Pride of Rajasthan - The Great Indian Bustard
Now a day this species is found in India and probably in Pakistan. It generally lives in a habitat having arid and semi arid grasslands, open area with thorn scrub with tall grass scattered with cultivation. It avoids irrigated areas. It is omnivorous in nature and takes the diet according to the season. The food includes seeds of grasses, insect, rat, groundnut, millet etc.
It is a large, brown and white bird with long neck and long bare legs like that of an Ostrich. The male is about 122 cm in length weighing 8 kg-14.5 kg and female is about 92 cm in length and weigh about 3.5 kg-7 kg. Both the sexes have similar appearance. The under-parts and neck are white. A black crown is present on its forehead and upper body is brown. The wings are marked black, brown and grey. Male have larger black and crested crown, long hind crown feathers as compared to female. It also has a black band across the breast. In female the head and neck are not pure white.
Shy and timid by nature, the bustard keeps away from humans, preferring open scrublands where it lives in small groups. This spectacular bird undergoes a complete transformation at courtship when the gular sac in its neck inflates to the size of a balloon and hangs between its legs. Strutting majestically before its harem of hens, the bird utters a far-reaching call. The breeding period is during March to April. During this time the white feathers of male gets fluffy and inflated. The male raises its tail and folds it on its back. It periodically produces a resonant and booming sound. First breeding in male occurs at 5-6 years and 2-3 years in female.
They build their nest generally in an open ground and do not live in birds therefore the eggs are at risk of destruction from other animals. Female usually lays single egg once in a year and its incubation period is 27 days. Male do not contribute in nourishing or looking after its developing young ones. Although it has wings, the bird is slow in take off because of its 16 kg weight. But it is a swift runner. The hunter can easily spot and shoot the unsuspecting bird from his vehicle because of its long white neck, which is visible from a distance. The bustard is hunted for its meat, which is a food lover delight.
This bird has been declared as an endangered species due to its continuous decline. Hunting, poaching, conversion of land for agriculture, greater use of pesticides and loss of habitat are the main causes of its precipitous decline. The Desert National Park of Jaisalmer, Rajasthan is considered as its largest protected area with a population of about 500 bustards. Here the ecology of the bird is studied minutely and efforts are made to protect this beautiful species. Now a day government is planning a number of projects to raise awareness and save this species.