Commonly known as valley of death for birds, Jatinga is a small village on a ridge, is located in Dima Hasao district (DHD), in the north-eastern state of India, Assam. The place has damsel like beauty with scenic mountains surrounding it and an ideal. It is famous for The Bird Mystery. Here the Birds come from different places to commit suicide. It's a natural phenomenon nobody has been able to explain. But Jatinga's mysterious annual event of migratory birds committing mass suicide has now attracted the eyes of many scientists. But not only the Migratory birds, but the local birds also do similar things here in Jatinga.
Yes, it is an mysterious phenomenon as birds are not known to have suicidal tendencies. There are certain criteria for this phenomenon to take place; there should be fog, cloud and mist. It happens in the late monsoon months between September and November and ideally the phenomenon is seen between 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Earlier it was held by the villagers that the evil spirits flying in the skies are responsible for bringing these birds down. And only some species of birds that offend the spirits are brought down.
But in times of science, many ornithologists have dedicated their time in research of this unnatural phenomenon. They have found that there are many species of local birds such as Kingfishers, Pond Heron, Black Bittern, Tiger Bittern, etc. are subjected to such strange behaviour. Studies have also revealed that the birds commit suicide in Jatinga during the late monsoon as most of the water bodies in Assam are flooded by that time. The birds lose their natural habitat. They have to migrate to other places. Jatinga falls in their migratory path. In 1988 when Assam faced severe floods maximum number of bird suicides was reported in Jatinga. Some of the long distance migratory birds are not affected by this phenomenon.
Curiously, most of the doomed birds do not attempt to fly away after they land near the lights. They look dazed and disheveled, perhaps due to the trauma of the whole shocking experience. Such birds fall easy prey to the villagers. Some of the birds hovering around the light sources are brought down by a vigorous swing of the bamboo poles. Catapults are also used to bring down the birds in flight as well as those perching on the trees and bushes near the light sources. However, contrary to the popular belief, birds do not commit suicide. Under circumstances not yet fully explained, these birds get caught in the fog and wind, get disoriented and seek solace of the light sources put out by the villagers. They hit against trees or other objects and get injured in their flight towards the light source. The villagers hit the hovering birds with bamboo poles or catapults to bring them down
Various studies have been conducted to unravel the causes behind this phenomenon. The record maintained show that 44 species have been attracted to the light sources. It has been established that the birds are not attracted to the entire Jatinga Ridge but only to a well-defined strip, 1.5 km long and 200 metres wide. Invariably the birds come in only from the north and attempts at placing the lights on the southern side of the ridge to attract the birds have failed. Another interesting fact has been brought out is that no long distance migratory bird gets attracted to the light traps. The victims are resident birds of the adjacent valleys and hill slopes.
Locals have been witnessing the eerie phenomenon from September to November for the last couple of years. As the sun sets, hundreds of birds descend on the village and fly full speed towards buildings and trees, crashing to their deaths. The repeated episodes are confined to a 1.5 km strip of the village. They consider the coming of the birds a gift of the Gods. This valley falls on the migratory route of locally migrating birds. That is how villagers get the opportunity to trap them. But still these birds come here every year and get trapped.
Real reasons behind the Jatinga bird's suicide phenomenon cannot be confirmed as there are different reasons cited by the researchers. But Jatinga is not the only place in the world where such weird behaviour of birds is noticed. This phenomenon is also seen in Philippines, Malaysia and another state of India Mizoram.
How to Reach Jatinga :
Situated 9 km from Haflong town. It is 330 km south of Guwahati. Jatinga also has a bird watching centre which can provide accommodation after prior notice from the district forestry office in Haflong. While buses to Silchar pass through, it may be easier to visit Jatinga on a day-trip from Haflong by auto-rickshaw.