The Great Indian Bustard Information

Great indian bustard

The Great Indian Bustard Faces Threat of Extinction 

-Dr. Arvind Singh 

The Great Indian Bustard is one of the heaviest flying bird species found in India and Pakistan. It is the flagship species of India’s grasslands and the Savannas (extensive grasslands with scattered deciduous tree species). The scientific name of Great Indian Bustard is Ardeotis nigriceps, and is locally known by different names in different states. The names popularly used are Maldhok, Yerbhoot, Ghorad, Godawan, Tuqdar, Sohan chidia, Sone chiraya etc. The Great Indian Bustard is a state bird of Rajasthan where it is known with the name Godawan.

When the ‘National Bird’ of India was under consideration, the Great Indian Bustard was a proposed candidate and was strongly supported by the Indian Ornithologist Salim Ali, but was dropped in favor of Peacock with at least one reason of being mispronunciation of the word ‘Bustard’.

Due to extreme reduction in population size, the Great Indian Bustard is listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ in the Red List of Threatened species of International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). Critically endangered species are those which are facing extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in immediate future.

Distribution Range:

The species was formerly widespread in arid and semi-arid grasslands of India and Pakistan. However, today it is rare due to serious decline in population. In India the bird was historically found in the states of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. However, today the individuals of Great Indian Bustard are restricted to isolated pockets in the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. Some birds are found in Pakistan mainly in summer.

Salient Features:

The Great Indian Bustard is a large cursorial bird with a long neck and long bare legs similar to that of Ostrich. It stands at about meter height. The Great Indian Bustard is easily distinguished by its black crown on the forehead contrasting with the pale neck and head. The body is brownish and the wings are marked with black, brown and grey. The male is about 120 cm in length with body weight ranging between 8- 15kg. The female is smaller (92 cm in length) than the male with a body weight ranging between 2.5 -6.75 kg.

The male is deep sandy buff colored and during the breeding season has a black breast band. The crown of the head is black and crested and is puffed up by displaying males. In the female, the head and neck are not pure white and the breast band is either rudimentary, broken or absent. Males have a well developed gular pouch right below the tongue which helps in producing the deep resonant booming mating call to attract a female that can be heard up to a distance of 500 m.

Male and female Bustard birds generally move in separate unisexual flocks. The flock size varies from 3 - 10 birds. The bird carries out its roosting on the ground. All the birds in a flock rest together and a few of them are watchful for any impending danger. Night roosting is done in an open while during the day they prefer thick grass or shade of a bush. The bird has excellent eyesight and hearing powers and is capable of hiding when danger threatens.

Great Indian Bustard is largely a silent bird but when threatened produces a barking sound ‘hook’ and therefore it is also called ‘Hookna’ in some parts of Northern India. It is known in some other parts as Gaganbher or Gurayin for the resemblance of other calls to thunder or roar of a tiger.

Habitat and Ecology:

Great Indian Bustard inhabits arid and semi-arid grasslands with thorn scrub, tall grass interspersed with cultivation. The bird avoids irrigated areas. The major areas where they are known to breed include Central and Western India and Eastern Pakistan.

The Great Indian Bustard is an opportunistic omnivore, feeding on berries of Ziziphus spp., seeds of grasses, insects (grasshoppers, locust and beetles), scorpions, rats, and lizards. In cultivated areas, they feed on crops such as exposed groundnut, millets, pods of legumes and wheat grains. The chick mainly feeds on insects. Like other desert fauna, it is facultative drinker (drinks regularly when water is available but can survive without water for a long dry spell).

Great Indian Bustard breeds between March and September during which time the inflated fluffy white feathers of the male are inflated and displayed. Territorial fights between males involve strutting next to each other, leaping against each other with legs against each other and landing down to lock the opponents head under their neck. The Great Indian Bustard is known for its fantastic courtship display.

After mating, the female selects some secluded spot to lay her egg, usually under a bush from where it can have a good view of the surrounding. The female lays a single very rarely two pale olive-brown egg in a nest situated on open grounds and incubate it for 27 days. Within 24 hours of laying the egg, the mother takes it from the nest to an area with adequate vegetation cover to check predators like, jackal, fox, crow, mongoose and monitor lizard from getting at egg or the chick. Females may use a distraction display that involves flying zigzag with dangling legs. Since the male is polygamous hence take no part in incubation or caring of young. The only female is involved in incubation and care of young. Generally, the chick feeds on grasshoppers, beetles and small lizards.

