In a major discovery, the longest in-country migration route of lesser floricans, the endangered birds of the bustard group, has been tracked for the first time from Rajasthan to Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district. The mystery of the fast-disappearing birds may soon be resolved with the help of satellite transmitters fitted on them.
The telemetry exercise was undertaken in the Shokaliya landscape of Ajmer district to trace the journey of lesser floricans from their breeding grounds to their places of origin, presumably in down South. Following initial failures, the scientific experiment has succeeded in locating a bird which travelled a distance of 1,000 km after breeding during the monsoon.
Lesser florican, taxonomically classified as Sypheotides indicus , is a small and slender bird species belonging to the bustard group, found in tall grasslands, for which Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII) has launched a recovery programme. The endangered bird is observed in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and some other regions during the monsoon season, when it breeds and later disappears with its chicks to unknown places.
The bird is listed as “critically endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species and its population has been identified as “decreasing”.
The experiment for fitting the U.S.-made satellite transmitters with solar-powered batteries was taken up near Shokaliya village in Ajmer district’s Bhinai tehsil. The first attempt, made in 2014, revealed that the male bird was loitering within a distance of 60 km, after which the battery failed and the signals stopped.
Two subsequent experiments in which the transmitters were applied on the back of male birds depicted that the lesser floricans had flown to Agar, near Ujjain, and a grassland habitat between Banswara and Ratlam. The signals were emitted till the tiny gadgets continued to function, making it difficult to decipher the birds' migration route and their residing spot for rest of the year.
The latest instance of migration detection is that of a male lesser florican which took a zigzag flight from Shokaliya and has passed through Shevgaon tehsil, west of Ahmednagar in Maharashtra, covering a distance of 1,000 km from its breeding ground. The transmitter's signals were received for some time continuously from the same region until the battery finally failed.
‘Very little information’
WII scientist Sutirtha Dutta told The Hindu that this was the longest distance covered by a tagged lesser florican to the knowledge of conservation scientists and environmentalists. “Very little is known about their migration, as only a few birds have been tagged as yet,” Dr. Dutta said, adding that telemetry would help the experts understand the ecology and seasonal movements between breeding and non-breeding areas which were poorly known at present.
The extensive study on lesser floricans' migration has been launched as part of the bustard recovery programme, which is a conservation initiative for the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard and the endangered lesser florican. The WII is implementing the project in partnership with Forest Departments of several States and the International Fund for Houbara Conservation.
Unprotected agricultural fields in Shokaliya are the strongholds of lesser florican's breeding population, which forages on insects amid the grass and crops of amenable heights.