Unbridled habitat destruction threatens Ruddy Shelduck in Punatsangchu

The lack of conservation effort, both from the government and non-governmental organizations, and the unbridled and indiscriminate excavation and alteration of Punatsangchu river banks for its resources has exacerbated the disruption of the primary habitat of the currently healthy breeding population of Ruddy Shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea).

To fulfill the huge demands of hydropower project and other constructions in the valley, the sands and boulders from the river banks are constantly extracted which has direct impact on the birds, as such industrial activities will gradually contribute towards diminishing the bird population. In addition, the bird is being hunted both by humans and its natural prey.

Observer claim that, as of now, it is not much of a concern since a healthy breeding population is thriving. But they are concerned that if habitat fragmentation goes on at current rate, the bird population will definitely dwindle in a few years’ time. “Their habitat primarily constitute of river banks with sands and boulders, feeding on fish in shallow water,” said one observer. He added that the same area is being heavily altered when sands and boulders are extracted by people.

He raised concerns that such human activity will definitely have a negative impact on the birds. He said there is an urgent need for intervention. “We cannot wait for long enough,” he shared. Other concerned citizens shared that the patches of sand where birds would sun bathe are now being trespassed by excavator machines and trucks. They pointed out that the birds are in serious conflict with such human activities and will lose out.

The bird habitat is also threatened due to river diversion caused by the mega hydro project. Residents living in close associations with the Ruddy Shelduck shared it is a seasonal migratory bird that comes to the area in the winter. “It is only in winter that they are spotted in river banks,” said Chencho of Tshokana village. The Ruddy Shelduck descends down to Bhutan from their summer habitats in north, just like the Black-Necked cranes. While the cranes are given care and attention by the government and other conservationists, the Shelducks are not so lucky.

“We have become accustomed to their calls and have lived in harmony with them for so long,” said another resident. The indiscriminate human activity in the area, residents believe, is rendering the birds homeless. They said the birds are attracted to the area when the sand and river boulders, exposed in winter due to low water volume. “We seriously need to give a second thought,” said a bird lover. “Tomorrow may be too late.”

In summer, when the temperature in lower region rises, the bird is known to fly up north either all the way to their summer dwelling in Tibet while few remain and roost in the glacial lakes in the northern parts of Bhutan. People suspect that Ruddy Shelduck flock that spotted few years ago at Thimphu sewerage site is a displaced population from Punatsangchu. The shrinking Punatsangchu habitat has forced the birds to look for alternative stamping ground.

Meanwhile, it was reported that Ruddy Shelduck thrived in Ura valley in Bumthang. But due to the probable loss of their habitat, the birds were gone for good for almost ten long years. It was not until in 2011 that a lone female duck was spotted in the area. The return of lone female, at an altitude of 3043 metres above sea level, was reported by school children of Ura Middle Secondary School on November 27, 2011.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) recorded the bird as not listed while it is categorized as least concern in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

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