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Updated: October 14, 2009 16:36 IST

Simply Sarus

REEJA RADHAKRISHAN
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Under threat : . With their habitats being taken over. Photo: K Gopinathan
The Hindu Under threat : . With their habitats being taken over. Photo: K Gopinathan

He is the world's tallest flying bird. He is also very handsome. But sadly he is on the Red List. How did that happen?

Greetings! Do we need to celebrate the Wildlife Week? After all, every time we open our Jungle Book together, it's wildlife time for us. With Deepavali round the corner, I thought it was a good time to go down to the wetlands and meet a feathered friend of mine, the Indian Sarus Crane.

What's the connection? Well, he's the guy who made it all happen - the Ramayana I mean. When sage poet Valmiki was pondering over how he could write the story of Lord Ram, he came upon a pair of Sarus cranes. As he watched, a hunter's arrow struck the male bird in the chest and he fell dead. His sorrowful mate wept painfully and Valmiki was filled with grief. He cursed the hunter in fine verse, which when he recalled later, turned out to be in rhyme. It was this rhyme he used to compose the epic poem and the pathos of the grieving female bird is reflected in Sita's sorrow.

Daring dancer

Our friend Sarus is the world's tallest flying bird. He is about six feet in height and his wings spread to eight feet (that is a sight to see, especially when he is dancing.) He is also very handsome. His head, throat and upper neck are a deep red while the rest of his body is light grey. He has a white collar separating the red of his upper neck and the grey below. His legs and toes are red too.

He has a Greek species name Grus Antigone and has a couple of cousins abroad, the Eastern Sarus Crane who lives in Myanmar, Cambodia and parts of South Asia and the Australian Sarus Crane who lives, well Down Under! Indian Sarus Cranes are found mainly in wetlands, marshes and ponds in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, parts of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Out of the total population of 8000 to 10000 Sarus Cranes, around 3000 are found in Uttar Pradesh alone. Little wonder he has the honour of being their state bird. To think he actually was in the running for the National Bird's post. Well good guys don't always finish first, I tell you!

Drop me a line at sherook@wildmail.com

A Children for Animals and Nature Unlimited Intiative

Chick talk

The Sarus builds his nests in marshlands and flooded paddy fields. Chicks are born during the monsoon mostly and one or maybe two eggs are hatched after 30 to 35 days. Both the parents take turns to warm the eggs. The chicks are born yellowish brown and begin to follow their parents in a couple of days. Young cranes have a brown head and it is as they grow they get to be as good looking as their parents.

When it comes to food, its roots, grass, crops, insects, fish and water snakes. With wetlands being hijacked by humans for cultivation, the homes of the Sarus is under threat. But these affable creatures have adapted to the human invasion and are quite at home in flooded grain fields. But like all of us, he lives in dangerous times. The wetlands are no longer safe and healthy, what with the pesticide residues in cultivated areas and sewage that seeps in. The Sarus is on the Red List too and threatened with extinction.

Sarus Cranes pair for life. So much so, when one partner dies the other pines away shedding its life for the lost mate.

Fun facts

Unlike most cranes the Sarus does not migrate.

The red head , neck and the legs turn brighter during the breeding season.

If two eggs are laid at a time, there is 48- hour gap before the second one is out.

Bharatpur the bird paradise in Rajasthan is where you should head for if you want to meet the Sarus. From Sheroo's Jungle Book

Keywords: Red ListSaruscranes

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