Community Initiatives


    Uppalapadu Bird Habitat

    Where’s Uppalapadu? Could the spot-billed pelicans have quacked that question to their solitary fellow explorer who visited the non-descript village pond in one great migratory flight?  We surely, now, know the answer to that question.  That solitary pelican, resting for three weeks in the nourishing waters of Uppalapadu’s village pond brought in droves of birds.  This winter, the villagers expect to see close to two-thousand nesting spot-billed pelicans besides coots, cormorants, painted storks, glossy ibises, garganeys, spot billed ducks in an explosion of waterfowl. Over sixty species of birds visit the tank for nesting and roosting all year across seasons.  The endangered spot-billed pelican retains its pride of place.

    Where’s Uppalapadu?  Six kilometers off busy Guntur, in cyber-manic Andhra Pradesh, it holds a water tank all of thirty-two acres with the Zilla Parishad High School in the middle of it.  There’s plenty of water through the year for villagers and the winged visitors: so in the scheme of things the villagers have earmarked a six-acre area for their guests.

    Mruthumjaya Rao has been watching these birds for sixteen years now.  He has seen the times before Uppalapadu’s globalisation.  Chiefly, resident birds like cattle egrets, little cormorants, open-billed storks, night herons and jacanas used to roost and breed.  From 1992 migrants like painted storks and the glossy ibis became annual tourists.

    That was till the exploring pelican came. Each year sees the pelican arrivals double.  Nesting is everywhere. This February, fifteen hundred pelicans arrived and built four hundred nests. The upper and middle layers of Prosopis Juliflora are a profusion of pelicans going through their breeding rites.  Sometimes they build nests tantalisingly close to the water level.  You can see as many as eight pelican nests jostling for space with painted stork nests on a single bush at the height of the breeding season.  Spot-billed pelicans land by the clock in the third week of September.  Uppalapadu is turning out to be one of the most stable and progressive pelicanries in India.  Take a look.

    Dynamic Population of Spotted Billed Pelicans


    No. of pelicans




















    2004-05 (Feb 2005)



    Why is Uppalapadu’s habitat crucial

    Spot-billed pelicans are an endangered species.  They are visiting and breeding around this pond in hundreds with numbers doubling each year.  This heronry is the only hope for pelicans in Andhra Pradesh as other heronries are facing threats of extinction.  

    This unique habitat offers nesting and roosting sites to over sixty species.

    Some birds in Uppalapadu tank feed on pests that destroy crops.

    Lakhs of birds including passage migrants  lose habitat and feeding grounds and can turn to Uppalapadu for survival.

    Villagers protect birds here.  The six-acre area is their gift.  Villagers might earmark more area if some water issues are sorted out.

    Uppalapadu’s villagers protect the birds

    Villagers cohabit with nature and birds protecting them in their water tank from long before they observed their importance and identity. The protection given by the villagers, from predators and poachers, helped the bird population to grow.  The rise in birds and nests has been a temptation for poaching and egg stealing.  With the encouragement from wild lifers, the village Sarpanch has taken measures suggested by Mruthyumjaya Rao and solved this problem.

    Village Panchayat used to auction fishing rights for their village tank, thereby getting a lakh of rupees annually. Because of the feeding pelicans, which are voracious eaters of fish, fish lease holders incurred losses.     But the villagers influenced the Panchayat to stop auctioning fishing rights from 2002 despite losing revenue.

    The excreta of thousands of birds contaminate the water: villagers suffer from itching, rashes, pustules and other skin diseases.  But that does not deter them from living with these birds. 

    In the midst of their work, villagers keep an eye on the birds.  It is next to impossible for an outsider to sneak into the village pond.

    Villagers, being farmers, suffer losses as birds pluck tender saplings of paddy, chilies and other dry crops. Birds use these for nesting.  They are compassionate even in their loss.

    School children of the village, with the encouragement given by the nature lovers, are able to identify the birds and explain bird behaviour to tourists.  These students saved many pelicans and other birds from predators.