Threats to Survival:

A study of mitochondrial DNA in 2011 in 63 samples from five Indian states revealed a very low genetic diversity indicating a historical population reduction. The study indicated a population reduction or near extinction estimated about 20,000-40,000 years ago.

Habitat loss and hunting are the two main threats to the survival of Great Indian Bustard. In addition to this, the slow breeding nature of the bird is also a threat to their survival.

Despite being adapted to survive harsh conditions, Great Indian Bustard shave disappeared from almost 90% of their former range owing to loss of habitat and hunting and the calculation indicates that the species has declined at a rate equivalent to 82% over 47 years. Their present population in India is estimated to be around 200 individuals with the largest population of about 100 birds in the Jaisalmer, Barmer and Bikaner Districts of Rajasthan.

The grasslands in which they live have been destroyed due to over-grazing, agricultural conversions, mining, urbanization, growth of industries and power projects, and many have been opened up to construct roads resulting in the fragmentation.

The Sokhliya region of Ajmer District in Rajasthan has been known for the population of Great Indian Bustard. However, the opening of the area for mining has led to habitat loss of this bird. This has resulted in a sharp decline in the Bustard population of the region. In the Sokhliya region the estimated population of Great Indian Bustard in the year 1990 was 72 individuals, which have dropped to 24 individuals in the year 2004. However, in February 2012 only 2 individuals of Great Indian Bustard were recorded from the region.

Spread of Indira Gandhi canal in the desert state of Rajasthan has resulted in an increased area under agriculture leading to habitat alteration of the bird species. This, in turn, has led to the disappearance of the species from the region. Traditionally, the grasslands and scrub have been considered as a wasteland in India. The Forest Department policy has been to convert these grasslands and scrub to forests with plantation of fuel, fodder, and timber yielding tree species. 

The large scale plantations of exotic woody species like Eucalyptus spp. and Prosopis juliflora under social forestry programme and compensatory afforestation schemes have resulted in the loss of Bustard habitat. For instance, at Ranibennur Black buck Sanctuary (Karnataka) habitat changes have influenced the population of black buck and Great Indian Bustards owing to plantation of Eucalyptus spp.

The Bustard Sanctuary in Maharashtra has only 9 individuals of this bird. The latest bird census in Gujarat has revealed that in entire state only 48 individuals of Great Indian Bustard are left.

The Great Indian Bustard are hunted for sport and food since British rule in India. It was one of the topmost game birds in India. Great Indian Bustard are still hunted in the Thar Desert.


The Great Indian Bustard is listed in Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act of India, 1972 and international trade is prohibited by its listing on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of wild flora and fauna.

A number of protected areas have been set up in distribution range of Great Indian Bustard to ensure its conservation. The most important one includes Naliya in Kutch region of Gujarat, Rollapadu in Andhra Pradesh, Bustard Sanctuary in Maharashtra and Desert National Park in Rajasthan.

Despite of conservation measures the population of Great Indian Bustard has declined sharply. They have disappeared even from their several protected areas. Great Indian Bustard have totally vanished from former Sanctuaries like Karera and Ghatigaon in Madhya Pradesh, Rannibenur in Karnataka and Sorasan in Rajasthan.

The following actions are needed for the conservation of Great Indian Bustard in India:

1. To prevent the alteration of the bird’s habitat from developmental activities.

2. To avoid over-grazing in the habitats of Great Indian Bustard.

3. To protect the lekking sites (traditional places where males gather to display and attract females) of the bird species.

4. Since biology of Great Indian Bustard is largely unknown hence a proper biological investigation is necessary to conserve the bird.

 5. To strictly enforce the Wildlife (Protection) Act and CITES.


It can be concluded that the population of Great Indian Bustard has reduced to serious extent mainly due to habitat loss and hunting. Thus this bird species faces threat of extinction. Hence it is an urgent need to take concrete conservation action to save this magnificent bird from extinction.
Dr. Arvind Singh is M. Sc. and Ph.D. in Botany with an area of specialization in Ecology. He is a dedicated Researcher having more than four dozen published Research Papers in the Journals of National and International repute. His main area of Research is Restoration of Mined Lands. However, he has also conducted research on the Vascular Flora of Banaras Hindu University-Main Campus, India. 

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