Wular Lake and associated marshes

Country/territory: India

IBA Criteria met: A1, A4iii (2004)
For more information about IBA criteria please click here

Area: 2,400 ha

Bombay Natural History Society
Most recent IBA monitoring assessment
Year of assessment Threat score (pressure) Condition score (state) Action score (response)
2003 very high not assessed not assessed
For more information about IBA monitoring please click here

Site description
Wular Lake and its associated marshes lie on the floodplains of the River Jhelum in the Kashmir Valley. It is designated as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention in 1990. It originally occupied an area of 20,200 ha but has now shrunk to a mere 2,400 ha. The lake has an elliptical boundary, with a maximum length of 16 km and width of 7.6 km. It is about 34 km northwest of Srinagar, 3 km from Sopore town. The name Wular is derived from the Sanskrit word volla, meaning turbulent, a reference to the high waves one encounters while crossing the lake during certain months. Wular was one of the largest freshwater lakes of South Asia. It plays an important role in the hydrology of the Kashmir Valley, due to its huge capacity to absorb the annual flooding. The Wular Lake is surrounded by high altitude mountain ranges on the northeast and northwest sides. Due to its particular topography, Walur lake faces strong winds. There is considerable dispute about the size of this lake. As per the Directory of Wetlands of India, the area has been shown to be only 189 ha, while the Survey of India maps indicate the lake area to be 5,870 ha in winter of 1978. According to a study, the area at maximum flood level has decreased from the original 27,300 ha to 17,000 ha. The revenue records show that the lake area is 13,000 ha (Baba, undated). Wular Lake is heavily overgrown with macrophytes. The margins are covered with Typha, while Phragmites, Nymphoides pellata, N. alba, Nelumbo nucifera and Trapa natans cover the shallow zones. Villagers harvest some of these species for food. Salvinia and Lemna cover the surface. A total of 82 species of phytoplankton, and 50 species of zooplankton have been reported. The shallows parts also bear stands of Willow Salix alba.

Key biodiversity

AVIFAUNA: The lake was known to be an important staging and wintering ground for migratory birds. Eighty-eight species, including many forest species, have been identified in and around the lake (Baba, undated). The Pallas’s Fish-Eagle Haliaeetus leucoryphus that was common here (Loke 1946) has now disappeared and was not reported by Baba (undated). The surrounding forests still have populations of Koklass Pheasant Pucrasia macrolopha and Himalayan or Impeyan Monal Lophophorus impejanus. Although there has been a drastic decline in the number of waterfowl due to increased disturbance, even now thousands of ducks and geese visit the lake. The main ones are: Greylag Goose Anser anser, Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea, Common Teal Anas crecca, Northern Pintail A. acuta, Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope, Mallard A. platyrhynchos, Garganey A. querquedula, Gadwall A. strepera, Northern Shoveller A. clypeata, Common Pochard Aythya ferina, White-eyed or Ferruginous Pochard A. nyroca, Red-crested Pochard Rhodonessa rufina and Pygmy Goose or Cotton Teal Netta coromandelianus. White Stork Ciconia ciconia is a passage migrant. Brown-headed Gull Larus brunnicephalus is very common. Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis, Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus, Grey Heron Ardea cinerea, Little Egret Egretta garzetta, Water Rail Rallus aquaticus, Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus, and White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus are resident species. This site easily qualifies for A4iii criteria as it holds more than 20,000 waterfowl on a regular basis and also it is one of the important migratory stopover sites for many long-distance migrants. Nearly a hundred years ago, Lesser White-fronted Goose Anser erythropus was also reported (Ward 1906-1908). Probably, it still occurs in small numbers among the thousands of Greylag Geese. Another species reported earlier and likely to occur even now is the Marbled Teal Marmaronetta angustirostris. There is a specimen in the British Museum (Natural History) of this species shot here in 1923 (BirdLife International 2001). As this species occurs among the multitudes of other waterfowl, it is likely to be easily missed, and might be still found in Wular. Wular is also one of the few IBA sites where the Near Threatened Lesser Grey-headed Fish-Eagle Ichthyophaga humilis is reported (Baba, undated). This species was earlier called Himalayan Greyheaded Fishing Eagle Ichthyophaga nana (Ali and Ripley 1987). It is considered Near Threatened by BirdLife International (2001) as it has declined all over its range, especially in India due to destruction of riverine wetlands, increasing human disturbance and use of pesticides.

OTHER KEY FAUNA: Common Otter Lutra lutra is reported to be present. Wular lake supports a huge fishing industry. Six species of endemic Schizothoracid fish have been reported (Baba, undated). They are being replaced by the introduced Cyprinus carpio.

Key contributors: M. M. Baba and A. Wani.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Wular Lake and associated marshes. Downloaded from on 06/10/2022.