    On 10th December 2002, four poachers sneaked into the heronry at night and killed fifteen painted storks and some other birds. Alert watchmen and villagers caught the poachers.  The auto was seized and a case was filed.

    Mruthumjaya Rao, KVV Ramana & others: a conservation story

    Visited the village innumerable times, mingled with residents and explained importance of birds and the benefits.

    Maintained cordial relations with Forest department, District Collector and local MLA.

    Requested the village Sarpanch to take suitable steps to protect eggs, nesting and waterfowl from poachers. Sarpanch took measures to stop these activities. This problem was solved.

    On 17-2-2000 with the help of the local MLA, the village Sarpanch and villagers Rao was able to stop uprooting of the trees providing nesting sites.

    During June 2000, he induced villagers into bird conservation. This resulted in the six-acre area being given exclusively to birds. 

    Prevented trespassers on the bund by blocking the path at both ends. As a result, the bird population has increased.  Prosopis Juliflora seeds planted along the bund gave more space for bird nesting. This has given tremendous results.  In eighteen months the plants were able to support open-billed stork nesting and in two years it supported pelican nesting.

    With active persuasion, succeeded in convincing the forest department to appoint two persons from the village as watchmen for the bird habitat. Forest department appointed two watchmen from February 2002.  Water level was maintained and regulated by these watchmen.

    During May 2002, convinced forest department that there is an imminent need for more trees in the pond. Department was convinced and eight mounds were laid for plantation.

    On April 2003 six artificial nests were erected at vantage points with bamboo sticks and nest-shaped baskets and planted with creepers for birds. But the weather played spoilsport and the platforms collapsed before the birds could occupy them.  

     In July 2003 a small Prosopis nursery was raised in the village and saplings were planted.  But the birds removed these plants to utilise them as lining material for their nests.   

     Due to strenuous efforts, in 2005 Forest department notified Uppalpadu heronry as a "Community Reserve".

    Forest Department plays a role

    In 1998 an Eco Club was opened in the Zilla Parishad High School of the village and Rs 2000/- donated by the forest department. 

    2.         Forest department submitted a project report to Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation to develop the habitat. The first phase of the project including fencing the tank and approach road to the habitat has been implemented.

    Local MLA’s leadership

    Over the last three decades, villagers have exhibited sufficient tolerance and liking for the birds, despite the pollution of the pond on account of bird droppings. But the situation got out of control when a section of the villagers brought heavy pressure to clear the vegetation in the heronry.  It is highly appreciable that Shri Makineni Peda Rathaiah, MLA, rose to the occasion and diffused the crisis and saved the heronry. Water problem was solved to some extent not only by separating the bird area but also by reconstruction of filter beds.

    Threats and Disturbances

    Bird excreta pollute the water and causes skin diseases among villagers.  This is problem could unfold in villagers reacting to bird presence.

    The bird population is constrained to six acres and cannot hold increasing numbers. There is severe competition for nesting and roosting.

    The trees are slowly dying due to over crowded birds and polluted water. Bird droppings are severely damaging the trees and as they are nesting through out the year, there is relief for trees to rejuvenate. 

    Smaller waterfowl are facing acute competition from bigger birds: egret numbers falling over the last two years.  Night herons and little cormorants face similar problems. Pelicans arriving early encroach on open-bill stork nests. The storks, with chicks, are homeless and wander in adjacent paddy fields exposed to cats and dogs.

    What can be done?

    Regular maintenance of water in-let and out-let

    Regular maintenance of vegetation

    Survey of feeding grounds

    Plantation of grown up saplings in the tank

    A remarkable conservation story has borne fruit: the cacophony of nesting waterfowl is a reassuring sound for all who love this earth and its arbours of wildlife. Rarely, if ever, do we see villagers, forest officials, politicians and nature lovers holding hands, protecting this treasure trove of birds like at Uppalapadu!