Western Ghats and the Spot Billed Duck
Oct 11, 2014

A few of our earlier articles has highlighted the importance of the Western Ghats as a United Nations heritage site and its importance as one among the eight hot spots of biodiversity in the world. In addition to the spectacular wildlife, the great chain of mountains, running through six states; Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala is the source of all major rivers of India’s Southern Peninsula.

The Western Ghats are primarily responsible for the onset of the South West monsoon. In fact, the world has recognized that the site presents one of the best examples of the monsoon system on the planet. 

Besides, it is one of the world’s treasure troves of plant and animal life, with a great wealth of unique plant and animal species, and is home to at least 325 globally threatened bird, amphibian, reptile and fish species. Every other day scientists are reporting new species of wild life. Unfortunately many new species are lost even before they are discovered because of the large scale destruction through mining and other activities.

The health of this precious eco region has been on continual decline over the last couple of years with many ecosystem types almost totally eliminated. Just a couple of years ago, serious measures were initiated to conserve some of the fast vanishing biological diversity by earmarking ecologically sensitive areas (ESA). 

ESAs are to be viewed as areas where human activities will continue, but be prudently regulated under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. ESAs are not at all meant to stop development in ways that would hurt local people, but to ensure that development is environment friendly and people oriented, as well as serve to preserve the ecological heritage on a long term basis. There are no set regulations, such as ban on all new industries, or on conversion of agricultural into  commercial land, that would prevail in every Ecologically Sensitive Area; instead, the regulations will be worked out with due respect to local context free from human interference.

The Western Ghats is making headlines every other day for two main reasons. This article briefly addresses those concerns.

This brief article highlights two very important aspects. First, to do away with a dozen agencies and allow one single nodal agency to decide on dividing the entire Western Ghats in several ecologically sensitive zones with each zone having different level of prohibition on developmental activities and also recommend large scale measures to control environmental degradation.

Second, the Ministry of Environment and Forest’s (MoEF) indecisive attitude in deciding  ecologically sensitive areas inside the Western Ghats for over three years. The Ministry has yet to decide on the exclusion or inclusion of the ecologically sensitive areas, which is having a significant effect in maintaining the environmental integrity of the entire chain of mountains.

Herein are a few pictures of the Spot Billed duck commonly observed inside the Western Ghats. It is very easy to identify these birds because of their distinct colorations. The bill is black with an orange spot on the top of the bill and yellow spots on the base of the bill. We have provided close up pictures of the bird where the spot at the end of the bill is clearly visible. This will help for easy identification of the spot bill.

These ducks have adapted well to the presence of humans and can be found in flocks of two to three dozen not only in big lakes but also in small open ponds and at the edge of wetlands. They are gregarious and often fight with one another for territory. When alarmed they make a very loud quacking sound and immediately take off with their powerful wings. Our observations point out that these ducks are residents year round and occasionally migrate to rivers or lakes during periods of extended drought. 

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