By Tennoson Pheiray for The Naga Republic
Migratory birds known as “SHIRI” (grey-sided thrush)
Above 2825 m from the sea-level, lies Shirui Village, located at a distance of 97 km from Imphal and about 18 km from Ukhrul in the present state of Manipur. To the west of the village lies Ukhrul, to its east is Mapum, to the north is Lunghar and Sihai to its north east. Shirui is a home to rare and special species of the lily known as Shirui Lily, the state flower of Manipur, and Tragopan, the state bird of Manipur. Now, an endangered flower, in the olden days, the lily grew in abundance on the Shirui Kashong from the middle of May to the beginning of June but changes in the environment has dwindled their growth to the top of the hill only.
The magnificent Shirui Lily found in the mountains of Shirui Kashong range
Shirui Kashong range is home to migratory birds originating from Siberia and China. The birds, locally known as “SHIRI” (grey-sided thrush) nestle and feeds on red berry fruits locally known as “SHIRUNGTHEI” found in the Shirui Kashong range. The migratory birds usually visit Shirui in the month of November and stay till January. Trapping of the grey-sided thrush for food and large scale felling of fruit- bearing trees Shirungthei have posed a threat to this migratory bird.
Red berry fruits locally known as “SHIRUNGTHEI” found in the Shirui Kashong range
The call of the grey-sided thrush, a thin ‘zeee zeee’ is slowly vanishing from the Shirui range each passing year. This thrush forages for insects and nectar from the flowers and berries on the trees. The birds get thirsty after eating the Shirungthei and search for water. The villagers would lay traps with “NEI” a sticky substance which is coated on sticks and laid near water collected in streamlets and when the birds perched down to drink water, they would get stuck on those sticks.
Shiri bird caught in a trap in the streamlet
This grey sided thrush, scientifically known as Turdus feae, has warm brown plumage on its back which, as its name suggests, shades to grey on the sides and pales even further towards the belly. The male grey-sided thrush has white streaks above and below each eye, a black upper bill, a yellowish lower bill and brownish-yellow legs. The female grey-sided thrush differs by having a whiter lower belly and a white throat with dark streaks on either side.
The breeding season of the grey-sided thrush is from May to September. The males arrive at the breeding grounds first, establishing territories before the females arrive. After mating, the grey-sided thrush collects wet mud and clay from streams to build a bowl-shaped nest, which is normally positioned 1 to 1.5 metres up a small tree surrounded by dense vegetation. The female grey-sided thrush generally lays 4 or 5 eggs and both the male and female incubate the eggs until they hatch 14 days later. The new-born chicks will be dependent on their parents for the first 12 to 14 days of life.
Shirui Kashong range seen from Ukhrul, Manipur
The grey-sided thrush breeds in the mountains, between 1,000 and 1,900 metres above sea level, in oak and pine forests with a temperate climate. During the winter months, they are found in evergreen forest at altitudes ranging between 1,500 and 2,600 metres.
After the breeding season, the grey-sided thrush begins its lengthy migration southwards. And it is during this time of the year that the migratory birds nestled at Shirui Kashong range from November to January. It is during this time, the locals catch thousands of Shiri by using local nei trap. Trapping of Shiri for food and for selling have posed a great threat to these migratory birds. It is reported that a bird is being sold at Rs. 100/. Large scale felling of Shirungthei in the area by villagers in the past years has curbed and decreased the visit of the migratory birds to the Shirui Kashong range in the last few years as informed by an elder.
Shiri is one of the favorite delicacies for many people in and around the area. The bird is also connected with the cultural life of the people in the hill range. The practice of presenting shiri to their married daughters during their visits to parental homes was a common practise.
As the birds number dwindles, may be, it is time to start looking for measures do conserve them instead of seeing them as part of our platter.
The onus of conserving should not be solely on the people living in and around Shirui Kashong range. We can start with awareness programme by concern authorities and engage with the locals to maintain the area as bird observatory. The forest and wildlife department can provide idea and technical know-how, funds where necessary and any other assistance. Conservation and protection of Shiri can only be successful when the locals are involved.
May we hear more zeee zeee in the Shirui Kashong range.
Tennoson Pheiray is an active community volunteer from Ukhrul. He is also a regular contributor for The Naga Republic