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Location India, Andhra Pradesh
Central coordinates 80o 11.00' East  13o 40.00' North
IBA criteria A1, A4iii
Area 60,000 ha
Altitude 0 - 10m
Year of IBA assessment 2004

Bombay Natural History Society

Site description Pulicat lake is an extensive brackish to saline lagoon with associated marshes and a massive freshwater to brackish swamp to the north. There are two connections with the sea; in general, sea water enters the lagoon through the channel at the northern end of Sriharikota Island, and flows back into the Bay of Bengal through the channel at the southern end. The backwaters attract large congregations of the Greater Phoenicopterus ruber and Lesser P. minor flamingos, Spot-billed or Grey Pelican Pelecanus philippensis, Painted Stork Mycteria leucocephala, Grey Heron Ardea cinerea, and species of ducks, teals, terns, gulls and waders. Pulicat is the third most important wetland for migratory shorebirds on the eastern board of India. Sriharikota Island, well protected as it is the satellite launching station of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), has remnants of Tropical Dry Evergeen Forest of considerable botanical interest (Suryanarayana et al. 1989, 1998). On the other islands in the lake, where protection is negligible, the exotic Prosopis chilensis has invaded many areas (Scott 1989). In the elevated mudflats, succulent halophytes, such as Arthrocnemum indicus, Sesuvium portulacastrum, Salicornia brachiata, Suaeda maritima, S. monoica and S. nudiflora occur. Submerged macrophytes include species of Enteromorpha, Hypnea, Ulva, Halophila and Enhalus (Oswin 1987).

Key Biodiversity 

AVIFAUNA: Pulicat Lake is an extremely important area for a variety of resident and Palaearctic migratory waterfowl. The lagoon supports significant populations of Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus philippensis. A total of 88 species of birds has been recorded from Pulicat Bird Sanctuary during a BNHS study (Rao and Mohapatra 1993). During the mid-winter waterfowl count in 1988, 83,000 waterfowl were counted in the Sanctuary. However, during 1991 and 1992, the numbers were 38,722 and 10,902 respectively (Rao and Mohapatra 1993). The abundance of waterfowl fluctuates mainly with the prevailing water regime. This site has been selected as an IBA on the basis of its population of Spot-billed Pelican (Criteria A1) and waterfowl congregation (Criteria A4iii). Pulicat is the major foraging ground of pelicans that breed in Nelapattu Bird Sanctuary, an IBA, less than 20 km away (Manakadan and Kannan 2003). The lagoon in Pulicat Lake is one of the two major wintering grounds in southeast India for shorebirds (Prater et al. 1977). Due to its vastness, only a rough estimate of the wader population is possible (Rao and Mohapatra 1993). Many waders are likely to occur above their 1% geographical population threshold. Therefore this site would qualify for A4i criteria. Most of the waders are distributed over the extensive mudflats along the Sriharikota-Sulurpet road and near Tada in the southwest part of the lagoon. The BNHS has conducted ringing camps in this area, and a notable recovery was that of a Curlew Sandpiper Calidris testacea with a Polish ring. Subsequently, it was found that the bird had been banded in the Arctic Circle region of Russia (Rao and Mohapatra 1993). Taher and Pittie (1989) have prepared a checklist of birds of Andhra Pradesh. During ringing at Pulicat Lake in 1990-91, seven birds were added to the bird list of Andhra Pradesh (Rao and Mohapatra 1994). Interesting among them are the Large Sand Plover Charadrius leschenaultii, Knot Calidris canutus, Eastern Knot C. tenuirostris and Black Tern Chlidonias niger. Pulicat Lake also provides suitable feeding conditions for the two species of flamingos. In October 2002, more than 2,000 Greater Flamingos were seen there.

OTHER KEY FAUNA: The mammalian fauna includes the Jungle Cat Felis chaus, Golden Jackal Canis aureus, Wild Boar Sus scrofa, Small Indian Mongoose Herpestes auropunctatus and Monitor Lizard Varanus bengalensis.

Recently, a dead Leopard Panthera pardus was found, trapped in the slush in the lake. This was the first record of Leopard from Pulicat Lake (Kannan and Manakadan in press).

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus philippensis resident  2004  present  A1  Near Threatened 
White-rumped Vulture Gyps bengalensis non-breeding  2004  present  A1  Critically Endangered 
Greater Spotted Eagle Clanga clanga winter  2004  present  A1  Vulnerable 
A4iii Species group - waterbirds unknown  2004  20,000 individuals  unknown  A4iii   

IBA Monitoring

2014 very high favourable high
Good - based on reliable and complete / representative data

Transportation and service corridors shipping lanes happening now majority/most of area/population (50-90%) very rapid to severe deterioration very high

Wetlands (inland)   0 0 good (> 90%) good (> 90%) favourable

Whole area of site (>90%) covered by appropriate conservation designation  A comprehensive and appropriate management plan exists that aims to maintain or improve the populations of qualifying bird species  The conservation measures needed for the site are being comprehensively and effectively implemented  high 

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Pulicat Lake Sanctuary 15,367 protected area contained by site 15,367  


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Forest Dry evergreen forest (tropical)  minor
Coastline Lagoons  major
Wetlands (inland)   major

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
urban/industrial/transport -
Notes: Sea route; Space Research Centre

Acknowledgements Key contributors: V. Kannan and C. Ramakrishna.


BirdLife International (undated) Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Asia: Project briefing book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K., unpublished.

Kannan, V. and Manakadan, R. (in press) Record of a Leopard Panthera pardus in Pulicat Lake. J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc.

Manakadan, R. and V. Kannan (2003) A study of Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus philippensis with special reference to its conservation in southern India, Final Report, Bombay Natural History Society, Bombay.

Oswin, S. D. (1987) A report on Pulicat Lake. PREPARE, Madras.

Panini, D. (1996) Rethinking wetland laws. A case study of Pulicat Bird Sanctuary. Occasional Paper Series. Centre for Environmental Law, WWF-India, New Delhi.

Prater, A. J., Merchant, J. H. and Vuorinen, J. (1977) Guide to the identification and ageing of Holarctic waders. BTO Guide 17. British Trust for Ornithology, Tring.

Ramesh, P. (1994) Pulicat Lagoon. Is conversion of this lagoon to freshwater reservoir possible An analysis. Centre for Water Resources, Anna University, Madras.

Rao, P. and Mohapatra, K. K. (1993) The wetland avifauna of Pulicat Bird Sanctuary, South India. Pp 11-14. In: Bird Conservation - Strategies for the nineties and beyond (Eds. Verghese, A. Sridhar, S. and Chakravarthy, A. K.), Ornithological Society of India, Bangalore.

Rao, P. and Mohapatra, K. K. (1994) Occurrence of certain bird species in and around Pulicat Lake Bird Sanctuary. Mayura 11: 6-8.

Scott, D. A. (1989) A Directory of Asian Wetlands. IUCN, The World Conservation Union.

Suryanarayana, B., Rao, A. S. Rao, A. M. and Veeraraju, V. (1998) Flora of Sriharikota Island. Technical Report: ISRO-SHAR-TR-99-98. Indian Space Research Organisation, Bangalore Suryanarayana, B., Rao, A. S. Rao, A. M. and Veeraraju, V. (1989) Report on the flora of Sriharikota Island, 2 volumes, Visvodaya Government College, Venkatagiri and SHAR Centre, Sriharikota.

Taher, S. A. and Pittie, A. (1989) A Checklist of Birds of Andhra Pradesh. Privately Published, Hyderabad.

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area factsheet: Pulicat Lake. Downloaded from on 21/10/2016

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