Jerdon's Courser

~ presented by Birds of India

~ by Sumit Sen & Navendu Lad

'Bird of the Month'

Illustration courtesy Bikram Grewal: Birds of the Indian Subcontinent . Local Colour 2000

Scientific name: Rhinoptilus bitorquatus. Macrotarsius bitorquatus (Blyth,1848) now invalid.
                        Synonyms: Cursorius bitorquatus Collar and Andrew (1988).
                        Other common name: Double-banded Courser

Local names: Telegu (AP): Kalivi kodi; Adavi wuta-titti (?)

Status: Critically Endangered

Indian postage stamp

The Jerdon's Courser belongs to the Glareolidae family which includes two distinct groups: the pratincoles & the coursers. Glareolidae is a family of birds in the wader suborder Charadri. Unlike waders, birds belonging to this family inhabit deserts and similar arid regions. The key feature that characterizes this family is the arched bill with the nostrils placed at the base.

? Nik
Indian Courser showing characteristic bill & nostril. Pic: Nik

The family contains 17 species in 6 genera and 33 taxa which have an Old World distribution and are thought to have originated in Africa[5]. There are 8 species of coursers worldwide, of which Indian, Cream-coloured and Jerdon's occur in India.
Coursers have long tapered bills which curve downwards, short, broad wings, long legs, vertical carriage, and three toes (often with comb-like serrated claws). Their long legs, which incidentally give the group its name, allow them to run well. They usually inhabit open and arid environments such as deserts and scrub where they feed, in a plover-like fashion, primarily on insects.

The Jerdon's Courser is a monotypic species, and a restricted-range endemic to the Eastern Ghats in India. It is thought to be closely related to the Bronze-winged Courser (Rhinoptilus chalcopterus) which occurs in Africa and uses a similar lightly wooded habitat.

First discovered by Capt. Surgeon Thomas C. Jerdon in 1848, it was seen a few times up to 1900. It was rediscovered in January 1986 by ornithologist Bharat Bhushan in Kadapa District, Andhra Pradesh with the help of Aitanna, a bird trapper from Reddipalli village.

? Navendu Lad
Image by Navendu Lad; Sri Lankamalleshwaram Sanctuary. Nov 1999

Description: A compact 27cm large-eyed, grey-brown bird with two white breast-bands bordered with black. Has 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 outermost black primaries. Iris clear yellow and bill pale yellow-horn billSexes are thought to be alike. The species is nocturnal and spends the day hiding under shade.
Call: Vocal after dark, the call is described as "a series of staccato 'Twick-too...Twick-too... Twick-too' or 'yak-wak.. yak-wak' calls. The notes are repeated at the rate of about 1 per second and uttered 2 to 16 times and several birds in the vicinity may join in the calling"[4,8].

Occurrence: Local endemic to the Eastern Ghats of Andhra Pradesh and extreme southern Maharashtra [see map], the Jerdon's now appears to be restricted to southern Andhra Pradesh. Historically, known from specimens collected from the Godavari valley near Sironcha and Bhadrachalam, and from the Kadapah and Anantpur areas in the Penna River valley (Birdlife International, 2001), it is currently known to survive only in the Lankamalai, Palkonda and Velikonda ranges in the Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh.
Current range: Between 140 0'-15015'N; 770 0'-79045'E; Also recorded:17015'-19015'N; 79030'-81030'E

Range Map
Recent observations from areas marked in red
Population: Birdlife International estimates the global population to be between 50 and 249 birds[2] and decreasing. The Hindu newspaper in June 2008[13] reported that the 2001 count at the Sri Lankamalleswara Sanctuary found 32 pairs in the survey area.

Habitat: The Jerdon's Courser inhabits the Central Deccan Plateau dry deciduous forest ecoregion [IM0201][12] which represents the Hardwickia dominated woodlands. Its preferred habitat is charcterized by sparse and uninhabited scrub-forest, thin woodland and bushes, interspersed with patches of bare ground in the gently rolling, rocky low foothills of the Eastern Ghats.

? Navendu Lad
Image by Navendu Lad; Sri Lankamalleshwaram Sanctuary. Nov 1999

Food: Presumed to be insectivorous. Known to be partial to termites.[4]
Breeding: Nothing is known yet about its nesting habits.

Conservation status: "This poorly known species qualifies as Critically Endangered as a result of its single, small, declining population, which is threatened by exploitation of scrub-forest, livestock grazing, disturbance and quarrying."[10]

Conservation measures: The species is protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, and its hunting or trapping is prohibited in India. There are two Jerdon's Courser sanctuaries in southern Andhra Pradesh: Sri Lankamaleswara Wildlife Sanctuary and the Sri Peninsula Narasimha Wildlife Sanctuary.

