Ruddy Shelducks (Tadorna ferruginea) are not technically ducks but “duck-like waterfowl” having some characteristics of ducks and some of geese.
Ruddy Shelducks are common in the lowlands of Nepal and throughout their range in Asia but are in decline in Southern Europe. These waterfowl fly to impressive elevations to cross the Himalaya and have been recorded reaching elevations of 22,000 feet.
In Tibet and Mongolia, Ruddy Shelducks are considered sacred by Buddhists and they’re called the ‘Brahminy duck’ in India, referring to the Brahmin or priesthood caste.
My guides at Bardia National Park told me that the Ruddy Shelduck is locally referred to as a “love bird” because according to tradition, they’re always found in pairs. It is said that if one of a pair of the birds dies, the other will slowly starve itself to death. Because of this, Nepali people traditionally refrained from killing the Ruddy Shelduck. It is true that generally, the Ruddy Shelduck does form pair bonds for life.
I photographed this pair in the Rapti River, just outside of Chitwan National Park.