The Great Indian bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps) is a huge bird of the bustard family (Otididae) and one of the world's heaviest flying birds. The great Indian bustard lives in dry grasslands and scrublands across the Indian subcontinent, with the highest populations in Rajasthan, India.
The Great Indian Bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps) has been categorized as Critically Endangered, the most serious threat species faces. Hunting, disturbance, habitat degradation, and fragmentation have all contributed to the dwindling population of this spectacular species, which may now number as few as 250 individuals. The Great Indian Bustard bird, which stands a metre tall and weighs over 15 kg, was formerly common across India and Pakistan's grasslands but is now constrained to small, isolated remnants of the remaining habitat.
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Great Indian Bustard Classification
Great Indian Bustard Description and Characteristics
The great Indian bustard is easily identified by its black crown on the forehead, which contrasts with the pale neck and head. The body is brownish, with black, brown, and grey markings on the wings. Males and females are comparable in height and weight, but males have larger black crowns and a black stripe across the breast. During the monsoon season, when they breed the most, females lay a single egg on open ground. Males have a gular pouch that helps them make a loud mating sound that can be heard up to 500 metres distant.
Males are not involved in the incubation or care of the young, who are left with the mother until the next breeding season. These birds are scavengers who consume whatever they can get their hands on. Their diet varies greatly depending on the availability of food at different times of the year. They eat grass seeds, insects such as grasshoppers and beetles, and even small rodents and reptiles on occasion.
Historically, the great Indian bustard was found in 11 states in Western India, as well as parts of Pakistan. The Thar desert in the northwest and the Deccan plateau on the peninsula were previously its strongholds. Its population is now primarily confined to Rajasthan and Gujarat. Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh have small populations.
Bustards prefer open, flat terrain with little sight obstruction and disturbance, therefore, they thrive in grasslands. They like vast agro-grass scrub habitats during the non-breeding season. They gather in traditional untouched grassland patches characterised by a mosaic of lightly grazed tall grass throughout the breeding season (summer and monsoons) (below 50 cm). They stay away from grasses that are taller than they are, as well as deep scrub like thickets.
Behaviour and Ecology of Indian Bustard
Great Indian bustards are omnivores who feed opportunistically, meaning they eat whatever food is available in their immediate environment. They eat arthropods, worms, tiny animals, and small reptiles, among other things. During the summer monsoon, when India's rainfall peaks and the bird's breeding season are completely underway, insects such as locusts, crickets, and beetles make up most of its diet. During the coldest and driest months of the year, seeds (such as wheat [Triticum vulgare] and peanuts [groundnuts; Arachis hypogaea]) make up the majority of the diet.
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Adult great Indian bustards have few natural enemies, but they become agitated when they come into contact with predatory birds like eagles and Egyptian vultures (Neophron percnopterus). Gray wolves are the only creatures that have been spotted attacking them (Canis lupus). Felines, jackals, and feral dogs, on the other hand, may hunt on chicks. Foxes, mongooses, monitor lizards, Egyptian vultures, and other birds have been known to steal eggs from nests. Grazing cows, on the other hand, are the greatest hazard to the eggs, as they frequently crush them.
Although some aspects of great Indian bustard reproduction are known, the finer specifics of nesting and mating, as well as migratory movements associated with nesting and mating, are thought to vary widely among populations and individuals. They can reproduce all year, for example, but the breeding season for most populations is from March to September, which roughly corresponds to the summer monsoon season. Similarly, while they do rarely return to the same nests year after year, preferring to build new ones instead, they do occasionally use nests built by other great Indian bustards in prior years. The nests themselves are simple, and they are typically found in soil depressions in low croplands and grasslands, or on rocky open ground.
Although it is unknown whether the species has a unique mating strategy, features of promiscuous (in which members of both sexes mate with several partners) and polygynous (in which males mate with numerous females) mating have been recorded. The species does not appear to develop pair bonds. In some groups, lekking occurs, in which males gather at communal display locations to perform for and woo females. Solitary males, on the other hand, may use loud sounds that can be heard at least 0.5 km (0.3 miles) away to attract females to their sites. Standing on open ground with its head and tail lifted, white feathers fluffed, and gular sac (neck pouch) filled with air, the male performs a visual exhibition.
After breeding, the male departs, leaving the mother to be the sole carer for her young. The majority of females lay a single egg, however, two-egg clutches are not uncommon. Before the egg hatches, she incubates it for about a month. After one week, hatchlings are capable of eating themselves, and after 30–35 days, they are completely fledged. At the start of the next breeding season, the majority of hatchlings have entirely emancipated themselves from their moms. Females can reproduce as young as two or three years old, while males reach sexual maturity around the age of five or six.
