Natural History & Its Unsolved Mysteries

The Most Endangered Rainforest Duck of Assam

Artist © Rituparna Sarmah, Class VIII, Mangaldai Maharishi Vidyamandir

By- Rupam Baruah

‘White-winged wood duck’ or ‘White-winged duck’ (Asarcornis Scutulata) is the State Bird of our Assam . In Assamese it is called ‘Deo Haanh’ which means a spirit duck because of its ghostly call . One of the largest birds of the duck family , it is presently in the list of most endangered species, with an estimate of only 800 birds found all over the world.  and its number all over the world is now 800 only . 

      Though once it had a wider distribution across India’s north-east , Bangladesh and the South East Asia , today this elusive bird is only found in the eastern wilds of Assam , Arunachal Pradesh and some parts of forests in  Bangladesh and South East Asia . In India , the key protected areas of White-winged duck are Dehing Patkai National Park , Dibru Saikhowa National Park , Namdapha National Park and Nameri National Park . 

     White-winged Duck inhabits dense evergreen tropical forests , near swamps and rivers . An omnivorous bird it is mostly active in search of food at dawn and dusk . It mostly feed on  aquatic plants , seed , grain , rice , aquatic insects , snails , crustaceans , mollusks , snakes , frogs and fishes . It has a black body , a white head that is thickly spotted with black , a yellowish bill , prominent white patches on the wings and red or orange eyes . The male and female look alike , the male having glossier feathers and being much larger and heavier . While flying , its white wing converts contrast with the rest of the wings . Its average length is about 81cm . An interesting point is despite being amongst the largest of duck species , it is one of the most agile and the fastest .

       The destruction , degradation and disturbance of riverine habitats including loss of riparian forest corridors ,  destruction of appropriate nesting trees in these natural habitats contribute to severe decline in its population. However, the protection of mature forests like the tropical rainforest of Dehing Patkai NP situated in Upper Assam gives hope to future survival of this endangered species in its primitive habitat. It is worth mentioning here that this rarely seen species of duck is been sighted with unfamiliar frequency in the Chorai Pung Range area of the Dehing Patkai NP in recent times. This rainforest provides mature trees in ideal natural habitat for the nesting of this elusive bird species. The Dehing Patkai NP is home to perhaps one of the last surviving healthy populations of White winged duck in wild, in Assam.  The upgradation of this rainforest patch of Upper Assam to the status of national park in the year 2020  has played a crucial role in protecting one of the last primitive natural habitats of the state bird of Assam. The Nature’s Beckon led rainforest conservation movement of Assam thus has made a significant contribution to the future conservation of White winged duck in Assam by protecting this rainforest patch of Upper Assam as ‘Dehing Patkai NP’. The protection of natural habitat of White winged duck, especially the preservation of the mature forests of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh is vital for the survival of this endangered rainforest duck species in future. It is high time all of us try hard sincerely for the protection of these native forests of Assam and NE India for effective conservation of the endangered White-winged Duck !