Saturday, June 22, 2013

World's Rarest Herons: White-bellied Heron (Ardea insignis)

Bhutan is home to the largest recorded population of the world’s rarest herons - the White-bellied Heron (Ardea insignis). As on last count, Bhutan is home to 24 of these critically endangered birds. They are found in the Punaphochu-Mochu areas in the Western part of the country and in Berti in Central Bhutan.

The global population of these rare birds is estimated at less than 200 birds. Bhutan is also the first country to have successfully incubated, hatched and raised a
White-bellied Heron chick in captivity. Researcher Rebecca Pradhan at the RSPN is also first in the world to undertake a research project on White-bellied Herons - in collaboration with a heron expert from the USA. The first ever detailed scientific study and report on the ecology of the bird is also credited to Bhutan - published by Bhutan’s first environmental NGO - The Royal Society for Protection of Nature, under the Royal Patronate of Her Majesty Gyeltsuen Jetsun Pema Wangchuck the Queen of Bhutan.

In the past two months, I have been visiting and photographing a heron couple that have set up nest - a day’s journey away from Thimphu. From all indications, the couple is a young pair and most likely this is their first attempt at parenthood. It is reported that the three eggs in the nest were laid around 21st May, 2013. The first time I visited the site was on 24th May, 2013. I made another visit on 8th June, 2013 - to see if everything was OK.

Rebecca Pradhan’s many years of experience and observation show that heron eggs hatch in about 31 - 35 days. Thus, if everything goes well, the chicks should be hatched around 25th June, 2013.

It is normal that not all eggs produce chicks. Sometimes, it is known that the inexperience of the breeding couple can cause the eggs to go sterile - particularly those who are breeding for the first time. By the way, both the male and the female take turns to incubate the eggs. After every two hours, one partner flies in to guard the nest while the other flies off in search of food.

In the next few days I will again visit the nesting site - to see that everything is OK. May be by then, the eggs would have hatched. If not, I will make another trip to photograph the hatched chicks - provided the couple has been successful in their attempt at parenthood.

In the photo below, one of the partners stands guard over the eggs (you can clearly see the eggs in between the legs of the bird):

In the following, one of the parents is sitting over the eggs - I think the act is known as "brooding":

In the following photo, both the parents are seen together - this is the moment when one partner flew in to replace the other - so that the other could fly off to feed:

The following photo shows the head of one of the parents. You can clearly see that the bird is agitated. Despite my best efforts to conceal myself, the bird became aware of my presence and looked directly at me:

In order that I do not cause stress to the bird, I left the site. Disturbing the birds during their brooding period cannot be good.


  1. Amazing pictures, especially the last one. I can see the how dare you expression in its face.

  2. Can I get a contact address (email) for Mrs. Rebecca Pradhan.