Pelagic Vagrants
East Coast of India


Also read: Red-footed Booby

Coastal disturbances often drive pelagic birds inland, and many are driven hundreds of miles off course by strong cyclonic winds. Many such birds perish unnoticed or unreported. Of late, with the increase in knowledge and easier communication some of these pelagic vagrants are collected and reported. The most important source of such information is the Forest Department's Wildlife Wing. Their role in protecting wildlife in West Bengal is well known to the general public and their awareness campaigns provide the necessary contact information to anyone seeking their help.

Over the last three years two rare pelagic vagrants have been collected by the West Bengal Forest Departments Wildlife Department from Kolkata city and its neighbourhood. Cyclone 'Aila' which crossed over Kolkata city on 26/5/09 deposited a Sooty Tern (Sterna fuscata) which was recovered live but perished a day after. In the same month, three years ago, a Frigatebird was collected 50 kms due east of the city. Experts opine that the bird is likely a globally threatened Christmas Island Frigatebird (Fregata andrewsi), though some suggest that it is a Great Friagtebird (Fregata minor). Needless to add that both the pelagic vagrants are hundreds of miles away from their known range and are very rare inland records for India.

Sighting Records

Name: Christmas Island Frigatebird
Scientific name:
Fregata andrewsi

? V K Yadav
Image: V. K. Yadav, IFS

Date: 31st May 2006
Place: Basirhat, North 24 Parganas, West Bengal, India.
Lat/Lon: 22038'N; 88052'E
Reported by: V K Yadav, IFS
Collection record:  This fatigued immature was found 70-80 kms inland north of the Sunderbans (which is on the Bay of Bengal). The specimen is now kept at the Zoological Survey of India, Kolkata.
Previous skins collected from the subcontinent, and attributed to this species have proved to be of the Lesser Frigatebird (Fregata ariel). This specimen was apparently identified to species after careful measurements at the ZSI, but details have not yet been published and in the meantime this identification should be regarded as provisional. [Update dated 18/7/2011 : David James has commented as follows: "That does indeed look like a CI frigatebird" ]

Name: Sooty Tern
Scientific name:
Sterna fuscata

? Rathin Banerjee
Image: Rathin Banerjee, IFS

Date: 26th May 2009
Place: Kolkata city, West Bengal, India.
Lat/Lon: 22035'20"N; 88021'17"E
Collected by: Mr. Rathin Banerjee, IFS & Rescue Team of Wildlife Wing
Collection record:  "While cyclonic storm 'AILA' was raging through Kolkata on 26.05.2009, information was received by the undersigned that an injured bird was lying helpless on the pavement of a street in North Kolkata (Kolkata - 700 006). The rescue team of the Wildlife Wing immediately reached the spot and transported the injured bird to the Temporary Transit Facility of the Forest Department at Salt Lake, where it was photographed by Shri Rathin Banerjee, IFS. Veterinary care was administered instantly by senior veterinary surgeon attached to the rescue facility. The bird survived the night by was dead by 04:00 p.m. next day i.e. 27.05.2009. Preliminary identification was obtained from Shri Kushal Mookherjee stating that the species was Sterna fuscata" - Mr. Rathin Banerjee, IFS

Sumit K Sen
Kolkata, India


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