Lesser Florican

~ presented by Birds of India

~ by Sumit Sen

'Bird of the Month'

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Eupodotis_indica.jpg
Illustration: John Gould

Lesser Florican ~ A Bird Whose Display Call is Made By Wings

Scientific name: Sypheotides indicus (Sypheotides indica*). Eupodotis indica (Miller,1782) now invalid.
(* Gender agreement of species name follows David and Gosselin, 2002)

Local names: Hindi: Leekh or Likh, Chhota charat, tuqdar; Gujarat: Khar mor; Kutch: Tiloor; Madhya Pradesh: Khar teetar, Kharmor; Maharashtra: Tanner; West Bengal: Chhota dahar, Likh; Tamil Nadu: Warragu kozhi; Andhra Pradesh: Nela nemali; Kerala: Chatta kozhi; Karnataka: Kannoul; Sindh: Kharmur

Status: Globally Endangered

Indian postage stamps

The Lesser Florican is a member of the bustard family. Bustards are large, stout, long-necked and long-legged birds that inhabit open spaces like grasslands, shrub country and deserts. They are sexually dimorphic and sizes of the sexes differ. In bustards, the females are usually smaller than males while the opposite is true for floricans. Generally cryptically coloured, adult male floricans assume dark and complex plumage in the breeding season. Bustards spend most of the time on the ground but will fly powerfully on broad wings. They subsist on invertebrates and vegetable matter. Male bustards have spectacular mating displays at leks (mating arenas). All bustard species occurring in India face extinction threats due to habitat decline and hunting pressure.

The Lesser Florican is a monotypic species endemic to the Indian subcontinent. It is the only member of the genus Sypheotides.

? Ramki Sreenivasan
Male Lesser Florican by Ramki Sreenivasan

Description: A domestic hen-sized bustard (46-51 cm), males being smaller than females. In the field, the bird appears slim-necked with longish bill and legs. The breeding male has three pairs of black tufts or head-plumes, black head, neck and underparts with a white collar across the upper mantle and white wing-coverts. Females and immature are sandy-buff with black crown stripes and dark stripe from the front to below the eye. Males in non-breeding plumage are similar to females.
Call: Usually quiet, but can make frog-like croaks and short whistles.

? Dhritiman Mukherjee? Ramki Sreenivasan
Florican cock's spectacular nuptial display
Images: Dhritiman Mukherjee (L); Ramki Sreenivasan (R)

Occurrence: Previously widespread and regular across most of lowland India except the north-east and the Brahmaputra valley [see map], the Lesser Florican is now restricted to small breeding patches in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. In winter it is known to disperse 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, there are records from the Nepal terai and from the Mekran coast and the Sind area in Pakistan.

? Sumit Sen
Range Map
Recent observations from areas marked in red
Population: Birdlife International estimates the global population at 2,200 and declining based on 1994 data. The Indian population was earlier estimated at 4,374 birds based on 1982-1989 data. Population declines have primarily been triggered by rapid decline in the preferred grassland habitat, hunting pressure, spread of invasive Prosopis species and change in rainfall patterns. Population densities are known to be correlated to rainfall patterns and it is postulated that the species may be susceptible to extinction in the event of severe and prolonged drought.

Habitat: The Lesser Florican inhabits grasslands, areas with scattered bushes, cultivated tracts, open fields and grassland habitats within forest plantations. It seems to prefer dry grassy areas with low grazing pressure. The species shows strong breeding site-fidelity amongst males. In winter the species is known to also use lightly wooded country.

? Mohanram Kemparaju
Lesser Florican in habitat by Mohanram Kemparaju

Food: Omnivorous. Feeds on insects, lizards, frogs, plus shoots, leaves, herbs and berries.
Breeding: Breeds from July to September. The males fly out by end of September leaving the females behind till December/January. Males moult out of their non-breeding plumage in June/July and display (often from an elevated patch) from the onset of the monsoon rains till the end of September. They operate a competitive mating display system called a lek in which no pair-bond is formed. Males meet at a selected place or arena. Each occupy and defend a small territory in the arena in which they put on extravagant displays consisting of constantly jumping up above cover - "even up to 500 times in a single day"
[Salim Ali - Birds of India]. Nests are a simple depression in the ground in long grass. The average clutch consists of 3-4 green eggs (with a dash of black and white) and the incubation period is usually about 21 days.

Conservation status: Globally Endangered "because it has a very small, declining population, primarily a result of loss and degradation of its dry grassland habitat. The rate of decline is predicted to increase in the near future as pressure on the remaining grasslands intensifies." [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 Lesser Florican sanctuaries in Madhya Pradesh: Sailana and Sardarpur.

? Navendu Lad
Male by Navendu Lad

References and sources:
1. BirdLife International (2001) Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data
Book. Cambridge, UK: BirdLife International.
2. BirdLife International 2008. Sypheotides indicus. In: IUCN 2009. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.1
3. BirdLife International 2001. Lesser Florican Sypheotides indica. Pp. 1368-1382. In Threatened birds of Asia: The BirdLife International Red Data book. Cambridge: BirdLife International.
4. Sankaran, R. & A.R. Rahmani. 1986. The Lesser Florican: Annual Report 2, 1985-1986. BNHS, Bombay.
5. Islam, M. Z. and Rahmani, A. R. (2002) Threatened Birds of India. Buceros Vol. 7, No. 1 & 2, 2002. Compiled from Threatened Birds of Asia. Birdlife International Red Data Book (2001). Cambridge, U.K.: BirdLife International.
6. The distribution and status of the lesser florican Sypheotides indica (J.F. Miller) in the Indian subcontinent; Sankaran R.; Rahmani A. R.; Ganguli-Lachungpa U. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society ISSN 0006-6982.
7. Monitoring and Nesting Sites of Lesser Floricans Indra R. Gadhvi (pdf).
8. Need to start Project Bustards (pdf); Prepared by Asad R. Rahmani, Director, BNHS
9. "The Fifty Rarest Birds of the World", by Dr Mark Cocker, of the International Council for Bird Preservation (Image).
10. Lesser Florican - BirdLife Species Factsheet
Rasmussen P.C. & Anderton J.C. Birds of South Asia. The Ripley Guide. Lynx Edicions
12. John Gould's illustration from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Eupodotis_indica.jpg

© Sumit Sen 2009
Images copyright ©:
Navendu Lad, Mohanram Kemparaju, Ramki Sreenivasan, Dhritiman Mukherjee



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