Raiganj Wildlife Sanctuary (Bengali: রায়গঞ্জ বন্যপ্রাণী অভয়ারণ্য) (also popularly known as Kulik Bird Sanctuary) is located 4 km (2.5 mi) north from the centre of Raiganj town, the district headquarters of Uttar Dinajpur district in the Indian state of West Bengal. NH 34 runs beside the sanctuary. Raiganj is 425 km (264 mi) from Kolkata and 181 km (112 mi) from Siliguri. The bird sanctuary is home to 164 species of birds, and some 70,000 to 80,000 migratory birds visit the sanctuary every year.
It is claimed as one of the the largest bird sanctuaries in Asia. The area of the sanctuary is around 1.30 square km. The core area is about 0.14 square km and the rest is buffer area. The river flows around part of the sanctuary and acts as the boundary in its eastern and southern parts. The shape of the sanctuary is that of the English alphabet “U”. The sanctuary has a network of artificial canals connected with the river Kulik. During monsoon the river water enters the sanctuary, which supports a wide variety of food for the birds, particularly for the Asian openbill, whose main diet is apple snail. The sanctuary is home to 164 species of birds.
Several types of migratory birds arrive here each year from South Asian countries and coastal regions. They start arriving from June. The migratory species includes open-bill storks, egrets, night herons and cormorants. The resident birds are kites, flycatchers, owls, kingfishers, woodpeckers, drongoes, etc.
According to a 2002 census, 77,012 birds visited the sanctuary that year. In 2003, the figure was even higher at 81,384. In 2008 (according to a census), 91,540 birds visited. An average of 70,000 to 80,000 birds visit the sanctuary.
Here is a description from a visitor: “On our way out from Kolkata to Raiganj, we were about to cross the bridge over the Kulik river on National Highway 34 when we saw hundreds of storks circling a patch of forest across the river. Intuitively, I knew we had arrived… Once up there (tourist lodge observatory)… we saw that all the 30-odd trees in the lodge compound were occupied by hundreds of open-billed storks… During our half-hour in the observatory, we saw flocks flying overhead carrying twigs to build their nests. Those that already had nests were busy sitting on eggs or tending to hatchlings. It was equally fascinating watching some taking time off from family chores to preen themselves and smooth ruffled feathers.”
The development of the area began in 1970, as part of the social forestry programme of the Government of West Bengal. The department planted tree species like kadam, jarul, sisoo (Dalbergia sisoo) and eucalyptus which were classified as tropical dry deciduous forest. With the Asian openbill and other species of migratory birds flocking to the artificial forest during the hatching season, it was officially designated as the “Raiganj Wildlife Sanctuary” in the year 1985. It is popularly known as Kulik Bird Sanctuary because the river Kulik flows beside the sanctuary.