1. A new method has been developed for detecting their presence by placing specially prepared natural tracking strips of fine sand to record their distinctive footprints (Jeganathan 2002). The Jerdon's Courser has a vestigial hind toe and this knowledge aids identification from tracks left on the tracking strips.
2. The construction of the Somasila Dam between1972-78 led to the residents of 57 villages being relocated into the region where the Courser was rediscovered. With the rising population, there was increased livestock pressures and firewood extraction. The scrub habitat preferred by the bird also declined due to increased agricultural activity.
3. Two Jerdon's Coursers were spotted by BNHS scientist Rahul Chavan and his assistant Rahim in the Sri Lankamalleswara Wildlife Sanctuary in Kadapah on August 6, 2009.[14]


References and sources:
1. BirdLife International (2009) Species factsheet: Rhinoptilus bitorquatus.
2. BirdLife International Rhinoptilus bitorquatus in: IUCN 2009. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.1.
3. BirdLife International 2003. Rhinoptilus bitorquatus (Jerdon's Courser). In Threatened birds of Asia: The BirdLife International Red Data book. Cambridge: BirdLife International.
4. Wikipedia: Jerdon's Courser
5. The Internet Bird Collection - Coursers and Pratincoles
6. Bird Base: Rhinoptilus bitorquatus (pdf)
7. Pittie, A. (1999) A tryst with Jerdon's Courser Cursorius bitorquatus (Blyth). Newsletters For Birdwatchers 39 (6): 83-84
8. Jeganathan, P. and S. R. Wotton (2004) The first recordings of calls of the Jerdon's Courser Rhinoptilus bitorquatus (Blyth), Family Glareolidae.
J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc.101 (1): 26-28 (pdf).
9. "The Fifty Rarest Birds of the World", by Dr Mark Cocker, of the International Council for Bird Preservation (Image).
10. Jerdon's Courser - BirdLife International (2009) Species factsheet: Rhinoptilus bitorquatus.
11. Rasmussen P.C. & Anderton J.C. Birds of South Asia. The Ripley Guide. Lynx Edicions
12. Central Deccan Plateau dry deciduous forests (IM0201): World Wildlife Fund 2001
13. The Hindu (June 2008): Jerdon's Courser: chalking out a survival strategy
14. The Hindu (August 2009): Sighting of Jerdon's Courser sparks hope
15. Canal diverted to save Jerdon's Courser - 2009 BirdLife International.
16. Bhushan, B (1986). "Rediscovery of the Jerdon's or Double-banded Courser Cursorius bitorquatus". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 83: 1-14.
17. Kasambe, R., Pimplapure, A. & Thosar, G. (2008): In search of Jerdon's Courser Rhinoptilus bitorquatus in Vidarbha, Maharashtra. Newsletter for Birdwatchers. 48(6):89-91.
18. Jerdon's courser habitat analysis using Remote sensing - N. V. Nanda Kumar, et al.
19. Jeganathan, P. et al.: Modelling habitat selection and distribution of the critically endangered Jerdon's courser Rhinoptilus bitorquatus in scrub jungle: an application of a new tracking method : Modelling species distribution
20. Ali, S. A. and S. D. Ripley (1969) Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan. Oxford University Press, Bombay. Vol.3: 11-12.
21. Bhushan, B. (1990a) Jerdon's Courser - rediscovery and survey. In: BNHS Bombay, Final Report: Endangered Bird Project. Pp. 127-134.
22. Bhushan, B. (1992) Jerdon's Courser at Cuddapah. Newsletters for Birdwatchers 32(5 and 6): 20.
23. Blyth (1848) Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal 17:254.
24. Jeganathan, P. (2005) Call of the Jerdon's Courser. Hornbill Jan-Mar 2005: 14-19
25. Ripley, S. D and B. M. Beehler (1989) Systematics, biogeography, and conservation of Jerdon's Courser Rhinoptilus bitorquatus. J. Yamashina Inst. Ornith. 21: 165-174.
26. The Babbler (June, 2003): Red Data Bird revisited: Jerdon's Courser

27. Illustration of Jerdon's Courser courtesy Bikram Grewal: Birds of the Indian Subcontinent. Local Colour 2000

© Sumit Sen 2009
Images copyright ©:
Navendu Lad & Nikhil Devasar



 © Sumit K Sen 2001 - 2011    I    All rights reserved    I    Last updated 16 May 2011    I    Contact Us