Nesting birds bring Chinese road building project to a screeching halt

Wildlife officials step in after photos of protected species feeding their young among piles of gravel are posted on social media

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 June, 2018, 4:50pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 June, 2018, 7:15pm

Authorities have called a halt to a highway building project in far west China after photos of rosy starlings – a protected bird species – nesting at the site were posted on social media.

Pictures showing the birds feeding their young among the gravel of a road construction site in Yili prefecture, Xinjiang province, were posted on the Weibo account of an environmental protection group on Monday morning.

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Guard the Wilds called for the work to be suspended, and by the afternoon the National Forestry and Grassland Administration had stepped in, sending wildlife protection officials to visit the site, Beijing Youth Daily reported on Thursday.

Work came to a halt on Tuesday after the company was told to immediately stop the project until the birds had finished hatching and left the area, which is expected to take about a month, the report said.

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Rosy starlings eat locusts and are used to control the pests that would otherwise destroy crops. They tend to nest in open grassland during the breeding season before moving to more forested areas.

The Xinjiang region is the only place in China that rosy starlings breed, Ma Ming, a bird expert from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told Xinjiang Daily.

It was the third time since May that the company has had to delay the project to accommodate the birds, the Xinjiang newspaper reported.

Jiang Dongjun, chief engineer of the project, said the construction firm had decided to down tools twice already before wildlife authorities told them to stop.

Jiang told Beijing Youth Daily the workers had used pipes and plastic netting to set up fences around the area to protect the birds on the advice of environmentalists.

“The three delays will cost the project about 1 million yuan [US$151,500] but we place more value on protecting wildlife and the environment,” Jiang was quoted as saying.

Wildlife protection officials said there was no evidence any birds had been harmed by the construction project.