The Bustards of India

Bustards are medium-sized birds with long legs which are adapted to running, who prefer open areas such as grasslands, scrub forest and agricultural land in which to dwell.

They belong to the family Otididae and are found in Africa, Asia, Southern Europe, Australia and New Guinea.

The neck of a Bustard can be rather long as well, and often maintain an upright position while walking, and are suited to running away from any approaching danger. They have 03 toes as opposed to 04 of the passerine birds which perch amongst the canopy.

These are opportunistic feeders and omnivorous in nature, usually feeding on invertebrates and small vertebrates.

Species of Bustards in the World : 23

Species of Bustards in India : 04

1. Great Indian Bustard

Once earmarked as India’s National Bird, was not bestowed this title due to obvious concerns about its name being mis-spelt and the resultant embarrassment. India’s heaviest bird, the Great Indian Bustard(GIB) is a unique animal with a large body but a short wing-span. It can stand at over 3 ft, and weigh up to 15 kg.

The Great Indian Bustard is locally known as the Godavan.

Distribution and Population

The Great Indian Bustard once was spread across 11 states in Western, Central and Peninsular India as well as Eastern Pakistan. In the present day, they can only be seen in Gujarat and Rajasthan in Western India. In the 1980s, its population was estimated to be close to 2000 individuals. However, today, with major habitat destruction due to major infrastructure projects and human encroachment, they have perished, and sadly probably less than 100 or so remain in the wild in India.

Best place to find the Great Indian Bustard

Desert National Park in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan.

Habitat, Description and Behaviour

They preferably inhabit grasslands with short grasses, dry and thorny scrub as well. The GIB feeds on insects, worms, arthropods, small reptiles and sometimes small rodents and young birds. Male and Female of the species grow to the same size and height, but males have a larger black crown and a black band across the breast.
Females lay a single egg on open ground, and the colour of the egg keeps it from being sussed out easily. Although, with excessive human and domestic/feral dog encroachment – this is proving to be a huge challenge. The low breeding ratio is a contributor to the limited population and provides a challenge of multiplying the population of these birds as well.
Currently India is the only known breeding ground for the Great Indian Bustard, and the monsoon season from July-September is the time when the females lay their eggs.

Conservation

Rajasthan has the highest current population, and an effort on the part of the Government of India and NGO’s have resulted in the declaration of the Project Great Indian Bustard at the Desert National Park, Rajasthan. In July 2019, 05 chicks were successfully hatched in captivity – it is planned to rear them and release them back into the wild. The aim is to raise 25 chicks in captivity and release them successfully back into the ecosystem. Plans to protect Great Indian Bustards, which frequent areas outside the Protected Areas, is also underway. Awareness creation and mitigation measures to prevent the killing of birds due to collision with Power Lines, Win Turbines and in Solar Energy Plants are also being processed. Currently, India is the only known breeding ground for the Great Indian Bustard, and the monsoon season from July-September is the time when the females lay their eggs.

2. Lesser Florican

Another of the Bustard Family Species in India, these pretty birds are fast disappearing due to the destruction and degradation of grasslands in India.

Known for their elaborate and delightful courtship dance, the Lesser Florican is a wildlife wonder to behold.

Distribution and Population

The Lesser Florican occurs in North-Western India with records in Peninsular India. Functionally extinct in East Pakistan – lack of data may also account for the same. There may be only about 300-400 left in the wild today.

Best place to find the Great Indian Bustard

Sonkhaliya in Ajmer, Rajasthan, during the monsoon season.

Habitat, Description and Behaviour

The habitat of the Lesser Florican is similar to that of the Bengal Florican which is grassland, open cultivation and open areas scattered with bushes. The Males colour is chiefly black and white.It has a distinct crown(or plumes) at the back of its head rising up beautifully as it vertically lifts off the ground with rapid beating of its wings.The courtship display during the monsoon is a real spectacle to behold, the Florican flies up perpendicularly, its head arched backwards almost extending into its back and bobs up and down. The sound created by its primary feathers in the rapid movements sounds like the croak of a skittering frog – it can be heard a few hundred metres away! This behaviour is a territorial display of superiority and attracts females.The female is larger than the male, and her colouration is sandy buff with mottled patterns on its wings. Each clutch of eggs could have between 5 and 7 eggs. The bird feeds on insects, worms, and small reptiles.

3. Bengal Florican

The Bengal Florican is a secretive species even whose fleeting glimpse can delight any wildlife lover.

Distribution and Population

The Bengal Florican occurs in 3 countries : India, Nepal and Cambodia. With depleting population of the species estimated at between 350 to 1300 individuals, it is facing an existential crisis similar to the Great Indian Bustard.In India and Nepal, it is found in the alluvial grasslands of the Himalayan Foothills and the Terai Region (from Uttar Pradesh in the North of India to Arunachal Pradesh in the North East).

Best place to find the Great Indian Bustard

Desert National Park in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan.

Habitat, Description and Behaviour

A Bustard species, the Bengal Florican inhabits grasslands. They are seldom seen during the times when the grasslands are in full-growth, however, these days due to limited options, can be mostly seen around agricultural areas during their breeding season which is the dry season at the conclusion of Winter. Adult Males have a Black head, neck and body with white wings which are clearly distinguishable while in flight.
Interestingly, the females are larger in size than the males – and they are dull brown in colour. They only lay 01 to 02 eggs per clutch. They are omnivorous feeders, going for insects, worms, small reptiles and rodents.

Conservation

To protect this Critically Endangered Bustard, eminent NGO Aaranyak has initiated the Bengal Florican Conservation Project supported by Bodoland in North-East India.
Territorial Council (BTC), Conservation Leadership Program (CLP), Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) and Assam Forest Department in the following protected areas: Manas Tiger Reserve, Orang National Park, Nameri National Park and Sonai-Rupai Wildlife Sanctuary.

4. Macqueen’s Bustard

The Macqueen’s Bustard is slightly larger than the Bengal Florican, and the 2nd largest Bustard found in India.

The Macqueen’s Bustard is a winter visitor to the Western desert parts of India.

Distribution and Population

It breeds in the east of the Sinai Peninsula to the Caspian Sea and extending east to the Aral Sea in Mongolia.Birds from the northern populations winter further south in Pakistan (mainly in western Balochistan) and in the dry arid zone of western India. There are records of the Macqueen’s Bustard in the Southern State of Kerala as well, but these are vagrants.

Best place to find the Great Indian Bustard

  • Little Rann of Kutch in Gujarat.
  • Tal Chappar near Bikaner, Rajasthan.

Habitat, Description and Behaviour

The Macqueen’s Bustard breeds in deserts and arid sandy areas. They are also known to breed in dense scrubland in certain locations. It is a cream-coloured bird with speckles on its wings. The neck and chest are white with a black line running down its length. The head is also cream coloured, and it has a yellow eye-ring and yellow legs.The males puff up their neck feathers during courtship, neck upright in an “S-shape”. The tail is fanned out, as it walks in full view of the females, its neck in an upright position. The black collar of the neck is clearly visible at this point.Females lay 2-4 eggs on the ground. Omnivorous as the other bustards, these birds obtain their water content from young shoots of grass and other plants.

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