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Location India, Orissa
Central coordinates 87o 0.00' East  20o 45.00' North
IBA criteria A1, A4i
Area 81,700 ha
Altitude 0 - 50m
Year of IBA assessment 2004

Bombay Natural History Society

Site description Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary (67,200 ha) and Bhitarkanika National Park (14,500 ha), located on the eastern coast, together represent one of India’s finest mangrove forests. The area was declared as a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1975 to protect the Estuarine or Saltwater crocodile Crocodylus porosus (Kar and Bustard 1981, 1990) but later it was also found to be a haven for birds (Pandav 1996). The Sanctuary has a coastline of 35 km on its eastern side known as the Gahirmatha coast, and is surrounded by the rivers Brahmani, Baitarani and their tributaries on the other three sides. The area is laden with alluvial silt brought down by the rivers and deposited in deltaic areas by regular tidal inundation. The vegetation is characterised by vast stretches of Phoenix paludosa. Pure formations of tree species such as Heritiera fomes, Excoecaria agallocha, Avicennia officinalis and A. marina occur in the Sanctuary. Other dominant tree species are Sonneratia apetala, Amoora cucullata, Cynometra iripa, Rhizophora mucronata and R. apiculata.

Key Biodiversity 

AVIFAUNA: Nearly 220 species of birds have been recorded from this area (Kar 1991, Pandav 1996). Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the few protected areas in India which has six sympatric species of kingfishers: Pied Ceryle rudis, Common Alcedo atthis, Brownwinged Halcyon amauropterus, White-throated Halcyon smyrnensis, Black-capped H. pileata and Collared Todiramphus chloris. Storkbilled Kingfisher Halcyon capensis was also recorded from this IBA (Mr. Anup Nayak pers. comm. to Bishwajit Mohanty). The Brown-winged and Collared kingfishers, along with the Mangrove Whistler Pachycephala grisola are mainly restricted to mangroves in India. In the Indian subcontinent, the Mangrove Whistler is otherwise found only in the Sunderbans of West Bengal and Bangladesh, and in a narrow zone fringing the shore in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (Ali and Ripley 1987). According to Pandav (1996), fifty-seven species of winter visitors are recorded, with the highest numbers between November and February. The Northern Pintail Anas acuta is the most abundant migratory waterfowl. Occurrence of more than 3,000 Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa is also notable. The Wetlands International (2002) estimate of 1% biogeographical population of this bird is 1000 individuals, so Bhitarkanika holds about 3% of the total population of this species. Eighty-two species are reported breeding, including the Near Threatened Black-necked Stork Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus. Breeding colonies of Asian Openbill Anastomus oscitans, Intermediate Egret Mesophoyx intermedia, Little Egret Egretta garzetta, Grey Heron Ardea cinerea, Purple Heron Ardea purpurea, Black-crowned Night-heron Nycticorax nycticorax, Little Cormorant Phalacrocorax niger, Darter Anhinga melanogaster and Oriental White Ibis Threskiornis melanocephalus are located on Bhitarkanika Island in the Sanctuary. This breeding colony of water birds is listed as one amongst the top five heronries in India (Subramanya 1996). A survey of the heronry in July and August, 1993, revealed 9,910 nests on 5,500 trees, with the majority of nests, i.e. 7,800, belonging to the Asian Openbill (Pandav 1996). The next most abundant was the Intermediate Egret. Grey Heron had 200 nests, and Oriental Darter , 192 nests. This is the largest known breeding colony of this Near Threatened species, perhaps equal to the one in Keoladeo National Park at Bharatpur (another IBA). The Painted Stork Mycteria leucocephala also breeds here, but in small numbers. Pandav (1996) could locate only 28 nests on tall trees of Sonneratia apetala and Xylocarpus moluccensis, away from the main heronry. The Lesser Adjutant Leptoptilos javanicus was also observed nesting, its total population was estimated to be 20 (Pandav 1996). Anup Nayak (in litt. 2003) has mentioned sighting a flock of more than 50 Indian Skimmer Rynchops albicollis in Bhitarkanika in January 2003. Three species recorded during the survey, but not on the checklist of birds of Orissa prepared by the State Forest Department (Dani 1992), and hence considered new sight records for Orissa, are Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus, Pintail Snipe Gallinago stenura and Chestnut-capped Babbler Timalia pileata. The Eurasian Oystercatcher is a common winter visitor to the west coast of India, but is uncommon on the east coast (Ali and Ripley 1987). A group of 19 Eurasian Oystercatchers was seen in the intertidal zones of the Gahirmatha coast during December and January. Pintail Snipe, a winter visitor to India, occurs in northeast India, but is more common in southern India and in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (Ali and Ripley 1987). In Bhitarkanika, this snipe was seen along the marshy edges of the pools in winter. The southernmost limit of the Chestnut-capped Babbler in India was Calcutta (Ali and Ripley 1987). Small parties of 8-10 birds were observed in the Phoenix paludosa bushes of the mangrove forest (Pandav 1996).