Outside of the breeding season, there are few obvious movement patterns among great Indian bustards. Some migrate within an area for short distances, while others migrate across the subcontinent for greater distances.
Great Indian Bustard IUCN Status
On the IUCN Red List and the National Wildlife Action Plan, it is listed as Critically Endangered in Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, in the CMS Convention, and in Appendix I of CITES (2002-2016). It has also been listed as one of the species in need of recovery under the Ministry of Environment and Forests' Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats initiative.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species designated big Indian bustards as an endangered species in 1994. The population decrease had become so severe by 2011, that the IUCN classed the species as critically endangered. The most recent population estimate, done in 2008, indicated that there were between 50 and 250 mature birds left; however, smaller regional surveys undertaken since then have revealed that local populations have continued to fall. The state of Rajasthan has the biggest concentration of great Indian bustards, estimated to be over 120 birds.
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Conservation of the Great Indian Bustard Birds
Hunting, which is still practised in Pakistan, is the greatest threat to this species. Outside of Protected Areas, there is some poaching, as well as collisions with high-tension electric wires, fast-moving vehicles, and free-ranging dogs in settlements. Habitat loss and alteration as a result of broad agricultural growth and mechanised farming, infrastructural development such as irrigation, highways, and electric poles, as well as mining and industrialization, are all hazards. Here are a few more reasons why the Indian Bustards are endangered.
Too many domestic animals, disruption during breeding, conversion of grasslands and so-called "wastelands" into crop fields are all examples of habitat degradation and deterioration.
Bustard sanctuaries have been tainted by corruption and mismanagement.
In India, there are no explicit land-use policies or domestic animal grazing restrictions.
Project Great Indian Bustard
Project Tiger and Project Elephant in India have demonstrated that by choosing an umbrella species and focusing attention on it and its habitat, a significant portion of the natural ecosystems that support a diverse range of threatened species may be protected. Bustards and Floricans can be thought of as grassland ecosystem umbrella species. A huge number of Indian grassland species can be saved by protecting them and their habitats. The local inhabitants would also benefit from the protection and good management of these meadows.
Grasslands are underrepresented in India's almost 550 protected areas. Misguided management tactics have ruined some of the bustard sanctuaries (e.g. Karera, Sorsan, Ghatigaon). There is no long-term research on bustards, and we don't even know the basic biology of this critically endangered and declining species at the moment.
Taking all of these factors into account, the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) suggests that the Indian government launch 'Project Bustard,' a project similar to Project Tiger, with the following goals:
To protect all four bustard species in India.
The variety of habitats of Indian bustards and their allied species must be preserved.
More bustard conservation zones should be established with the help of the state government and residents.
Management of bustard conservation areas must be overseen and coordinated.
Long-term studies on bustards and their habitats in many states must be coordinated.
To create educational materials for decision-makers, stakeholders, students, and others.
Conservation of bustard habitat must be integrated with national grazing policies and land use patterns.
The ‘Guidelines for the State Action Plan for Resident Bustard Recovery Programme' were developed with support from WWF-India. It has played a significant role in raising awareness about the decreasing numbers of bustards and emphasising the significance of a national bustard conservation effort. WWF-India is working to protect GIB in and around Desert National Park. WWF also wants to extend its operations in Gujarat in the near future and is working to raise money for this.
Did You Know?
The colour of a bird's feathers distinguishes males from females.
In India, there are just about 150 Great Indian Bustard birds alive to date.
[while] the flesh of the legs of some fowls, and the breast of others is excellent; the flesh of every part of the Kharchal is delicious", once said the Mughal emperor Babur.
The great Indian bustard was a potential contender (highly backed by Indian naturalist Salim Ali) when the "national bird" of India was under consideration.
Great Indian Bustard Population
The Great Indian Bustard (GIB), scientifically known as ardeotis nigriceps, appears to be on the edge of extinction, with only about 110 of these magnificent birds remaining in the entire country. Over 1,000 of them lived in India just 50 years ago.
The GIB, one of the biggest flying birds of the Indian grasslands, is unique to India, with some occurrences in Pakistan's bordering districts of Sindh and Cholistan, where it is hunted. These birds are currently dispersed in a few fragmented patches. The state of Rajasthan has the most number of birds now, with the rest spread throughout Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Maharashtra.