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India’s Brahminy duck can scale Mt Kilimanjaro

The Ruddy Shelduck can reach heights of around 6800 metres, according to a new study published in the Journal of Avian Biology.

science Updated: Sep 07, 2017 10:45 IST
Malavika Vyawahare
Malavika Vyawahare
Ruddy Shelduck,Himalayas,ducks
Ruddy Shelduck is a waterbird, breeds in central Asia, Siberia and migrates in winters. ((HT photo))

The Ruddy shelduck, a winter visitor to India, is no sitting duck. They scale the mighty Himalayas when they migrate to India from the north attaining heights of 6800 metres, according to a new study published in the Journal of Avian Biology.

“This is the first evidence of extreme high-altitude flight in a duck,” lead researcher of the study, Nicole Parr, from the University of Exeter, said. The common perception of ducks waddling around water bodies is belied by these high-flying species.

“Because the ruddy shelduck are known to breed north of the Himalayas but spend their winters south in India and Myanmar we thought it was possible they would be making very high altitude flights during this journey,’ Parr told Hindustan Times.

The Ruddy shelduck is known as the Brahminy duck in India and by its local names Chakwa for males and Chakwi for females. Mt Everest is 8,848 m high, while Mt Kilimanjaro is 5,895 m. Of course, the ducks are smart enough to avoid a towering mountain like the Everest.

“We were able to show that the ducks picked out flight paths through valleys – this suggests they aren’t silly and avoid flying higher than necessary,” Parr explained.

The scientists were able to track the path of the birds because they tagged 15 Ruddy shelducks from two populations who spend their winters south of the Tibetan Plateau. Data loggers were fitted with the ducks that captured information about the duck’s exact location; the longitude, latitude and altitude, every few hours.

The evidence suggests that the ducks might be flying even higher, because the terrain north of India that they fly over is elevated and the tracking devices might not have been placed on the highest fliers in the group.

Ruddy shelduck Facts

A medium sized duck, similar to the mallard (900-1500g)

Ruddy shelduck’s breeding range stretches from south-eastern Europe through to Western China with some established populations in Africa

Habitat includes fresh water, salty or brackish lakes

Omnivorous feeder

(Source: High altitude flights by ruddy shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea) during Trans-Himalayan migrations, Journal of Avian Biology)

First Published: Sep 07, 2017 10:41 IST