Nepal—a Birdwatcher’s Delight

Spot-billed Pelican. Image: J.M. Garg

Nepal is a birdwatcher’s delight—Nepal’s physiography, ranging from 67 meters in the lowlands to a 8,848 meters in the Himalayas, makes it possible for a large number of bird species to call the country their home. As a result, Nepal has recorded well over 867 species in various parts of the country. Among this large number of species, 35 are said to be in the globally endangered list and these include the Barn Owl and the Eurasian Large Owl as well as the Lesser Adjutant Storshoi. Also critically endangered are the White-rumped Vultures of the Terai region whose existence has been threatened due to the rampant use of a drug called diclofenac used to treat various ailments in cattle and other animals, the carrion of which is ultimately consumed by the vultures and for whom, diclofenac is anemia. Another bird species that has been red-listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is the Indian Sarus Crane (Grus antigone), the tallest of the flying birds and a migratory species, which makes its way to Nepal every year from Dar Es Salam in Africa.

The country is endowed with some excellent bird watching sites and none are better than the nine wetlands (Ramsars) in different parts of the country. The largest is Koshi Tappu (17,500 hectares) in eastern Nepal where the first Ramsar site was developed in 1987. The next biggest is Gokyo and associated lakes (7,770 hectares) in Solukhumbu in the lap of the Himalayas. Next comes Beeshazar and associated lakes (3,200 hectares) in Chitwan followed by Ghodaghodi Lake (2,563 hectares) in Kailali of far western Nepal and Rara Lake (1,583 hectares) in Mugu District of western Nepal.  Gosainkunda and associated lakes (1,030 hectares) in Rasuwa District, Jagadishpur Reservoir (225 hectares) in Kapilvastu, Mai Pokhari (90 hectares) in Ilam of eastern Nepal and Phoksundo Lake (494 hectares) in Dolpa make up the rest of the nine Ramsar sites of the country. These nine wetland sites have been designated as Wetlands of International Significance since they provide much needed habitat for numerous bird species besides serving as a resting place for many migratory birds on their annual nature-ordained journeys. In other words, these Ramsar sites provide eager birdwatchers with the opportunity to observe birds of all sizes and hues.

The Water Cock (Gallicrex cinerea) and the Abbott’s Babbler (Malacocincla abbotti) are only found in Koshi Tappu and not at any other Ramsar in the country. Koshi Tappu is an ideal habitat for resident and migratory water birds and for some of wading birds as well. The Bengal Florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis) and the Spotbilled Pelican (Pelecanus philippensis) consider Koshi Tappu as their favourite hangout. In all, the area has recorded almost 485 species of birds of which 12 are in the globally threatened list.

Indian spotted eagle. Image: Ravi Vaidyanathan

For the critically endangered White-rumped Vulture (Gyps bengalensis), Beeshazar and its associated lakes are excellent water holes while Ghodaghodi and its associated 13 lakes is also home to the these vultures as well as to another critically endangered species, the Slender-billed Vulture (Gyps tenuirostris) and to the ‘vulnerable’ Lesser Adjutant Storshoi and the Indian Spotted Eagle (Aquila hastata))), besides the near-threatened Oriental Darter (Anhinga melanogaster) and Ferruginous Duck. All these lakes are also inhabited by many Cotton Pigmy-goose (Nettapus coromandelianus). In the same way, Jagadishpur Reservoir is home to the Indian Sarus Crane (Grus antigone).

In the Himalayan region, Gokyo and its associated lakes support important species like Ferruginous Duck and Demoiselle Crane (Grus virgo). Gosainkunda and its associated lakes and Phoksundo have a significant number including the Common Teal (Anas crecca) and the Ruddy Shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea). Rara Lake and its adjacent area serves as the natural temporary home and resting place for winter-visiting water birds like the Shoveler (Anas clypeata), Solitary Snipe (Gallinago solitaria). Gadwall (Anas strepera), Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), the Common Teal, Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula), Common Merganser (Mergus merganser), Common Golden Eye, and the Northern Common Coot (Fulica atra). Mai Pokhari, on the other hand, provides a home for protected species like the White-rumped Vulture.

Another important refuge for many migratory birds and waterfowls is the Sapta Koshi River which is inhabited by the lovely White Ibis while the rarer Ibis Bill of upper Mustang can  also be sometimes seen in the Terai wetlands. Higher up in the Himalayan regions can be found birds like the Black Kite, the Eurasian Griffon and the Lammergeuer while popular migratory birds such as the Demoiselle Crane and the Indian Sarus Crane, can be seen during October around Lumbini.

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