The Endangered Species of India

India is a tapestry of landscapes and habitats that has nurtured birdlife more than a thousand years. It is known to harbor some of the most enthralling species on the planet while at the same time acts as host for migratory birds that seek refuge in the country for its wealth of abundance. However, there’s been a major peril to their very existence due to human interventions in various forms. From habitat degradation, chemical contaminants to development projects and other threats in the form of invasive species as well as poachers. Many of these activities have pushed some of these species to the brink of extinction. Unless and until protective measures are brought in to conserve some of these marvelous species, we might lose them from the face of our planet, forever.

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.

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.

2. Bengal Florican

01 of 04 Bustard species found in India, the Bengal Florican is a secretive species 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).

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.

3. 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.

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 croack of a skittering frog – it can be heard a few hundred metres away! This behaviour is territorial display of superiority and attracts the 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.

4. Forest Owlet

The Forest Owlet is endemic to India, and only found in the Narmada Valley. Such little is known about this bird, and so small its distribution, that the Forest Owlet was declared extinct in 1972, only 100 years after its discovery! It was “rediscovered” in 1997.

Distribution and Population

It is found in 3 states of India : Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh & Gujarat mostly in dry deciduous forests. It is rare owing to the fact that only 1-2 juveniles survive from 6-7 nests. Forest Owlet population in present day is at around 200-250 individuals giving it its critically endangered status by IUCN. Melghat Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra may hold almost half the birds population.

Habitat, Description and Behaviour

The Forest Owlet occurs in Dry Deciduous Forests, however recent records have shown them to occur in Moist Deciduous Forests as well.
Its well pronounced white mask, unspotted head and undulating flight have led scientists to provide it with a genus of its own : Heteroglaux.
Each clutch of eggs has 1-2 individuals, and nest in small cavities in large trees.
Their propensity to select on certain types of hollows in which to roost, has resulted in their extirpation from certain areas.

5. White-bellied Heron

The White Bellied Heron is the 2nd largest Heron species in the world, standing at around 4 feet. One of India’s rarest and seldom seen birds, they are globally threatened.

Distribution and Population

The White Bellied Heron inhabits forests of India, Bhutan and Myanmar. It has not been reported in Nepal since the 19th Century and declared extinct.
The first evidence of the White-bellied Heron nesting in India was discovered in 2014, when, during the Tiger Census – it was discovered in Namdapha Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh. The only other records are in the state of Assam. 

Habitat, Description and Behaviour

It survives in the foothills of the Himalayas and requires large and open fast-flowing rivers to survive. They are able to catch fish moving in the river’s current. This makes it the only heron species in the world which displays this behaviour.
This bird also is very secretive, easily spooked by human presence. Human pressure on the park, and resultant fishing and sand-mining are affecting the species which are anyway only present in a small handful in India.

6. Jerdon’s Courser

The Jerdon’s Courser is a bird from the Pratincole family, endemic to the Eastern Ghats in India and was believed to be extinct until rediscovery in the year 1986! The last photographic record is from 2008 however.
Its closest cousins are the Three-banded Courser and the Bronze-winged Courser, found in Africa.

Distribution and Population

The Jerdon’s Courser is believed found currently in the Telangana and Andhra Pradesh States of India. Records presently are only at the Sri Lankameshwara Wildlife Sanctuary. There are believed to be between 50 and 200 individuals in the wild, as surveys have shown.

Habitat, Description and Behaviour

The Jerdon’s Courser inhabits open patches of Scrub Forest and are interestingly a nocturnal species – hence the limited sightings and understanding of the behaviour of this bird.
They are insectivorous in nature, and prefer to get away with their feet rather than fly away when confronted with danger.

7. Green Avadavat

The “Green Munia” or the Green Avadavat is a small delightful species to watch in the wild. They belong to the Estrildidae finch family. Sadly, due to their appearances, they have been caught and caged for a long period of time, resulting in the decline of their population.

Distribution and Population

The Green Avadavat is a rarely occurring bird, once found in different parts of Central India, from Southern Rajasthan to Central Uttar Pradesh. Its range also extended to Southern Bihar and West Bengal and southwards in Southern Maharashtra and Northern Andhra Pradesh.
It is now most common only at Mt.Abu in Rajasthan. It is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN, and there are estimated to only be around 6000 individuals in the wild. 

Habitat, Description and Behaviour

A striking bird, its upperparts and wings are green, with zebra-striped patterns on the side. The underparts are a bight brighter yellow in colour. Its red coloured eyes and finch-like beak are characteristic as well.
Females are slightly duller in colour on the whole. The Green Avadavat occupies open woodland, grassland, scrub and semi-agricultural areas where it feeds on the seeds of these grasses and insects. They can be seen in small flocks.
They breed in the peak of summer, and make nests using the coarse grass and leaves available. They do make nests in colonies, and both, male and female, participate in incubating the eggs.

8. Sociable Lapwing

From the family of the Plovers, Lapwings and Dotterels, these nimble and gregarious birds are a sight to treasure. Their name results from the observation of the tendency to form flocks between while migrating.

Distribution and Population

Breeding populations of the Sociable Lapwing occur in Kazakhstan and South-Central Russia. They migrate to a large geographical area: North-east Africa, Central Asia, The Arabian Peninsula, Southern Pakistan and North-west India.
In India, they visit Tal Chappar Wildlife Sanctuary, Little Rann of Kutch Gujarat and Nalsarovar near Ahmedabad, Gujarat.
They are listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN.
In Europe, the population size is estimated to have decreased by 80% or more in the last three generations and by 25% in just one generation. A global decline of more than 50% is still precautionarily inferred for the past three generations, with an ever-larger decline predicted for the next three.

Habitat, Description and Behaviour

The habitat they occupy is Dry Scrubland, Short Grasslands, Ploughed and Stubble Fields. They breed in the Steppes Grasslands. They often lay their eggs in scrapes lined with dry dung amongst agricultural areas.
Adult Sociable Lapwings are olive-brown to greyish in colour with brown streaking around its neck till the throat. The underparts are cream-coloured. Wings are brown to greyish with a black tip, a black tip is visible on the tail as well.
The bill is black, along with a thin black supercilium. The crown is blackish-brown as well.
These are feeders on small invertebrates and are also seen feeding on seeds, flowers, grains and leaves. They are usually seen foraging along the ground as other Plovers.
Breeding season is April – July. Interestingly, they are monogamous in nature and are known to breed in colonies. These nests are usually scraped in the ground, which may be bare or lined with twigs, grasses and pebbles. Both parents take turns to incubate the eggs which are usually 3-4 per clutch.

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