World Migratory Bird Day 10 October 2020 - Birds Connect our World

Posted on
09 October 2020

Featuring the lesser known migratory bird – the Ruddy Shelduck

The Ruddy Shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea) is a unique bird that belongs to the duck, goose and swan family Anatidae. It is unlike any other waterfowl, exhibiting an alluring rusty orange plumage, which resembles the saffron color of a Buddhist monk’s robe and considered sacred. It was once named as Brahminy Duck based on the robe Indian Brahmins wear. Thus, Ruddy Shelduck is a revered species in many Asian countries. These birds fly to Bhutan crossing the mighty Himalayas in November and goes back to their summer homes in the north in March. About 1500 Ruddy Shelducks visit Bhutan annually and the global population is estimated between 170,000 to 202, 000. In Bhutan, this enchanting bird remains largely unknown and unappreciated compared to the vulnerable Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis), which has received both recognition and protection.

So, in December 2017, Bhutan’s first research study on the movement ecology of the Ruddy Shelducks was initiated by the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment Research (UWICER) under the Department of Forests and Park Services (DoFPS) with support from WWF Bhutan. This research has revealed vital information on this migratory bird. Out of the six-tagged birds captured from the three major wintering sites of Babesa, Bajo and Chamkhar, one Ruddy Shelduck named Chu Tshering flew as far as Mongolia covering a total distance of 10384 km until 2019. The other Ruddy Shelduck Shauw Tshering flew at the highest altitude of 7288 meters.

Although Ruddy Shelduck is classified as a species of Least Concern (LC) in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, increasing human population and development activities, threaten their riverine wetland habitats. In Bhutan, the major threats are from habitat degradation and fragmentation from industrial activities like excavation and alteration of riverbanks for the extraction of sand, stones and boulders used in constructions.

The research also found that none of wintering areas of ducks falls within the existing protected area system. Tagged Shelducks use wetlands (marshes) and riverine (fresh running rivers, sand and cobbles of the riverbed and banks), and agricultural farmlands (dry farmlands, dry and wet paddy farmlands) in their wintering areas. In Thimphu, the ducks roosted in the open waters of the sewage treatment plant in Babesa and foraged in riverine habitats and avoided the use of river stretches that were highly urbanized along Olarong Chhu.
According to the lead researcher Sherub (PhD), Specialist with UWICER, research findings has implications on conservation at local, national and international levels and highlights the importance of protecting wetlands and riverine habitats outside the protected areas system both in Bhutan and in the region. “For a successful conservation of species  such as Ruddy Shelduck, it requires a collective and collaborative effort at a regional or a flyway scale because life history of such species connects landscapes. Results of research in common species may definitely be used as a proxy approach to conserve highly threatened species, as space use overlaps,” he added.

Sonam Choden, Freshwater lead from WWF Bhutan said, “Besides their conservation value, lesser known migratory birds like Ruddy Shelducks are also important from spiritual and cultural perspective and associated with Buddhist symbols of longevity and interdependence depicted in the traditional Buddhist painting of Tsering Namdru (6 symbols of longevity) and thus deserve appreciation and better protection.”
WWF and partners are working for the conservation of migratory birds and flyways in Asia through the Asian Flyways Initiative and Ruddy Shelduck is one of 10-priority species. You can find out more at these links
Actions to Adopt:
  1. Protect wetlands and riverine habitats both inside and outside the protected area system, which are important habitats and stop over sites for migratory birds and many other species.
  2. Improve water quality through solid waste and waste water management and sewage treatment to address pollution of streams and rivers 
  3. Avoid over extraction and unsustainable use of riverine resources such as sand, stones and boulders and refrain from exploitation of native species and illegal fishing.
  4. Take care of rivers, streams, springs and water sources, keep them clean, flowing, and connected, so that both people and birds continue to enjoy the benefits of healthy freshwater ecosystem services like clean water, food, energy, business, education and research and recreational benefits.
  5. Avoid encroachment and degradation of wetlands and freshwater ecosystems, which are natural sponges and water sources and cushion against climate related risks and disasters like floods and windstorms.
  6. Plant native trees and flowers, control invasive species and restore degraded wetlands and riverine habitats, and refrain from polluting water bodies.
  7. Promote and apply Nature based Solutions (NbS), which are low cost and sustainable to address human made problems.
Source: Adapted from the Emergency Recovery Plan for Freshwater Biodiversity, 2020