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The birds of the freshwater lakes, rivers, ponds, wetlands and rice paddy fields of tropical Asia...

Family Anatidae: Ducks & Geese

Family Rallidae: Rails, Gallinules, Coots

you try running with feet this big!

Porphyrio poliocephalus, 'Grey-headed (Purple) Swamphen'. This is the Purple Swamphen found in waterways in the middle east, India and across the south-east Asian mainland. Porphyrio indicus 'Black-backed Swamphen' is the equivalent purple swamphen species of the Indonesian islands.

(Paro, Bhutan)

Porzana bicolor, 'Black-tailed Crake'.

Amaurornis phoenicurus, 'White-breasted Waterhen'. Found near fresh waterways from middle east, through India, and all of south-east Asia.

Family Burhinidae: Thick-knees

(Bundala, Sri Lanka)

Esacus recurvirostris, 'Great Thick-knee'. Widespread in wetland across tropical Asia.

Family Recurvirostridae: Stilts & Avocets

(Yala National Park, Sri Lanka)
(Prek Toal, Cambodia)

Himantopus himantopus, 'Black-winged Stilt'Found in water habitats throughout warmer parts of the world.

Family Ibidorhynchidae: Ibisbill

There is only one species in this family.

Ibisbill (image by Damon Ramsey)(Bhutan)

Ibidorhyncha struthersii, 'Ibisbill'. A rare bird found only on shingle river banks in high altitude Asia.

Family Charadriidae: Plovers, Dotterels


Vanellus duvaucelii, 'River Lapwing'.

Vanellus indicus, 'Red-wattled Lapwing' (Samarn Bird camp, Thailand). Found mainland south-east Asia, through India to middle-east.

Family Scolopacidae: Sandpipers, Snipes

(Yala, Sri Lanka)

Family Laridae: Gulls and Terns

Chlidonias hybrida'Whiskered Tern',  (Prek Toal, Cambodia). Found throughout old world tropics.

Family Ciconiidae: Storks

(Prek Toal, Cambodia)

With their long legs, storks look superficially like herons, however, they are no longer considered closely related. Those long legs are used to wade through the aquatic habitats in which most species dwell. There, they hunt mostly for small animals such as insects, molluscs, fish, frogs, reptiles and mammals. They are often tall, and include some of the largest of all flying birds. Many species build huge nests, which may be used season after season. Their communication often includes loud and comical bill clapping.  

Leptoptilos javanicus, 'Lesser Adjutant Stork' (Bundala, Sri Lanka). Common than the closely related Greater Adjutant, and told apart by this species having more complete black on wing and red on face, and no large red neck lump. 

Anastomus oscitans, 'Asian Openbill Stork',  (Prek Toal, Cambodia). The bizarre bill with the gap when closed has evolved to feed specifically on molluscs. 

Painted Stork, (Yala National Park, Sri Lanka)

Mycteria leucocephala, 'Painted Stork'. Colourful stork, with a bill that curves at the end. Found in freshwater wetlands in India and through to the south-east Asian mainland.

Painted Stork, (image by Damon Ramsey)Painted Stork in flight, (Prek Toal, Cambodia)

Family Phalacrocoracidae: Cormorants

Cormorants feed on fish, including catfish and eels. They hunt by propelling themselves along underwater with their large webbed feet. 

Cormorants have long thin bills with a sharp tip, which is often used to impale their prey, such as the catfish pictured.

Phalacrocorax fuscicollis'Indian Cormorant', (Prek Toal, Cambodia). Throughout India and some of the southern south-east Asian mainland.

Phalacrocorax carbo'Great Cormorant' (Prek Toal, Cambodia). Found around much of the wamer parts of the world.

Family Threskiornithidae: Ibises, Spoonbills

Threskiornis melanocephalus, 'Black-headed Ibis'. Found throughout India and some of the southern south-east Asian mainland.

Platalea leucorodia'Eurasian/Common Spoonbill' (Bundala, Sri Lanka).

Family Pelecanidae: Pelicans

Pelecanus philippensis, 'Spot-billed Pelican' (Prek Toal, Cambodia).

Family Ardeidae: Herons, Egrets, Bitterns

Great Egret feeding (image by Damon Ramsey)Great Egret (Udawalawa National Park, Sri Lanka)

All the birds in this family are Herons, with the white ones with plumes often being specifically referred to as 'egrets', however, these common names are often interchangeable. I call them the 'supermodels' of the bird world, strutting around with a slim build and long legs. They also have long sharp bills, which they use to jab and grab at their prey, which is mostly fish, frogs, and underwater invertebrates. The taller species have a neck that is usually long and kinked, and this fulcrum enables the head and bill to be snapped forward quickly.

Herons are one of the most obvious bird in tropical Asian wetlands. They are also one of the most adaptable groups, as many species can also be found in the human-managed rice-fields that now dominate the tropical Asian landscapes. 

Ardea alba, 'Great Egret'. The largest white heron. Found around much of the world.

Ardea insignis, 'White-bellied Heron' (Bhutan). This is a very rare bird, close to extinction. There are thought to be only about 250 individuals left.

Little Egret (Udawalawa National Park, Sri Lanka).

Egretta garzetta, 'Little Egret'. Similar but smaller than Great & Intermediate Egrets. Similar but slimmer than Cattle Egret. Often has yellow feet, cute 'yellow slippers'. Found in wet areas throughout Old World tropics of Africa, Asia & Australasia.

Ardea cinerea, 'Grey Heron' (Prek Toal, Cambodia). Found throughout Europe, Africa & Asia.

Ardea purpurea, 'Purple Heron' (Prek Toal, Cambodia). Found throughout Europe, Africa & Asia.

Ardeola bacchus, 'Chinese Pond Heron',  (Prek Toal, Cambodia). Found throughout mainland south-east Asia.

Ixobrychus sinensis'Yellow/Chinese Little Bittern' (Bundala, Sri Lanka).

Family Accipitridae: Hawks, Kites, Eagles

Haliaeetus ichthyaetus, 'Grey-headed Fishing Eagle' (Prek Toal, Cambodia). Found throughout much of tropical Asia.

Haliastur indus'Brahminy Kite' (Prek Toal, Cambodia). Found throughout tropical Asia and northern Australasia.

Family Alcedinidae: Kingfishers 

Halcyon smyrnensis, 'White-throated/breasted Kingfisher'. Found near water and around small settlements, from middle east across Asia to Bali. Often seen perched on wires.

Family Acrocephalidae

Acrocephalus stentoreus, 'Clamorous/Indian Reed Warbler'. Found around reed beds on lakes and rivers, from Egypt, east through tropical Asia and south to Australia.

For the page on Asian freshwater habitats

Throughout the virus I am working in Australia on and off as local borders close, mostly in the Kimberley with Coral Expeditions (May-September). If you can't go travelling until everything settles down, then until then, here I am doing online guided walks for Noble Caledonia and online lectures for Silversea.