CANDABA - Population of migratory water birds here has decreased due to hunting and coverting of wetlands to melon plantation, environment groups on Sunday noted.

This concern was brought up after the Wild Bird Club (WBC), the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau and the local government here conducted the Asian Waterbird Census 2010 in Paralaya, two sites in Doña Simang and another new site in Perlas.

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WBC official Mike Lu told Sun.Star Pampanga that the annual migratory bird count is conducted worldwide simultaneously to identify the birds' migratory patterns and the causes of their migration.

"Here in Candaba, we have noted a decrease in the population of migratory birds from around 13,160 in four sites last year to just about 12,000 this year in just three areas. Primarily, the decrease could be attributed to the conversion of fishponds to farmlands and melon plantations," Lu said.

He added that hunting of these birds by enthusiasts' further compunded the situation.

Lu disclosed that the local government of Candaba and the WBC had once caught on camera a hunter in full hunting gear and garb, shooting on rare species of migratory birds with a caliber .22 rifle in one of the areas.

Municipal Administrator Leny Manalo supported Lu's statements but denied that the hunters are from the town locals. Manalo also said the local government has been patrolling to protect the migratory birds in the town's wetlands.

The conversions of some of the wetlands were part of the efforts of the municipal government to help farmers to rebound from the effects of the recent calamities, Manalo said. Free seedlings have also been distributed to the local farmers.

Manalo also cited that the watermelon and melon plantations have boomed during the last season.

"Of course we cannot refute the fact that some of the natural habitat of these migratory birds has been affected, but we are making all efforts to balance the livelihood of our farmers as well our ecosystem," said Manalo.

Both Lu and Manalo, however, discounted that the decrease of the number of birds here has brought to the increase of migratory birds spotted in one area in Bataan.

"They all have different migration patterns. Some stay for a while, some just make stopovers. It's really the destruction of their habitat and these hunters that drive them away," both claimed. (Jovi T. De Leon)