About Cranes in India
Sarus crane is the world's tallest flying bird; a large male may stand six
feet tall. There are three recognized subspecies of the sarus crane. The
Indian sarus cranes live, as their name implies, predominately in Asia's
subcontinent. In areas dominated by the Hindu religion, the Indian sarus
suffers little persecution. They have, as a result, lost much of their fear
of humans and often nest in rice paddies where they are regarded as omens
for good crops, especially in India.
Eastern sarus cranes were once abundant in Southeast Asia, but after
decades of war they are missing from most of their former range. The few
that remain nest in Cambodia in small wetlands surrounded by dry forest, but
migrate to Viet Nam's lower Mekong Delta to winter at the Tram Chim National
Reserve. There is a smaller non-migratory population, discovered by ICF
staff in 1996, that lives in Myanmar's Irrawaddy delta. The third subspecies
is the Australian sarus crane.
Northern and central India, southeastern Pakistan, southern Myanmar,
Cambodia, southern Laos, Viet Nam, and northern Australia. The Philippine
population of sarus cranes is probably extinct.
Despite cultural and religious protections, sarus cranes are vulnerable in
most areas. Roughly 8,000 to 10,000 Indian sarus remain, though the
population is declining due to the loss of wetlands and increasing amounts
of pollution as the human population continues to grow. The greatest
concentration of Indian sarus cranes occur where land use practices have
changed little from traditional patterns. Some fear that the whole wetland
food web on which sarus cranes depend may be under stress as pesticides and
fertilizers become more widespread in the subcontinent's rural areas. Even
in India's Keoladeo National Park, the number of sarus nests has decreased
since the early 1980s.
The Eastern sarus population in Southeast Asia is estimated at 500 to 1,500
birds. This subspecies is subject to hunting, pollution, warfare, heavy use
of pesticides, and development of the Mekong River. A rapidly growing human
population threatens to overwhelm areas that these cranes rely on. There is
also trade in and hunting of both chicks and adult birds in some areas.
Individual and Social Behavior
Cranes pursue small prey, and sometimes each other, by running. A running
crane takes one to three steps per second and may use its wings for balance
and to gain speed. While a running crane looks awkward, they can easily
outrun humans. Cranes do not have webbed feet, but they can swim, although
adult birds usually avoid deeper water unless necessary. Chicks are good
swimmers and may leave the nest to follow the parents through the wetlands,
sometimes within a few hours of hatching.
Feathers give cranes both the ability to fly and to regulate their
temperature. Made of the same material as human fingernails, feathers
require constant attention. A crane preens by nibbling the base of a feather
and then drawing it through the bill. Preening straightens and closes
repairable gaps in the feather. When preening, cranes may apply oil to the
feathers obtained from a special gland located on top of the tail. Contrary
to previous belief, the oil does not serve as waterproofing, but helps
condition the feathers and may also have fungicidal and antibacterial
properties. Prolonged preening sessions follow water or dust bathing.
Feeding is one of a cranes' most time-consuming activities. Cranes spend
most of the daylight hours in areas where food is most abundant. Cranes
forage for roots and the starchy swellings found on the roots of certain
plants called tubers. They also eat seeds, small mammals and reptiles, eggs
of other birds, and invertebrates, such as worms, clams, insects, and
While cranes spend a great deal of time caring for their feathers, the
feathers still wear out and are replaced during a seasonal molt. Many crane
species are flightless during the molt, which usually occurs during late
spring when the adults are raising their chicks. It is not unusual for
flightless cranes to stay near heavier cover until they and their young can
fly. Cranes, such as the crowned cranes, living in predator-dense areas lose
their feathers over a longer period of time and never become flightless.
Cranes typically run into the wind to achieve the lift necessary for
flight, but if alarmed a crane can spring directly into flight. Cranes may
fly as fast as 52 m.p.h. during level, flapping flight, but prefer to soar,
especially during migration. When soaring in thermals (updrafts of warm
air), cranes will circle until they reach a desired altitude, usually
between 3,000 and 5,000 feet. Once the appropriate altitude is reached, the
cranes leave the thermal and glide forward, slowly losing altitude. They
then find another thermal and repeat the procedure. While slower than level
flapping flight, soaring conserves energy.
Cranes prefer to migrate at altitudes of less than 5,000 feet, but some
species are forced to fly much higher. In North America, mountain ranges run
north and south and birds migrate parallel to them. In Asia and Europe,
however, mountain ranges, such as the Himalayas and Pyrenees, generally run
east and west forcing cranes and other birds to negotiate mountain passes as
high as 20,000 feet.
Daily flights may range from a few miles in bad weather to several hundred
miles if suitable stopover points are unavailable
Cranes have both formal and informal protections around the world. Informal
protections may include religious or cultural protections. Formal
protections include state or local laws against the direct taking of
individuals, and may, or may not, include protections for habitat. Laws
against direct taking are often poorly enforced. In North America, hunting
of cranes is regulated by state, provincial and international treaty.
The Migratory Bird Acts of 1916 (between the U.S. and Canada) and of 1936
(between the U.S. and Mexico) regulates hunting of migratory species. It is
illegal under these acts to take or possess regulated species or their parts
(including eggs and feathers) unless there is a legal hunting season on that
species, or if the person possessing the bird has been granted a permit for
scientific purposes or for captive propagation. The U.S. also has the
Endangered Species Act which protects rare species and their habitat,
especially areas designated as critical habitat.
Famous places for Bird Watching in India
Some of the most prominent bird sanctuaries in India where a large variety
of birds can be observed are the Sariska Wildlife Sanctuary that is part of
Project Tiger, the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary and the Corbett National Park.
Here you can observe innumerable birds in their natural habitat, delight in
their quaint habits and marvel at the will and steely determination in their
tiny souls. For the dedication with which a nesting pair builds its nest and
rears its young, is a truly remarkable sight that fills the heart with
The Sariska Wildlife Sanctuary extends over an area of 800 sq km in one of
the few forest pockets in the Aravali ranges in Rajasthan. It is home to
more than 200 species of birds, which include the Crested Serpent Eagle,
Gray Hornbill, Wryneck Woodpecker Babbler, Black/Red Headed Bunting, White
Breasted Kingfisher, Small Minivet, Little Brown Dove, Golden Oriole, Pale
Harrier, Great Gray Shrike, and Tailor Bird, to name just a few. The
sanctuary is a typical dry deciduous forest that remains lush and green
during the monsoons and dry during the rest of the seasons. Its rich bird
The Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary is considered one of the best sites for bird
watching in the world. It is an area spread out over about 30 square km of
boggy marsh, woodlands and scrub and is home to both nesting indigenous
birds as well as migratory water birds. More than 330 species of birds have
already been spotted and identified here. The finest and rarest of migratory
birds, the Siberian Cranes are the pride of this sanctuary and are regular
visitors. There are only 125 pairs of these pure white, crimson-billed
cranes estimated to survive worldwide.
The Corbett National Park is also regarded as one of the best bird parks of
the world. Out of the 2,060 species and subspecies of birds recorded in the
Indian subcontinent, over 600 of them have been recorded at Corbett at some
or the other time! This number is greater than the total number of bird
species found in Europe and equal to about one fourth of the diversity found
in India. for instance, out of the 69 species of raptors found in India, 49
can be seen in Corbett.