Jerdon's Courser- A Rare Species of Bird in India

Jerdon’s Courser
Save the Jerdon’s Courser 
-Dr. Arvind Singh 
Jerdon’s courser is a rare species of bird currently found in the state of Andhra Pradesh in India. The bird was discovered by the Surgeon-Naturalist Thomas C. Jerdon in 1848 and was seen a few times up to 1900. Thereafter it was considered extinct. However, the bird species was rediscovered in January 1986 by Bharat Bhushan (an Ornithologist from Bombay Natural History Society) in Cuddapah District of Andhra Pradesh with help of a local bird trapper named Aitanna from village Reddipalli. In 1988 the Indian Post Service released a stamp to commemorate the rediscovery of Jerdon’s courser.

The scientific name of Jerdon’s courser is Rhinoptilus bitorquatus and it belongs to family Glareolidae. The bird is locally called as Kalevi Kodi in Cuddapah District of Andhra Pradesh. It is a ‘flagship species’ for the extremely threatened scrub forest. Flagship species is a popular charismatic species that serve as symbols and rallying points to stimulate conservation awareness and action.

Due to single, small declining population Jerdon’s courser is listed as ‘Critically Endangered” in Red List of Threatened Species of International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). Critically endangered species are those species which are facing the immediate threat of extinction.

Distribution Range and Population Size: 
Jerdon’s courser is endemic to Eastern Ghats of Andhra Pradesh and extreme southern Maharashtra. Historically this bird species was known from just a few records in the Pennar and Godavari river valleys and assumed to be extinct until its rediscovery in 1986. Jerdon’s courser is currently known to survive only in Lankamalai, Palkonda and Velikonda ranges in Cuddapah District of Andhra Pradesh.

The Birdlife International estimates the global population to be between 50 and 249 individuals with decreasing trend.

Physical Features: 
It is a compact 27 cm long, large-eyed, grey-brown bird with two white breast-bands bordered with black. The bird has a shortish, black-tipped yellow bill, broad whitish supercilium, dark cheek patch, and an orange-chestnut gorget. A narrow white coronal stripe runs on top of the blackish crown. In-flight shows mostly black tail and white patch near tips of black primaries.
Habitat and Ecology:
Jerdon’s courser inhabits sparse thorny (mostly dominated by Acacia catechu, Ziziphus nummularius and Carissa carandus) and non-thorny (mostly dominated by Cassia fistula, Hardwikia binata, and Anogeissus latifolia) scrub forest and bushes, interspersed with patches of bare ground, in gently undulating rocky foothills.

The species is nocturnal (active during the night time) and spends the day hiding under shade. It is presumed to be insectivorous. Nothing is known yet about its breeding habit.

Threats to Survival: 
Habitat loss (due to fuelwood collection, agricultural activity, livestock grazing, quarrying and plantations of exotics) is the main threat to the survival of this bird species.

The habitat of Jerdon’s courser is becoming increasingly scarce and fragmented due to the dependence of the settlers on the area for resources. The construction of Somasilla Dam led to the residents of 57 villages being relocated into the region where the Jerdon’s courser was rediscovered. These areas of Lankamalai, Palgonda, and Seshachalam were previously not well populated. With the rising population, there was increased livestock pressure and firewood extraction. Besides this, extensive quarrying threatens the habitat of bird species. The habitat preferred by the Jerdon’s courser has been reduced due to increased agricultural activity.

In December 2005, the only known location for the species was threatened by the Telugu Ganga project, a scheme to supply water to the city of Chennai. However, in 2008 the Supreme Court had already halted construction work approved a new route avoiding the remaining suitable habitat. The area, however, continued to be threatened by illegal work and activity related to the project proposed to link the rivers of India.

Illegal trapping of birds is also a threat to the bird species.

Jerdon’s courser is protected under Schedule 1 of Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and its hunting or trapping is prohibited. Two Sanctuaries have been established for the conservation of this bird species in Andhra Pradesh. One is Sri Lankamaleswara Wildlife Sanctuary and the other is Sri Penusula Narasimha Wildlife Sanctuary.

The following actions must be brought into practice to conserve the bird species.

1. To regularly monitor the population trend of bird species 
2. To strictly check the habitat loss of the bird species 
3. To launch the conservation awareness programs
4. To promote alternative livelihood in and around areas supporting populations of bird species to minimize habitat alteration and disturbance; and 
5. To strictly enforce the Wildlife (Protection) Act.

It can be concluded that Jerdon’s courser is a highly threatened species of bird almost standing on the verge of extinction. Therefore, it is of utmost need to conserve the bird species for the preservation of biological diversity and maintenance of ecological balance.
Dr. Arvind Singh is M.Sc. and Ph.D. in Botany with an area of specialization in Ecology. He is an active Researcher having four dozen of published Research Papers in the journals of national and international fame.

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