India is home to a multitude of birds, which occupy a variety of habitats — from wetlands and coasts, to forests and deserts. Rivers, lakes, ponds, marshes, and coasts are some of the aquatic environments that provide a suitable habitat for numerous bird species. Aquatic birds, simply called waterbirds, are those species that prefer to live in or around water bodies and are well-adapted to this environment.
Pelicans, storks, herons, cranes, and cormorants are a few of the many aquatic birds that reside in India. Unfortunately, these birds face serious threats due to anthropogenic activities such as pollution, habitat degradation, and hunting. Over the years, the Wildlife SOS team has dedicatedly rescued countless aquatic birds in distress and released them back to their natural habitats.
Read on to follow some of the waterbirds our teams across India have rescued in the past years!
Standing tall with S-shaped necks and thick beaks curved downwards are flamingos. A large flock of these pink waders truly makes for a delightful sight. Out of the six flamingo species that exist, the Lesser flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor) and the Greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) can be seen in India. Flocks of these flamingos migrate to their feeding sites along the coastal regions and wetlands of the country between the months of December and March.
In June 2020, the Wildlife SOS team rescued a critically injured Greater flamingo and treated the bird at Delhi Zoo. The bird was soon successfully released back into the wild with the assistance of Delhi Bird Group members. To safely release the bird, a flock of flamingos was identified at Najafgarh jheel wetland in Delhi-NCR. The team used a boat to transport the flamingo closer to that flock, where it was released. The bird was observed feeding from the water as soon as it reunited with the flock.
The Mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos) migrates to north and central India during the winter months, and can be commonly spotted in freshwater wetlands, lakes, and other water bodies. Being sexually dimorphic, the male ducks in their breeding plumage are quite colourful with a teal green neck and purple patches on wings, while the female has a brownish-grey plumage.
Recently, our rescue team based out of Jammu and Kashmir received a call from a resident who found the aquatic bird in need of help. As our team arrived at the location, the Mallard was found with messy feathers and deteriorated health. Immediately, the bird was brought under the care of our veterinary experts, who provided it with the necessary treatment. Soon, after it was deemed fit, Ms. Aaliya Mir, Education Officer and Programme Head for Wildlife SOS in Jammu and Kashmir, released it in a nearby wetland.
The painted stork (Mycteria leucocephala) is a large wading aquatic bird inhabiting the water bodies of the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. With a bold colour of yellow for its beak and light strokes of pink on its wings, this bird makes for a sight to behold. Painted storks are known to nest in colonies on trees or bushes near wetlands.
In early 2019, rescuers from Wildlife SOS and the forest department in Uttar Pradesh came to the aid of an injured Painted stork from the Head Post Office in Vrindavan after being alerted by a passerby. The bird was found to suffer from injuries under its wings and on its legs. Just a few days later, another juvenile stork was rescued by the Agra teams after concerned villagers in Nangla Seasia reached the helpline. The stork had wounds in the chest region and underwent treatment by our veterinarians.
In January 2020, a restaurant owner in Agra spotted a large bird flying straight into a manjha string when children were flying kites nearby. A closer look at the bird revealed it to be a Painted stork, and it had a bleeding wing. Two rescuers from Wildlife SOS immediately rushed with the required equipment to bring the aquatic bird to safety. Dr. S. Ilayaraja, Deputy Director of Veterinary Operations with Wildlife SOS, identified multiple abrasions on the stork’s wing along with severe blood loss, and provided the necessary medical treatment.
In all three incidents, the Painted storks were released into their natural habitat soon after they recovered. Catch a glimpse of one of the rescued storks that was brought back to the wetland by our team:
Also known as Comb or Crested duck, the Knob-billed duck receives its name from the knob-like structure on its beak, which is more prominent in male individuals. These aquatic birds tend to be monogamous in nature. They breed during the rainy season and build their nests in tree hollows or other cavities near water. In India, the bird migrates during the winter season to inhabit wetlands and marshes.
In September 2021, the Wildlife SOS team came to the rescue of a family of Knob-billed ducks — a mother and her 12 ducklings! They had taken refuge in a garden located in Khandari colony of Agra, Uttar Pradesh. Disturbed by human presence, the mother duck was unable to provide the care needed for her young ones. After careful inspection by the expert veterinarians, our team successfully released them into Keetham Lake.
Great White Pelican
The Great white pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus), also known as the Rosy pelican, happens to be one of the heaviest flying birds. Being a resident species, it is found in freshwater wetlands across the Indian subcontinent. It has a massive beak with a large throat pouch in a tone of yellow that can hold up to 12 litres of water! Social in nature, the pelican is commonly seen in large mixed colonies with other aquatic birds such as cormorants, herons, and ibises.
In 2019, forest officials at the Soor Sarovar Bird Sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh found a Great white pelican in distress when it was choking on a fish it had swallowed. The aquatic bird was immediately transferred to the Wildlife SOS Agra Bear Rescue Facility, where it received surgery for multiple internal tears and ruptures in the oesophagus and neck. After receiving therapeutic laser treatment along with post-operative medications, the pelican was released back into the wetland.
Wildlife SOS has established Rapid Response Units in various regions across the country to provide quick assistance to birds and animals found in distress or conflict situations. If you come across any wildlife that requires aid, immediately connect with the unit closest to your location on the following 24-hour helpline numbers:
Delhi-NCR – +91 9871963535
Agra and Mathura, Uttar Pradesh – +91 9917109666
Vadodara, Gujarat – +91 9825011117
Jammu and Kashmir – +91 7006692300, +91 9419778280