Waterbird count survey records 62 waterbird species

Choki Wangmo

There has been a significant drop in the number of Ruddy Shelduck this year. The migratory waterbird once found in thousands, the annual waterbird count survey last month spotted only 487 individuals across various locations.

Ruddy Shelduck is a distinctive gooselike duck that breed in southeastern Europe and Central Asia, and winter in South Asia. The bird has bright ruddy plumage with contrasting pale creamy head and neck. The species is found around lakes, reservoirs and agricultural fields.


Solitary Snipe

Solitary Snipe

Little-ringed Plover

Little-ringed Plover


In the country, the species is mostly found around the Babesa sewerage area in Thimphu and along Paro and Punatsangchhu basins.

Founder of Bhutan Birdlife Society, Tshering Tobgay, said that the record of the same species in a single day count was 1,515 in 2017 and 1,684 in 2018.  “The decline of this species count was seen mainly from Punakha with only 230 individuals this year.”

Last year, 1,004 Ruddy Shelduck were counted in Punakha.  

Increased threat to bird’s habitat and breeding area could have led to decrease in the number of birds, Tshering Tobgay said.

A 2016 research undertaken by the College of Natural Resources to assess local peoples’ perception on threats to waterbirds, particularly White-bellied Heron along Punatsangchu found that population of waterbirds declined due to natural resource extraction along the basin.

There were disturbances to habitat from sand and stone extraction, hydropower dam construction, human congregation along the basin, fishing, overhead powerlines, roads and forest fires, the study found.

Waterbird conservation society reported that globally waterbirds faced an array of human-induced threats including draining of wetlands, contamination of food supplies, mortality from oil spills, introduction of mammalian predators on nesting islands, and conflicts with aquaculture.

The country also recorded decline in the arrival of other regular migratory bird species such as the Great Cormorant, Bar-headed Goose, Goosander, Great-crested Grebe and Black-necked Crane compared to past years, Tshering Tobgay said.

However, he said it was difficult to conclude why the numbers declined. He said that there was overall reduction in the population of migratory birds in the region which could have affected the population in Bhutan.

Inaccurate data recording by amateur birders from the field could have affected proper counting, he added.

About 50 participants from schools, government and private agencies, tourist guides, birding tourists and local communities participated in the annual waterbird count survey from January 4 to January 22 across 16 dzongkhags.

Participants recorded 62 different waterbird species in the country. The maximum diversity of waterbird was observed from Sarpang dzongkhag with 32 species.

First started by the Nature Conservation Division in early 2000s, the survey is a long-term study to record habitual adaptation, population estimation and other avifaunal effects related to the ecosystem in Bhutan.

Counting involves waterbird recording in important habitats, staging areas and flyway corridors to monitor the habitat change and species response with the change in climate and other factors.

It is expected to build waterbird database which would inform the government, conventions and the public on the conservation activities required.

Since 2014, the survey was taken over by Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment Research and was turned into an annual event.

The data collected through the survey is shared with the International Wetland Organisation to carry out analysis waterbird movement in the Asian Flyway Migration Corridor.

According to data zone maintained for Bhutan by BirdLife International, the country has 70 different species of waterbirds.

The arrival of waterbirds to Bhutan for winter migration picks up from August and by May, the species migrate to their breeding grounds.

Species such as Ibisbill, Ruddy Shelduck, Crested Kingfisher, White-breasted Waterhen, Black-tailed Crake, Red-wattled Lapwing, River Lapwing and Brown Dipper were found breeding in Bhutan.