds. El Nino originates off the west coast of South America and has the effect of reversing weather patterns around the world.

A more prosaic explanation, says the society's chairman, Cheung Ho-fai, is that a typhoon in the South China Sea last month blew the birds off course, causing some to make an inadvertent but most welcome visit to our city. Whatever the real reason, Hong Kong is a natural place for birds because it nurtures many habitats such as woodlands, wetlands, shrub lands and coastal areas, of which Mai Po is the most famous.

More people are taking weekend trips to country parks, to breathe fresh air and get closer to nature. The public is increasingly aware of potentially dangerous climate changes induced by human activities and is committed to making greater efforts to protect our environment. Our majestic avian visitors are a reminder of our guilt - and responsibility.