Vanishing Species – The Great Indian Bustard

An article by Mohan Pai

The Great
Indian Bustard

(Ardeotis nigriceps)
On the verge of extinction.

(Only less than 1,000 birds are now surviving in


The Great Indian Bustard is the most famous endangered and rae bird of India which dates back to the Eocene period 40-50million years ago. It is a large spectacular bird and good to eat and as it frequents open country where there are great pressures of human population and agriculture, protective measures are extremely difficult. The Indian Board of Wildlife, in late 1950s had considered this bird as a possible choice of the National Bird along with the Peacock. Apart from other shortcomings, there was an apprehension about the misspelling and mispronunciation of the word ‘Bustard’ ! It is now on the endangered red list of IUCN due to its small and declining population. In olden days it was widely distributed in almost all the arid and semi-arid plains from Uttarpradesh in the North to Tamilnadu in the South, and, from Rajasthan-Gujarat in the west to Orissa in the east. Spread of agriculture, destruction of its habitat by over grazing by livestock, and indiscriminate shooting has made the bustard a highly endangered species. However it still survives in six states: Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharasthra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradash. Rajasthan state holds more than half of the Great Indian Bustard population.

The main strong hold of the Great Indian Bustard in Rajasthan is the western portion consisting the Great Thar Desert. Some birds are found in Kota, Ajmer and Bhilwara districts. The birds are surviving in the desert regions of Bikaner, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Barmer and Jalore districts mainly because human population is comparatively low and agricultural activities are minimal. Nevertheless, with the development of the Indira Gandhi Canal in western Rajasthan more and more portions of bustard habitat will go under the plough. But marginal expansion of agriculture does not affect the bird if some areas are left for them to breed undisturbed.

The Great Indian Bustard is classified as Endangered because of its very small, declining population, a result of hunting and continuing agricultural development (Birdlife International 2000). It has entirely disappeared from five Indian and Pakistani states.

It is a large ground dwelling bird with a long neck and long bare legs like that of an ostrich. It stands at about a metre high and is a large, brown and white bird, the male is about 122 cm (48 in) in length, its weight is 18–32 lb (8–14.5 kg) and the female 92 cm (36 in) in length, its weight is 7.8–15 lb (3.5–6.75 kg). The sexes are similar in appearance although the male is deep sandy buff coloured. The crown of the head is black and crested. In the female which is smaller than the male, the head and neck are not pure white and the breast band is either rudimentary or absent.The male is polygamous. The female lays only single egg once in a year and incubates it for about 27 days. Nests are situated in the open ground and males take no part in incubation or care of the developing young. The eggs are at risk of destruction from other animals. The fledglings tend to remain with their mother until the following breeding season.It lives in arid and semi-arid grasslands, open country with thorn scrub, tall grass interspersed with cultivation. It avoids irrigated areas. It is omnivorous in diet feeding on seeds of grasses, small shrubs, insects, rats, grams, groundnuts, millets etc. depending on the season.Breeds during March to September during which time the inflated fluffy white feathers of the male are inflated and displayed. The male also raises the tail and folds it on its back. The neck is folded and the male periodically produces a resonant deep, booming call.The current population is estimated at less than 1,000. The main threat is habitat loss. Ghatigaon and Karera santuaries in Madhya Pradesh had sizeable population earlier but now there is no Great Indian Bustard. Other sanctuaries with the species include Karera wildlife sanctuary in Shivpuri district; Nannaj, 18 km from Solapur in Maharashtra and Shrigonda taluka in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra.


In the 80’s, the five states where the bustards were resident, created 8 protected areas for the birds. But some of these sanctuaries have been destroyed due to bad management and government apathy. According to Dr Asad R. Rahmani, bustard expert and current director of the BNHS, there has been a 50% decline in the bustard population in the last 10 to 15 years. The BNHS is starting a one-year campaign to convince the government to start Project Bustard on the lines of Project Tiger and Project Elephant. Unless there is protection and proper management of the grasslands, the bustards along with his fellow inhabitants of his home may soon disappear altogether.

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