Great Indian bustard, (Ardeotis nigriceps) is a large bird of bustard family (Otididae) and is one of the heaviest flying birds in the world. Once, a contender for National Bird of India; now is the State Bird of Rajasthan and is locally called Godawan. It was once a contender for National Bird of India. Its habitat, spreads across grasslands of the states of Rajasthan, Gurjarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh.
Great Indian bustards are tall birds with long legs and a long neck; the tallest individuals stand up to 1.2 metres (4 feet) and can weigh upto 15 kg. Males and females are distinguished by the colour of their feathers. In males, the feathers on the top of the head are black with whitish neck, breast, and underparts, along with brown wings highlighted by black and gray markings. Males are characterized by a small, narrow band of black feathers across the breast. In contrast, females possess a smaller black crown on the top of the head, and the black breast band is either discontinuous or absent.
Great Indian bustards are omnivores and feed on any palatable food available in their immediate surroundings; e.g. arthropods, worms, small mammals, small reptiles, insects, seeds and peanuts. Adult great Indian bustards have few natural enemies. The only animals that have been observed to attack them are gray wolves (Canis lupus) and the chicks are preyed upon by jackals and dogs. Eggs are sometimes stolen from nests by foxes, mongooses, monitor lizards, etc. But the greatest threat to the eggs are from trampling by grazing cows, sheep, etc.
In 1994, the Great Indian bustard was listed as an endangered species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of ‘Threatened Species’. By 2011, however, the population decline was so severe that the IUCN reclassified the species as critically endangered, which is a matter of concern. The population since then is on decline and now less than 120 birds occurs in the state of Rajasthan. The Project Great Indian Bustard, was launched by Chief Minister of Rajasthan on 5th of June 2013 which has brought back focuses on conservation of the bird especially within the Desert National Park, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. However, it has not seen much success so far mainly due to loss of habitat i.e. grassland in the state and damage to the eggs of this critically endangered species.
Dr. Anuradha Bajpayee
Group Senior Manager (Environment), corporate office, NHPC