Developmental Activities Threaten The Habitats Of Ruddy Shelducks In Bhutan


To conserve their habitats, a study was carried out to track the journey of ruddy shelducks under the WWF programme.

(Source: Twitter/@ShikharF8)


By Choki Wangmo | Kuensel           

Bhutan is the winter home of the ruddy shelduck, a waterfowl measuring 58 to 70 cm in length, with a wingspan of 110 to 135 cm. It makes a loud honking call and has distinctive orange-brown body plumage.

Ruddy shelducks mostly inhabit inland water-bodies such as lakes, reservoirs and rivers, but their habitats are increasingly being threatened by developmental activities in the country.

Threats to the habitats of ruddy shelducks

Although the species is categorised as ‘Least Concern’ in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species, waterbirds in Bhutan are under constant threat due to the destruction of its habitats.

According to an ornithologist, Sherub (PhD) with the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environmental Research (UWICER), some of the threats arise from the construction of buildings, draining and conversion of wetlands, extraction of fuels from peats and collection of river materials along the Punatsangchu basin.

“Moreover, the habitats of water birds such as ruddy shelduck do not fall within any biological corridor or protected areas. That is why the species is at risk,” he explained.


Source: Youtube/Sounds Majestic


According to WWF’s country representative, Dechen Dorji, the migratory birds are great symbols of longevity and connectivity in the natural world and are indicators of the relentless efforts of nature to keep our ecosystems intact.

Study done to conserve the habitats of ruddy shelducks

To conserve and protect the habitats of multiple water and wetland-dependent species, (covering the areas of international and regional importance), a study was carried out to track the journey of ruddy shelducks under the WWF programme on lesser-known species.

“As a consequence of the Least Concern status of some common species, they receive the least attention and resources when it comes to conservation interventions and research. The larger community and society need to learn and know about the beautiful gifts of nature that we take for granted,” Dechen Dorji said.

Sherub said that the findings from the study would help to conserve habitats of the threatened species and inform the conservation agencies to strengthen community-based conservation efforts.

The study, which began in December 2017, tagged six ruddy shelducks from Thimchhu, Punatsangchhu, and Bumthang with the Global Positioning System (GPS).

The birds were named after Tshering Namdru, the six symbols of longevity: Bja Tshering, Chu Tshering, Drak Tshering, Mi Tshering, Shauw Tshering, and Shing Tshering.

Results of the study on ruddy shelducks

By tracking the birds’ behaviour, the study found that the birds followed different routes towards their summer habitats as they roosted and foraged in different groups. Except for Chu Tshering, other tagged birds died between 2018 and 2019.

Photo: Kushankur Bhattacharyya 

This, Sherub said, was due to the fact that the birds in the three different locations had different migration timings and belonged to different sub-populations.

“It was difficult to conclude but within the ruddy shelduck populations, they have different families among which they migrate and live.”

Ruddy shelducks migrate to Bhutan by November, then fly back to the Tibetan plateau by March the following year.

Bhutan is a host to many migratory birds in the Himalayas. There are about 1,500 ruddy shelducks in Bhutan and the highest elevation they can be found is at 7,288 metres above sea level.

The rich avian diversity found here is attributed to the wide elevation range covering different habitat types and the country’s effort towards environmental conservation.

As a tribute to these lovely birds, the 10th edition of the Mountain Echoes Festival in Thimphu held a discussion - ‘Long flight home: Following the Ruddy Shelduck’.


This article first appeared in Kuensel and has been edited for Daily Bhutan.


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