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Birds on the Brink: Winged Wonders Fast Disappearing from Indian Skies

India, with it’s a vast ecology, houses the most vivid birds in the world. From the great Himalayas to the dense forests, over 1200 species of birds are found in the country. But human impact, changing environment and climate patterns are leading to the decline in population of these birds. Let’s here try and spot those birds which were once found in large numbers across India.

Himalayan Quail (Ophrysia superciliosa)

The Himalayan Quail (Ophrysia superciliosa) is a medium-sized quail belonging to the pheasant family. It was last reported in 1876 and is feared extinct. This species was known from only 2 locations (and 12 specimens) in the western Himalayas in Uttarakhand, north-westIndia. The last verifiable record was in 1876.

Pink-headed Duck (Rhodonessa caryophyllacea)

This large diving duck was once found in the Gangetic plains of India, Bangladesh and in the riverine swamps of Myanmar. But numerous searches have failed to provide any proof on the existence of this bird. It is believed that Pink Duck may exist in the inaccessible swamp regions of northern Myanmar. This bird is declared as “critically endangered” rather than extinct.

Siberian Crane (Grus leucogeranus)

The Siberian Crane (Grus leucogeranus) is also known as the Siberian White Crane or the Snow Crane. The bird possesses a snow white body, except for their black primary feathers and a naked red face. The Snow Crane belongs to the family Gruidae, the cranes with two breeding populations in the Arctic tundra of western and eastern Russia. Among the cranes, Siberian White Crane makes the longest distance migrations. In 2010 Snow White world population is estimated about 3,200.

Sarus Crane (Grus antigone)

The Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) the tallest of the flying birds are considered as the symbols of marital fidelity in India, it is believed to mate for life and pine the loss of their mates even starving to death. This large non-migratory crane found in parts of the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia and Australia. The bird is easily distinguishable with its height which is up to 1.8 m (5.9 ft) and overall grey color with a contrasting red head and upper neck. The bird’s main breeding season is during rainy season and they build a huge nest island which is nearly 2m in diameter.

Jerdon’s Courser (Rhinoptilus bitorquatus)

The Jerdon’s Courser (Rhinoptilus bitorquatus) is a nocturnal bird found locally in India in the Eastern Ghats of Andhra Pradesh.The body has a yellow base to the black bill, a blackish crown, broad buff supercilium, and orange-chestnut throat patch. A narrow white crown stripe runs on top of the head. In flight, it shows a mostly black tail and a prominent white wingbar. The bird is locally known as Adavi wuta-titti which means “Jungle empty-purse”. Currently the bird is found only in Sri Lankamalleshwara Sanctuary in India.

Forest Owlet (Athene blewitti)

The Forest Owlet (Athene blewitti) belongs to the typical owl family Strigidae. The bird was considered extinct until 1997. It is normally seen within the fragmented and shrinking forests of central India. The bird is small (23 cm) with large skull and beak. The upperparts of the body are dark grey-brown. The upper breast is almost solid brown and the sides are barred with a white central wedge in the lower breast that is sometimes unmarked, especially in males. The wings and tail are banded with white trailing edges.

Oriental Stork (Ciconia boyciana)

Oriental Stork is a beautiful white bird with black wing feathers. This bird is closely related and resembles the European White Stork, therefore often treated as a subspecies but typically larger than the White Stork. It measures 100–129 cm (40–51 in) long, 110–150 cm (43–59 in) tall, and has a weight of 2.8–5.9 kg (6.2–13 lb) and a wingspan of 2.22 m (7.3 ft). Oriental Storks are recognized by the red skin around its eye, with a whitish iris and black bill. The young are with orange bills. Both sexes look similar, where the female is slightly smaller than male. Once they were found largely in Japan,China,Korea and Russia, but gradually disappeared from Japan and Korean peninsula.

Greater Adjutant (Leptoptilos dubius)

Greater Adjutant is considered as the scavengers in the stork family. Once they were found mainly in South Asia but now restricted to, much smaller populations at Assam in India and Cambodia. This large bird possesses a massive wedge-shaped bill, a bare head and a distinctive neck pouch. During the day time, they soar in thermals along with vultures. Usually they feed on carrion and offal; but sometimes prey on vertebrates. The birds’ English name is derived from their stiff “military” gait walking. Once they were found largely in the city of Calcutta, where they were known as Hargila which means “bone-swallower”.  

White-rumped Vulture (Gyps bengalensis)

The White-rumped Vulture (Gyps bengalensis) was described as the most abundant large bird of prey in the world. It is a typical medium sized vulture with an unfeathered head and neck, very broad wings, and short tail feathers.  It is identified by its black and the silvery grey colored body. The head is tinged in pink and bill is silvery with dark ceres. It is a large bird and weighs 3.5-7.5 kg (7.7-16.5 lbs), measures 75–93 cm (30–37 in) in length and has a wingspan of 1.92–2.6 m (6.3–8.5 ft). It builds its nest on tall trees often near human habitations in northern and central India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Southeast Asia.

Long-billed Vulture (Gyps indicus)

The Gyps indicus is an Old World vulture which breeds mainly on cliffs. It is a scavenger, feeding mostly from carcasses of dead animals. They often move in flocks. This is a typical vulture, with a bald head, very broad wings and short tail feathers. This bird suffered 99%–97% population decrease in Pakistan and India in between 2000-2007 due to poisoning caused by the veterinary drug diclofenac. Diclofenac causes kidney failure in several species of vultures, leading to death. The Indian Government had announced a ban on the veterinary use of diclofenac in March 2005.  

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