Bird-watchers' hopes take wings in Bellary district

Great Indian Bustard, long-billed vulture spotted in a months span

Bird-watchers' hopes take wings in Bellary district

 Bellary is turning out to be an ornithologists’ dream destination. Great Indian Bustards (GIBs) were sighted a few days ago at Chelugurki village, 20 km from Bellary and 60 km from Siruguppa. Long-billed vultures had been spotted last month.

Dwindling numbers of GIBs is a matter of concern across the country and their sightings have become a rarity.

A pair of the critically endangered birds were sighted in an agriculture field by Preeth Khona, a 17-year-old bird watcher, after a gap of 10 years. The development comes as a delight for bird watchers in the Bellary landscape, battered by illegal mining.

“Two birds were sighted by Khona. Our team comprising Khona, Shruthi Punyamurthy and Sunaina Martin, along with Samad Kottur, interacted with villagers during their search for the birds.

There was not much success till recently,” said Santosh Martin, wildlife enthusiast and wildlife warden, Bellary.

The GIBs were last sighted in this village by Vijay Mohan Raj, director of BRT tiger reserve.

“After that, several searches did not yield results. But to our delight, these birds were sighted, not when they were on a search mission, but when Khona was on a journey from Bellary to Bangalore, on the roadside, “ said Martin.

According to wildlife enthusiasts, most of the waste lands in and around this village are under agriculture now, encroaching on the habitat of the GIBs. The birds need large tracts of grassland or wasteland to forage and nest.

This finding in Bellary district, after the one in Siruguppa in 2006, brings cheers to naturalists in the district and kindles a hope that these birds are breeding well.

These birds, according to experts, migrate locally between the black buck habitats of Rollapadu and Adoni in Andhra Pradesh and a few places in Karnataka, including Ranebennur.

However, the Ranebennur Bustard sanctuary has not recorded any bird sightings in the last 15 years. Though Karnataka has a good breeding population of GIBs, their conservation has to be taken up by the government in right earnest.

Asad R Rahmani, well-known ornithologist and director of Bombay Natural History Society, who has spent several years studying the behaviour of the GIBs had called upon the Union government to start ‘Project Bustard’ on the lines of Project Tiger.
Due to habitat disturbance, the GIBs are already in the endangered list.

Two decades ago, their number was 2,000. Rahmani believes that in the next five years, the bird may go extinct. However, the finding in Bellary may be a silver lining for conservation.

The GIB is a large ground bird, one-metre tall. It is unmistakable with its black cap contrasting with the pale head and neck.

The body is brownish with a black patch spotted in white. The male is deep sandy buff coloured and during the breeding season, has a black breast band.

The crown of the head is black and crested and is puffed up by displaying males. In the female, which is smaller than the male, the head and neck are not pure white and the breast band is either rudimentary, broken or absent.

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