OTHER KEY FAUNA: Bhitarkanika WLS and NP harbour the highest density of Saltwater Crocodile Crocodylus porosus in India. It also has the distinction of having the world’s largest known breeding ground of the Olive Ridley Sea Turtle Lepidochelys olivacea at Gahirmatha, located on its eastern boundary (Das and Kar 1990). Leopard Panthera pardus, and Wild Boar Sus scrofa are the other larger animals in the sanctuary. Water monitor Varanus salvator and King Cobra Ophiophagus hannah are also found.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Baer's Pochard Aythya baeri winter  2004  present  A1  Critically Endangered 
Lesser Adjutant Leptoptilos javanicus resident  2004  present  A1  Vulnerable 
Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus philippensis resident  2004  present  A1  Near Threatened 
Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni passage  2004  present  A1  Least Concern 
Pallas's Fish-eagle Haliaeetus leucoryphus resident  2004  present  A1  Vulnerable 
White-rumped Vulture Gyps bengalensis non-breeding  2004  present  A1  Critically Endangered 
Greater Spotted Eagle Clanga clanga winter  2004  present  A1  Vulnerable 
Indian Vulture Gyps indicus non-breeding  2004  present  A1  Critically Endangered 
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa winter  2004  present  A4i  Near Threatened 
Indian Skimmer Rynchops albicollis non-breeding  2004  present  A1  Vulnerable 

IBA Monitoring

2003 high not assessed not assessed
Good - based on reliable and complete / representative data

Agriculture and aquaculture annual & perennial non-timber crops - small-holder farming happening now small area/few individuals (<10%) slow but significant deterioration low
Agriculture and aquaculture marine and freshwater aquaculture - industrial aquaculture happening now some of area/population (10-49%) moderate to rapid deterioration high
Biological resource use fishing & harvesting aquatic resources - unintentional effects: large scale happening now majority/most of area/population (50-90%) slow but significant deterioration high
Biological resource use hunting & collecting terrestrial animals - intentional use (species being assessed is the target) happening now small area/few individuals (<10%) slow but significant deterioration low
Biological resource use logging & wood harvesting - unintentional effects: large scale happening now some of area/population (10-49%) very rapid to severe deterioration high
Human intrusions and disturbance work and other activities happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Bhitarkanika National Park 14,500 protected area contained by site 14,500  
Bhitarkanika Sanctuary 67,200 protected area contained by site 52,500  
Bhitarkanika Mangroves Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar) 65,000 protected area contained by site 65,000  


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Forest   -
Coastline   -
Wetlands (inland)   -

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
nature conservation and research -
Notes: Nature conservation and research
tourism/recreation -
Notes: Tourism and recreation

Acknowledgements Key contributors: Bivash Pandav and Biswajit Mohanty.


Ali, S. and Ripley, S. D. (1987) Compact Handbook of the birds of India and Pakistan (Second Edition). Oxford University Press, Delhi.

Dani, C. S. (1992) A checklist of birds of Orissa. Wildlife Wing, Forest Department, Government of Orissa.

Das, C. S. and Kar, S. K. (1990) The turtle paradise - Gahirmatha. Interprint, New Delhi.

Kar, S. (1991) Checklist of birds in the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary, Orissa. Newsletter for Birdwatchers. 31 (11&12): 3-6.

Kar, S. K. and Bustard, H. R. (1981) Status of the Saltwater Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus Schneider) in the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary, Orissa, India. J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 86(2): 141-150.

Kar, S. K. and Bustard, H. R. (1990) Results of a Pilot restocking of Saltwater Crocodiles Crocodylus porosus Schneider in Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary, Orissa. J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 87: 195-200.

Pandav, B. (1996) Birds of Bhitarkanika mangroves, eastern India. Forktail (12): 9-20.

Subramanya, S. (1996) Distribution, status and conservation of Indian heronries. J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 93(3): 459-486.

Wetlands International (2002). Waterbird Population Estimates - Third Edition. Wetlands International Global Series No. 12, Wageningen, The Netherlands.

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area factsheet: Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park. Downloaded from on 21/10/2016

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