The above is an image of a Post Card issued by the Department of Posts, India as part of a four post card issue titled the "Endangered Bird Species Series"
The Lesser Florican (Sypheotides indicus) is also known as the “Likh” or “Leekh” (derived from the Sanskrit name “Khilkhilla”) or “Chotta Dahar” (in Bengal), “Chhota Charat” or “Charaz”, “Barsati” or “Kala Charaz” or “Tugdar” (in Hindi), or “Kharmore” – meaning the “grass peacock” – (in Gujarat), “Chini Mor”, “Varat” and “Anjalikarna” (in Maharashtra), “Naila nimli” (in Andhra Pradesh and Telengana), “Warragu kozhi” (in Tamil Nadu) etc.
It is a large bird of the Bustard Family (Otididae) and the only member of the genus Sypheptides. Threatened by both hunting and habitat degradation, it is a similar species as the Bengal Florican (Houbarobsis bengalensis) which is larger and does not have a white throat, collar and elongated plumes.
These two species of smaller bustards are called “Floricans” (which seems to be a term of Dutch origin, though it’s origin is rather undecided as yet).
Identification of the Lesser Florican:
The Lesser Florican bird is a small slender bustard with longish bill and legs – and the bird size is of about 46-51 cms.
Males: have spatulate – tipped head plumes, black head, neck and underparts. There is a white collar across the upper mantle, white wing – coverts.
The breeding Males have spatulate-tipped head plumes (3 four inch long, ribbon like feathers which arise from behind the ear-coverts on each side of the head and extend backwards, curving up and ending in a spatulate tip), black head, neck and underparts, white throat and white collar across upper mantle, white wing coverts which show as a patch on closed wing.
Females and Immatures/Juveniles: are sandy or cinnamon-buff.
There are heavily marked wing-coverts and rufous, rather than buff background coloration. The Females in non-breeding plumage are buff with black streaks and having darker markings on the head and neck. The back is mottled and barred in black. The neck and upper breast are buff with streaks decreasing towards the belly.
Immatures have a distinct “U” shaped mark on the neck near the throat.
Non-breeding Males, are similar to Females but have wing coverts and may have some white in the wings.
Call: Frog-like croaks during display and short whistles when flushed.
The Lesser Florican breeds chiefly in North-Western India. Breeding areas are mainly concentrated in Gujarat, South – East Rajasthan, North-West Maharashtra and Western Madhya Pradesh, some areas in Southern Nepal, parts of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.
The nesting season is between April to October. During Breeding season displaying males are rather conspicuous makes leaping breeding displays.
Nesting is in secluded grassland, fallow field or on the ground in grass clumps. The mating Female lays 3 to 4 eggs among a few pebbles, which are olive-brown, mottled and streaked with brown. Since, the eggs are laid on the ground in grass or a crop field, it makes the nest vulnerable to ground based predators like dogs, apart from predating crows and large birds.
Each Breeding Male holds a territory of about 1-2 hectares. Breeding Females put up a defensive display at nest which has them spreading their wings, tail and neck feathers and a whisting call which attracts the Males.
Females take sole part in incubation (21 days) and raising of chicks.
Distribution & declining numbers:
Endemic to the Indian sub-continent, the Lesser Florican is found in tall dry grasslands, in lowland areas (below 250 metres), with scattered bushes and scrub, mainly in North-Western and Central India during summers but is more widely distributed across India in the winters.
It is found in the greater part of the Indian plains, excluding the North Eastern States.
It is known to migrate to the South and South East India for the winters and has been found in Nepal during summers (It is a rare visitor to the “Terai” area of Nepal), and has also, been found even on the Makran coast of Balochistan province in Pakistan.
It is a Resident and locally migratory bird, primarily during the rainy season.
It is found in tall grass areas and standing fields of cotton, millets etc. It feeds on worms, centipedes, lizards, frogs, beetles and insects as well as green shoots, grain, seeds, herbs, berries, etc.
Mostly it feeds in the early morning or in the evening, except for newly migrated birds which feed throughout the day, to recoup the energy spent in flying during migration.
