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India’s first nesting site of white-bellied heron found

A nesting site of the extremely rare white-bellied heron has been discovered in a remote part of the Namdapha Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh.

It is estimated that there are only 250 white-bellied herons (Ardea insignis) left in the world and only about 50 left in India.

“This is the first nesting site of the white- bellied heron to be discovered in India. Before the discovery of this site, Bhutan was (thought to be) the only country in the world to have a breeding population of the white-bellied heron,” Gopinathan Maheswaran, the scientist who is in charge of the bird Section of the Zoological Survey of India told The Hindu.

According to Mr Maheswaran, who has spent years in the wilderness looking for rare birds, there are very few people in the country who have encountered the white-bellied heron.

Declared a critically endangered species under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), it is an “extremely shy” bird which feeds on fish in clear fast flowing rivers. The confluence of Noa-Dihing and Namdapha rivers in the Namdapha Tiger Reserve supports a few individuals of white-bellied heron by providing them with freshwater fish.

The nest of the bird was found about 18 metres above ground on an East Indian almond (Terminalia myriocarpa) tree adjacent to a dry river bed covered in tall grass and small shrubs, said Himadri Sekhar Mondal, a research scholar who along with Mr. Maheswaran observed behaviour of the herons at the nesting site. The scientists observed the courtship of a pair of white-bellied heron that went on to build a nest at the site earlier this year.

The Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, has funded a three-year study on the species with a view to document the foraging behaviour of the critically endangered bird.

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