Lesser Florican - A Threatened Bird Species in the Subcontinent of India

Male Lesser Florican

Lesser Florican

A Threatened Bird Species in the Subcontinent of India 

-Dr. Arvind Singh 

Lesser Florican is a large terrestrial bird species found in tall grasslands of Indian subcontinent. The scientific name of Lesser Florican is Sypheotides indicus and it belongs to Otididae family. The bird is vernacularly called as Likh or Leekh. Lesser Floricans are found mainly in Northwestern and Central India during the summer season but are found more widely distributed across India in winter season. This bird species is highly dependent on monsoon rain for its survival. The male birds are renowned for their elaborate courtship display during the monsoon season.

Due to a very small and rapidly shrinking population across the distribution range, Lesser Florican is listed as ‘Endangered’ in the Red List of Threatened Species of International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). The estimated global population of this bird species is about 1,500 adult individuals. It is predicted that the population of Lesser Florican will undergo a very rapid decline in the near future as pressure on grasslands increases and areas of its habitat are lost and degraded.

Distribution Range:

Lesser Florican is endemic to the Indian subcontinent. Previously this bird species was widespread across most of the Indian lowland except the Northeast and the Brahmaputra valley. However, today the Lesser Florican is restricted to small breeding patches in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Telangana. In the winter season, the bird disperses itself to dry grassy areas throughout much of India, mainly to the south and east of the breeding grounds. These movements still remain poorly understood. Outside India, Lesser Floricans have been reported from the Terai of Nepal and from the Makran coast and Sind region in Pakistan.

Physical Characteristics:

The female birds are larger than the male bird. The female bird measures about 51 cm while the male measures about 46 cm. It is the smallest of all the bustards, weighing only 510-740 gm.

The breeding male is black and white with a tuft of narrow spatulate-end, up-curved black plumes projecting behind the head, three on either side. The non-breeding male resembles the female, but it has more white on its wings. The colour of bare body parts is pale yellow or brownish fawn. The legs are pale yellow and the iris is yellow.
The females are sandy buff and mottled, with blackish arrowhead marks on the back and two parallel blackish stripes down center of throat and fore-neck. The forehead and crown are black with pale median stripe or ‘center parting’. Females have head plumes. The chicks are dirty pale yellow in colour, with some black stripes on the wings, back and sides.

Habitat and Ecology:

Lesser Florican occurs in productive dry grasslands, in lowland areas (below 250 m) particularly dominated by Chrysopogon fulvus and Sehima nervosum with scattered bushes and scrub. The bird has also been reported to occur in cotton, millet, and lentils crop fields. The species shows strong breeding site fidelity amongst males.

Like other Bustard birds, the Lesser Florican is also omnivorous feeding on a wide variety of small vertebrates and invertebrates which include worms, centipedes, lizards, frogs and insects such as locusts, flying ants and hairy caterpillars. They also feed on shoots, leaves, seeds, and berries of plants. Lesser Floricans usually feed during the early hours of mornings or in evenings, except in the case of newly migrated birds which feed throughout the day.

The vertical jumping habit exhibited by male Lesser Florican is the most characteristic feature of this bird species. The male stands at a selected place, looks around and leaps up to two meters high into the air with an energetic flurry of wing beats (jumps are repeated after intervals of about three or more minutes).Then, with wings tucked in, it falls swiftly back to ground. During courtship males repeat this aerial display as many as 500 times a day, while producing a frog-like croak which can be heard from as far as 300-400 m. The jump is used to set up a territory during the breeding season by warning other males to stay and to lure potential mates. Each male hold a territory of about 1-2 hectares.

Lesser Floricans breeds annually from July to September. The males fly out by end of September leaving the female behind till December or January. Males molt out of their non-breeding plumage in June or July and display from the onset of the monsoon rains till the end of September. The species follow a ‘lek mating system’ in which no pair–bond is formed. Males attract females with their display, mate with the female for a short while, but take no further interest in raising the family. Except when a female wishes to mate with male, the sexes rarely come together. The nest is a shallow scrape on the ground in dense grass thickets or crops. The average clutch consists of 4-5 eggs which are generally green in colour with a dash of black and white. The incubation period is about 21 days and only females take sole part in incubation and rearing the chicks.

Threats to Survival:

Hunting and habitat loss are the two main threats to the survival of Lesser Floricans. The bird is hunted for sport and also for food. Hunters regularly shot the males during the breeding season, as they are easy to spot because of their courtship display. A steady decline in the population of the Lesser Florican began around 1870s, principally as a result of relentless hunting for sport and food. In 1980s the world population of Lesser Florican declined by 60% to just over 1,600 birds but fortunately increased by mid 1990s to a moderately less alarming 2,200.

Habitat loss due to encroachment, over-grazing, conversion of grassland to agriculture and establishment of development projects have caused decline in population of Lesser Florican. In addition to these, the invasion of exotic shrub Prosopisjuliflora especially in the state of Gujarat has led to loss of grasslands inhabited by the bird. Over last two decades, unreliable monsoon rains have also caused significant decline in bird population.


The lesser Florican is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The species is protected under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. It is also listed in the CMS Convention. Lesser Florican has also been included as a priority species for Recovery Programme under the Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India. Two Sanctuaries have been established for protection of this bird species in India. One is Sailana Wildlife Sanctuary in Ratlam District of Madhya Pradesh while the other is Sardarpur Wildlife Sanctuary in Dhar District of Madhya Pradesh. Lesser Floricans also occurs in a number of other protected areas in India. 

The following actions must be brought in practice for the conservation of Lesser Floricans in India: 

1. Protecting the habitats of Lesser Florican from encroachment, deterioration, and change in land use pattern. 

2. Checking the spread of exotic shrub Prosopisjuliflora in habitats of Lesser Florican. 

3. Checking of grazing in the habitats of Lesser Florican. 

4. Studying the ecology and behavior of Lesser Florican during the breeding and non-breeding season. 

5. Motivating and encouraging the farmers for organic farming in and around breeding habitats of Lesser Florican. 

6. Launching intensive awareness and sensitization programs. 

7. Strict enforcement of the Wildlife (Protection) Acts and CITES. 

8. Regular monitoring of the population size and trends of the bird species. 

9. Launching of ‘Project Bustards’ as early as possible.


It can be concluded that Lesser Florican is a threatened species of bird chiefly due to hunting and habitat loss. Therefore, it is the need of the hour to conserve this bird species by protecting its habitat and also by the strict enforcement of the Wildlife (Protection) Act and CITES.

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 of 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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