The Lesser Florican: An Endangered Species:
The species is highly endangered and has been extirpated (meaning “destroyed completely”) in some parts of its range, such as in Pakistan and Nepal due to hunting and from disturbance and insufficient protection resulting from overgrazing and grassland degradation.
Its population has declined since 1870s.
From 1982–1989, its population of about 4400 birds had declined alarmingly to about 1600-1700 birds i.e. a decline of about 60 to 64 %.
By 1994, conservation strategies had been intensified and resulted in increasing the number of birds to about 2200 individuals consisting of some 1500 mature birds.
It is under a severe threat through hunting, particularly of males during the breeding season, when the displaying males are highly vulnerable and easily spotted. The beautiful Male’s nuptial displays consists of constantly jumping or springing up above the long grass and crops sometimes for up to 500 - 600 times in a day. Meant to make his presence known to rival males, he also makes a loud rattling sound with his wings which attracts poachers who hunt him down for sport and food. The hunting of these displaying birds has led to sharp declines in the populations in the past.
Habitat degradation/loss and reduction of areas of grassland, due to pressure on lowland grasslands because of conversion to agriculture and overgrazing has also led to declining numbers of these birds.
The Lesser Florican population numbers had declined alarmingly to less than 1500 mature individuals and there has been a decreasing trend. Its small numbers and rapidly declining population have brought about focussed efforts to reverse the declining trend.
An invasive plant “Mikania micrantha” has also impacted the Lesser Florican’s habitat.
Some Conservation measures taken:
In 1983, the Indian State of Rajasthan had put a prohibition/ban on hunting this species while the Indian State of Madhya Pradesh had employed locals in a scheme to prevent hunting in Madhya Pradesh. In Nepal, the species is now protected at the National level.
In 1994, a conservation strategy was published which proposed management recommendations for fodder – producing grasslands and increased protection for natural grasslands.
A couple of years later, multiple conservation sites were identified for concerted conservation efforts.
Ringing of hundreds of birds have helped establish their movements and habitat preferences – which is primarily grasslands and some cotton and lentil fields as well as their seasonal migration preferences.
In Madhya Pradesh, Lesser Florican Sanctuaries at Sailana and Sardarpur are seized with conserving and increasing the Bird population.
In Maharashtra, the Forest Department has tied up with several NGOs, for increasing awareness among school children and local communities for conserving the Lesser Florican population along with other endangered bird species.
Managing Florican habitats such as grasslands, interspersed with croplands and pastures rotationally has provided optimal results for increasing the bird population.
Conservation efforts are undertaken Pan-India under “Project Bustard” which have yielded positive results.
IUCN Endangered Birds list:
Sixteen bird species in India still remain on the critically endangered list of the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list:
Migratory Wetland Species:
- Baer’s Pochard (Aythya baeri)
- Siberian Crane (Leucogeranus leucogeranus)
- Spoon – billed Sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus)
Non-Migratory Wetland Species:
- White-bellied Heron (Ardea insignis)
- Bengal Florican (Houaropsis bengalensis)
- Great Indian Bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps)
- Jerdon’s Courser (Rhinoptilus bitorquatus)
- Sociable Lapwing (Vanellus gregarious)
- Bugun Liocichla (Liocichla bugunorum)
- Forest Owlet (Heteroglaux blewitti)
- Vulture (Gyps indicus)
- Red-Headed Vulture (Sarcogyps calvus)
- Slender- billed Vulture (Gyps tenuirostris)
- White-backed Vulture (Gyps bengalensis)
- Himalayan Quail (Ophrysia superciliosa)
- Pink Headed Duck (Rhodonessa caryophyllacea)
In addition, the River Lapwing (Vanellus duvaucelii) and the River Tern (Sterna aurantia) which were listed as Species of “Least Concern” are now registered as “near threatened”, while the Long Tailed Duck has now moved from the List of “Least Concern” to “Vulnerable”.
The River Lapwing and the River Tern lay their eggs on the banks of rivers and on small islands that form on the river beds during summer. However, human activity such as bringing dogs and cattle to the riverside has resulted in the eggs getting trampled upon.