JAN 2020  
Great Indian Bustard

Is it just me or is there someone else out there who thinks the Great Indian Bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps) is like a photoshopped ostrich? Unlike the ostrich, what this bird, also known as the Indian Bustard, can do is fly. If you are a little surprised to hear that seeing the shape of its body, you may not be alone. This bird, which is about a metre high and is at home in the Indian subcontinent, is one the heaviest birds that can fly!

On its head is a distinctive black patch that contrasts with the lighter-coloured neck and the rest of the head. The colours darken again on the body, whose brown colour helps it merge with the habitat. The female, as in so many other species, is smaller in size than the male. The white patches that you see on the head and neck of the male are not shared by the female, nor does she have the prominent breast band.

In winter, the last few males still left gather in little groups. However, during the breeding season (that stretches from March to September) the male prefers to plough a lonely furrow. During the mating season, the male bird looks smarter and brighter. It shows off some fluffy white feathers to score points with the female, inflating the gular pouch till the sac hangs from the neck. The pouch allows it to call out to the females in a booming voice that can be heard half a kilometre away! In local parlance, it gets its name from its different calls. In some parts, it is called the ‘hoom’ or ‘hookna’.

During the mating season, the male Indian Bustard gets into fights with other contenders. During these territorial fights, the birds jump, almost trying to push each other away. The male can even fold its tail on its back! After such possessive courting, the female lays one egg in a season which is virtually on the ground and sits down, thereafter, to incubate it. This very low egg count  makes the chances of a successful hatching rather unsure. With enemies around waiting to destroy the egg, incubation is quite a responsibility, and the female often flies in an erratic zigzag pattern to distract the enemy. The care of the hatchling is also her responsibility and extends till the next summer. However, the young bird is only ready for parenthood after  it is three years old, which means that it has to stay safe at its most vulnerable age for three years before a next generation can be hoped for.

The Indian Bustard is omnivorous, which is perhaps the right decision since it cannot be too picky in the arid and semi-arid areas it inhabits.  It feeds on insects and rodents, just as it is known to eat local fruit and seeds. Even the spiny- tailed lizard is not safe from the Indian Bustard! Since it often lives not far from fields, it is known to eat crops like millets, such as bajra, and legumes.

 Look Far, Look Near

The Indian Bustard is, metaphorically speaking, on shaky legs. Although it has the ability to fly, it is struggling to stay alive, though it was once common across the subcontinent in both India and Pakistan. It was one of the favourite birds of prey because it is large enough and due to the preference for the taste of its flesh. Sadly, that is a major reason that its numbers are feared to be down to as low as 150. The low population is a huge tragedy and cause for concern since the Indian Bustard was once a common bird. In fact, in 2011, there were 250 of these birds. Little wonder then that it is on the list of Critically Endangered species.

Much the Same Story

As in the case of many other species, the Indian Bustard is facing the same enemy. With the growth in human populations and ‘infrastructure’ for ‘development’, this imposing bird finds its home, which is thorny scrubland and dry grasslands with tall grass about as tall as the bird, being taken over. Hazards include roads (where it stands the risk of being run over by vehicles), power lines (where it can get electrocuted) and wind energy farms. In some places, solar energy panels have been set up in their habitat, forcing them out. Sadly, this bird has weak frontal vision and cannot see the power lines in time while it flies. Male birds pay a greater price as they fly around looking for female birds.  

The Indian Bustard does not seem to like to wet its toes because it is not seen in moist regions. So, the bird must have been rather disappointed to see major irrigation canals come up in its homestead. With water, which it does not much care for, came farmlands. The writing was on the wall. The great Indian bustard had to bow back.

The bird was once at home across a vast region covering Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu. That’s a huge swathe of the country! Now, it is found only in the Thar desert in Rajasthan and in small, isolated areas in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh where there are only seven and two female birds left respectively. Just a few of these birds are hoped to be alive in the Cholistan Desert of Pakistan. Not only has the area reduced, the habitat has also been reduced drastically to little patches. Although the Great Indian Bustard is protected under the Wildlife Protection Act (1972) where it is listed in Schedule 1, it has been hunted down ruthlessly for its meat for centuries and since its habitat is rather open, it has been easy to spot and target. Even British soldiers found it game worth going for. The Mughal emperor Babar even recorded the flavour of its meat. As automobiles were developed, hunters got an unfair advantage over the bird in speed because of its rather
open habitat.

The slide has not happened overnight. It was initially put on the list of ‘Endangered’ species. What is surprising is that in spite of that warning, a bird as large and as visible as the Great Indian Bustard slipped to the ‘Critically Endangered’ category on the IUCN Red List. As far back as in the 1970s, concerned with the dwindling numbers of the Great Indian Bustard, some effort was made to breed the captive birds, but the Great Indian Bustard did not seem to agree with the plot.

In fact, it is not just the Great Indian Bustard alone, but its cousins-the Bengal florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis) and the lesser florican (Sypheotides indicus)-that are also staring at an uncertain future. In 2012, the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India started species recovery programmes for all three. In 2013, Rajasthan started the Project Great Indian Bustard to try and give the bird safe breeding space. In the summer of 2019, five chicks of the Great Indian Bustard hatched in Sum village in Jaisalmer. The chicks look a little like tiny leopards with their two colours. The chicks were born from eggs that were collected from Desert National Park, Jaisalmer.

Is there a way out? Captive breeding is one answer, and pushing electric lines underground is certainly another. Wherever possible, electricity lines should have deflectors that will warn and divert birds because the lines are easier to spot. Whatever is being done is still too tenuous for a bird that was, once, in the list of probable candidates for the national bird of India!

What You Can Do

Support organizations that support the Great Indian Bustard. Find out more about the bird and share what you know with friends. Try not to buy any product made from an animal.

Ms Benita Sen is a features journalist and an editor. She writes fact and fiction, prose and verse, biographies, environmental books, and craft books. Some of her happiest hours are spent writing for children, conducting workshops, and storytelling sessions.

© TERI 2020

Nominations open for CSP Today India awards 2013

The inaugural CSP Today India awards ceremony takes place on March 12, and CSP developers, EPCs, suppliers and technology providers can now be nominated.

CSP has made tremendous progress since the announcement of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission in 2010. With Phase I projects now drawing closer to completion, the first milestone in India’s CSP learning curve is drawing closer. CSP Today has chosen the next CSP Today India conference (12-13 March, New Delhi) as the time for the industry to reflect upon its progress and celebrate its first achievements.

At the awards ceremony, industry leaders will be recognized for their achievements in one of 4 categories: CSP India Developer Award, CSP India Engineering Performance Award, CSP India Technology and Supplier Award, and the prestigious CSP India Personality of the Year.

Matt Carr, Global Events Director at CSP Today, said at the opening of nominations that “CSP Today are excited to launch these esteemed awards, which will enhance the reputation of their recipients. I am particularly excited to launch the CSP India Personality of the Year award, a distinguished honor for the industry figure deemed worthy by their peers.”

All eyes will be on the CSP Today India 2013 Awards when nomination entry closes on February 4 and the finalists are announced on February 11. The awards are open to all industry stakeholders to nominate until February 4 at or by e-mail to [email protected]

Matt Carr
+44 (0) 20 7375 7248
[email protected]