Vanishing Species – The Saurus Crane


An Article by Mohan Pai

 
 The Saurus Crane
(Grus antigone)
World’s tallest flying bird, the Saurus cranes mate for life and is perhaps the best example of conjugal harmony and fidelity in nature.
Saurus cranes mate for life. The bond is so strong, these birds are a symbol of marital fidelity in many Asian cultures. As with many other crane species, the saurus crane performs a courtship dance mainly during the breeding season. They bow and curtsy, opening up their wings and throwing back their head as they utter their trumpeting call. The Saurus is the only resident crane in India.

The Saurus crane is a large, tall grey bird standing 1.5 to 1.75 m. with long bare red legs and naked red head and upper neck with a wing span of 2.4 m. Cranes are believed to have evolved during Cenozoic period (in the last 60 million years).

Habitat

The Saurus pairs about cultivations and marshland. Distributed in Northern, Central and NE India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Myanmar. The Burmese sharpii is darker than Indian antigone.

Habits

Essentially a dweller of open well-watered plains. Normally seen in pairs, occasionally accompanies by one or two young. Said to pair for life, and conjugal devotion has one for the species popular reverence and protection resulting in tameness and lack of fear of man.

It attains flight by slow rhythmical wing strokes, neck outstretched in front, legs trailing behind; swifter than it appears and seldom high up in the air. It is the world’s tallest flying bird (nearly six feet tall).
It gives a loud, sonorous, far-reaching trumpeting sound uttered from ground as well as on wing.
During breeding season pairs indulge in ludicrous and spectacular dancing display, bowing mutually, prancing with outspread wings and leaping around each other.

Diet

Grain, shoots and other vegetable matter, insects, reptiles, etc.
NestingThe nest is a huge mass of reed and rush stems and straw, in the midst of a flooded paddy field or a marsh. Lays two pale greenish or pinkish white eggs, sometimes spotted and blotched with brown or purple. Both birds are vigilant in guarding the nest, boldly attacking dogs and cattle encroaching in its neighbourhood.
The young can swim before they walk and quickly learn to get their own food.

Excerpts from the book “The Dance of the Saurus” by S. Theodore Baskaran:

“Winter in Western India and there is a nip in the air. The slanting rays of the early morning sun lift the mist slowly, revealing a brilliant carpet of yellow flowers in the mustard field. And at the edge of the expanse are two Saurus Cranes. Few other sights are so stirring to a birdwatcher as a pair of these cranes. They are always seen as twosome.

They bond for life and their marital devotion is legendary. In the world of birds , one that lasts just for breeding season, like the hornbill’s, and the other, that lasts for a lifetime like that of the Saurus. In Gujarat, one of the strongholds of these cranes, there is a touching custom. If a husband and wife are given to quarreling frequently, the elders persuade them to go and watch a pair of Saurus in the field, echoing the ritual spotting of the star Arundhathi in a marriage ceremony.
“… Due to rapidly expanding agriculture and human settlements, wetlands are disappearing fast and what is left is polluted with pesticides and industrial effluent. … Increasingly, these cranes choose to nest in paddy fields, which are after all, temporary wetland. The farmer suffers heavy losses as bird takes a toll of paddy. So they try to prevent the Saurus nesting in their fields and each season quite a few pairs fail to breed. In the Kheda area, traditional breeding ground of the Saurus where you get the highest concentration of nesting pairs, every year there is a decline of fifteen per cent and that is an alarming rate indeed.”

References: The Book of Indian Birds by Salim Ali, The Dance of the Saurus by S. Theodore Baskaran
 
 Pic: Courtsey, E. J. Peiker
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http://delhigreens.com/2008/03/10/whither-the-wilderness/
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