China’s ‘Migratory Bird Haven’ Threatened by Climate Change

China’s ‘Migratory Bird Haven’ Threatened by Climate Change


Harsh weather conditions in the Poyang Lake area are affecting the habitat and food supply of wintering birds.

Migratory birds flying to China’s largest freshwater lake for winter are likely to face a harsher environment than before.

Little rainfall, a record drought, and the earliest dry season in the Poyang Lake area — all exacerbated by climate change — have threatened the food supply and habitat of wintering birds, domestic media reported Monday. Extremely low water levels in the lake, located in the eastern province of Jiangxi, have thus reduced the number of suitable aquatic fauna and flora for the birds to feed on.

Known as a “migratory bird haven,” Poyang Lake and its surrounding wetlands and ponds serve as one of the most important wintering stopovers for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds, including Siberian cranes and oriental white storks. The lake’s seasonal shrinkage provides abundant food to the waterbirds and helps maintain their habitat.

Rescued migratory birds in Duchang, Jiangxi province, Oct. 12, 2022. Wu Huihyuan/Sixth Tone

Duan Qingxian, director of the nonprofit Poyang Lake Wildlife Rescue Association, told Sixth Tone on Tuesday that migratory birds inhabiting the lake area, as monitored by his team, had declined by at least 50% compared with the same period over the past years.

“There is less food such as grassroots, snails, and shells for waterfowl due to the drought,” said Duan, who has lived in Duchang on the north side of the lake for over 40 years. “While patrolling the lakeside this year, I saw several dozen geese at a time flying from north to south, instead of hundreds previously.”

The water level at Poyang Lake’s Xingzi hydrological station hit a historical low of 6.68 meters in early October, according to the local hydrological department. The levels rose to just over 8 meters as of Sunday after authorities used artificial rain and released water from the Three Gorges Reservoir to the lower reaches of the Yangtze River.

Data from the Jiangxi Ecological Meteorological Center showed that the water area of the lake reached 705 square kilometers on Wednesday, slightly recovering from a record low earlier this month. However, the lake’s water was still 70% less than the average for the same period.

Members of the Poyang Lake Wildlife Rescue Association collect trash on the bare bank in Tangkou, Jiangxi province, Oct. 13, 2022. Wu Huiyuan/Sixth Tone

In September, local authorities in Duchang started drawing water from Poyang Lake’s main channel to replenish nearby sub-lakes that serve as main food sources and habitat for migratory birds. They also cut sedges — a grass-like plant that grows in wet ground or near water bodies — that were too old and hard for the birds to eat to make the grass sprout.

Duan said that human efforts to minimize the effects of changing weather patterns were just “a drop in the bucket” for a massive freshwater lake like Poyang.

“We just do what we can do to reduce the impact of the drought on migratory birds as much as possible,” Duan said. “As long as the weather cools, and it rains, the tender grass will grow, and more birds will come.”

As of Oct. 10, over 4,700 waterfowl had arrived and roosted in the Duchang County lake area, local authorities said. Some 200,000 migratory birds fly to Duchang during winter, with the peak migratory season falling in November.

On Monday, the National Meteorological Center again said Jiangxi province experienced moderate to extreme levels of drought that day, warning of little rain in the next three days.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: Migratory birds linger on the bare banks of Poyang Lake near the Xinmiao Lake Dam in Duchang, Jiangxi province, Oct. 11, 2022. Wu Huihyuan/Sixth Tone)

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