BEST SEEN AT: Desert National Park, Rajasthan
STATUS: Endangered/Schedule I*
GOOD TO KNOW: Bustards rank amongst the heaviest flying birds
THE BUSTARD WOULD have been our national bird, but for the wisdom of some babu who worried it might be misspelt as the Great Indian Bastard! Poor bird, doomed by its name, and otherwise as well. Once spread across western and southern India, the Great Indian Bustard (GIB) barely numbers 500 now. With the vanishing grasslands of India, this endemic bird has lost much of its original habitat and has disappeared from 95 percent of its range today. The other threat, is of course hunting — GIBs have been hunted indiscriminately over the years as they’re good table birds. Besides, they’re a difficult quarry, making for ‘good sport.’ They are slow breeders, laying one egg at a time, hence nesting failures can extinguish a population. Bustards woo their mates in style: adult males stand on a hillock or other conspicuous places to show off by puffing their chest and bugling for hours. But how long will this ritual last? To save the bustard, we must conserve its grassland habitat. Project Bustard along the lines of Project Tiger is called for.