Kunthangulam Bird Sanctuary

Site description (2004 baseline):

Site location and context
The Koonthangulam Bird Sanctuary is located in Naguneri Taluka of Tirunelveli district between Moolakaraipatti and Kariandi. It is about 20 km from Tirunelveli town. It is a rain and river-fed freshwater tank, and receives water from the Manimuthar river. The globally threatened Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus philippensis breeds here, along with other birds. It is one of the oldest known pelicanries in India, having existed for 200 years or more. Rhenius first reported this pelicanry in 1906 (Rhenius 1907). The villagers believe that the birds that come to Koonthangulam are harbingers of good luck and their yearly arrival ensures good rainfall. They also benefit from the rich guano deposited in the breeding colonies. This is used to fertilize the fields. Guano-rich tank water is used for irrigation. Koonthangulam (also transcribed as Koondakulam) has a large tank within the village precints, and several smaller tanks scattered in the vicinity. These waterbodies and the fields are the main foraging grounds for birds. Koonthangulam is basically an agricultural area, so there is no forest as such. Acacia nilotica has been planted in about 35.5 ha. This is where most of the birds nest.

Key biodiversity

AVIFAUNA: The pelicanry at Koonthangulam is quite famous and commented upon by various naturalists (e.g. Rhenius 1907, Webb-Peploe 1945, Wilkinson 1961, Nagulu and Rao 1983, Kumar 1993 and Thomas et al. 2000). In the early 1990s, about 1000 Spot-billed Pelicans were recorded (Anon. 1993). This constitutes more than 8% of the biogeographic population. During a pelican survey in January 2003, only about 452 Spot-billed Pelican were recorded breeding. BirdLife International (2001) has listed records of pelicans from 1906 up till 1993 from this site. Besides the Spot-billed Pelican, Painted Stork Mycteria leucocephala breeds in the village in large numbers, sometimes on the trees inside private property. In some years, Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber also built nest mounds, though breeding has not been confirmed. Asian Openbill Anastomus oscitans, Oriental White or Black-headed Ibis Threskiornis melanocephalus, Black Ibis Pseudibis papillosa, Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus, Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia, Little Cormorant Phalacrocorax niger, Pond Heron Ardeola grayii, Grey Heron Ardea cinerea, Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax, Darter Anhinga melanogaster, Little Egret Egretta garzetta, Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis, Bar-headed Goose Anser indicus, Northern Pintail Anas acuta, Northern Shoveller Anas clypeata, Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis, Common Coot Fulica atra, White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus, Indian Moorhen Gallinula chloropus, Purple Moorhen Porphyrio porphyrio and various species of waders are also seen here, many in numbers greater than their 1% biogeographic population threshold. This IBA site is also famous for its vast flocks of Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus sometimes up to 1,000 are seen together, foraging in the inundated crop fields or flying from one foraging area to another.

OTHER KEY FAUNA: Most of the smaller mammals of rural areas are seen in this site, such as Golden Jackal Canis aureus, Common Palm Civet Paradoxurus hermaphroditus, and Jungle cat Felis chaus.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity

Koonthangulam is about 65 km from Kanyakumari, a major tourist area where millions of people, especially school groups come every year. Koonthangulam also receives about 15,000 Indian tourists and about 100 foreigners. It can become a major centre for environmental education for students and public. However, as the villagers are very sensitive to the protection of ‘their’ birds, crass tourism should be avoided. Regulated guided tours, watching birds from selected points and an interpretation centre would help in conveying the message of environmental education. A system should be developed so that at least half of the revenue from tourism should go to village panchayat (council) for the development of social infrastructure. Local youth could be trained as guides. As the birds forage in agricultural fields, it is absolutely necessary to monitor the pesticide use in the area. Regular scientific monitoring of birds, both breeding and wintering species, is also required. It is also recommended that this IBA site should be kept natural, and no attempt should be made to ‘beautify’ the place. Nothing is more beautiful that a hungry pelican chick being fed by its parent, or a flock of 500 Glossy Ibis going to roost!

Key contributors: V. Kannan, Robert Grubh and Asad R. Rahmani.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Kunthangulam Bird Sanctuary. Downloaded from on 21/09/2023.