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White-bellied Heron in Wangduephodrang
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White-bellied Heron in Wangduephodrang and Zhemgang
White-bellied Heron

Bhutan is a home to one of the most endangered bird species in the world, the White-bellied Heron (Ardea insignis) according to the royal society for the protection of nature RSPN. Out of the 20 to 200 white-bellied heron estimated population worldwide, the society has confirmed five herons in the Punakha-Wangduephodrang region.

A spokesman for the society said that, although no detailed study or proper census of the rare bird was carried out, about eight herons were reported to have been spotted in Bhutan.

The heron, recorded only in Nepal, India, Bangladesh, North Myanmar, and now in Bhutan is classified as the most threatened bird species among the 50 rarest bird species in the BirdLife International red Data Book.

Kamechu region in Wangduephodrang: Heron sighted
A family of three herons was spotted in the Kamechu region in Wangduephodrang, while another two herons were confirmed in Sha Ada lake area in Wangduephodrang. Another two herons was sighted along the Pho Chhu river in Punakha, but officials doubt that they could have migrated from Ada lake. "We have confirmed five, but we are not sure of the rest because they could be from the same count," research Coordinator, Mirage Pradhan said.

A white-bellied heron was reported to have been spotted in Tingtibi, Zhemgang, but RSPN officials say that a study will be carried out soon to confirm the presence in Zhemgang.

White-bellied heron can be identified from their long legs for wading, grayish slender body with long head and neck, and huge thick bill. Although big in size, it is difficult to see because it's colour camouflages it in the surroundings.

Bhutan Royal Society of Protection of Nature: Great discovery

However, the greatest discovery, according to RSPN is the spotting of a heron nest in Kamichu. The last heron nest was spotted in Myanmar in 1929 according to Mirage. "This bird is more Bhutanese than the popular black-necked crane," he added meaning that the black-necked crane was present only seasonally in Bhutan. Nicknamed the 'gentle giant' because of its gentle nature and the huge size, the heron mostly feeds on fishes and smaller insects. Although the heron measures about 1 to 1.5 metres high, smaller birds like dragons, crows, and even the Himalayan bulbul easily intimidate the heron while sharing its habitat.

A study report from the society says that the heron habitat in chirpine forest at an altitude between 800 to 1500 metres from the sea level. Once widespread in India and Nepal, these herons disappeared from most of their original range. According to Mirage, loss of habitat could be most threatening to the survival of the heron. "Rock extraction and other activities along the river shores is disturbing the habitat of the heron," he said. Internet source identifies destruction of forest and tall grassland, and reclamation of wetlands as potential threats to the heron.

Meanwhile, the society is planning to radio band the birds to keep track of their migratory patterns and the distribution of the birds in Bhutan. There is also a proposal to include the white-bellied heron under Schedule I of the Forest and Nature Conservation Act.

Contributed by Ugyen Penjorei, KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper 2006


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