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NEW DELHI (TNN) : Delhi’s bird lovers got a New Year’s surprise. A pair of red-headed vultures, last documented in the capital over two decades ago and listed as critically endangered, has been spotted at Bhatti Mines.

The birds were seen by Col Pradeep Sandhir, commanding officer of the Eco Task Force that is reviving the degraded eco-system. He had been sighting the birds for almost a week before he was finally able to photograph one and have it identified. “It is a great find for Delhi. The bird had been abundant at one time but there has been no documentation for about 20 years. Meanwhile, some people had reported sighting the bird on a few occasions but there was never a positive identification,” said Dr Surya Prakash, a prominent Delhi birder.

Sources said the birds that had been seen near a water body at Bhatti Mines were likely to breed there. When last seen, it had been feasting on the carcass of a jackal. The bird, earlier found in abundance in the Indian sub-continent, spreading from India to Singapore, witnessed a rapid decline in the past two to three decades due to essentially diclofenac poisoning. In 1994 it was moved from the list of ‘least concern’ to ‘near threatened’. In a little over a decade from then, its dwindling numbers forced its inclusion in the ‘critically endangered list’ in 2007. Prakash said that the red-headed vulture had been the most severely affected by diclofenac poisoning among the seven species of Indian vultures.

Sources say the bird, found primarily in north India now in cultivated, semi-desert areas and foothills, cannot number more than 10,000 mature individuals.

Bhatti Mines, with over a million saplings planted in the last 10 years, has become one of Delhi’s richest eco-systems. Looked after by a battalion of retired army staff commanded by serving officials, the Bhatti Mines area boasts of 36 water bodies, 46 varieties of indigenous plants and over a 100 varieties of birds, butterflies, reptiles and mammals that are difficult to find elsewhere in the city.

“Birds that can be found here include green sandpiper, common sandpiper, crested pied cuckoos, eurasian golden oriole, sirkeer malkoha and painted sandgrouses. Butterflies like blue, plain and striped tigers and pansies, reptiles like monitor lizards, sand and garden lizards, cobras, kraits and saw scaled vipers are a fantastic indication of the eco-system.

Among mammals that can be found here are three species of mongoose, Indian crested porcupines, golden jackal, bluebulls, nlack napped hare and a pack of striped hyenas,” said sources.