Harish Jharia

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03 March 2013

The Most Beautiful And Heaviest Flying Bird: Great Indian Bustard, Son Chiraiyya, सोन चिरैया, Ardeotis Nigriceps


© Harish Jharia

One of the most endangered species among Indian birds is the ‘Great Indian Bustard’ lovingly called ‘Son Chiraiyya’ (सोन चिरैया) in Hindi, with the scientific name 'Ardeotis Nigriceps'.

Indian folklore about the great Indian Bustard (Son Chiraiyya) सोन चिरैया:

I still remember my childhood days of early 50s when I used to hear about Son Chiraiyya in folk stories, folk songs and village life. I remember mothers crying at the time of their daughter’s departure after marriages and whispering the words “My Son Chiraiyya has fluttered away..!” (मेरी सोन चिरैया उड़ गई रे..!). Son Chiraiyya was extensively loved and remembered among common folks as well as in contemporary literature including novels, stories and poems. But, I never saw the bird in my life in its natural habitat. I, of course, had a chance to see this wonderful bird in the national zoo in Hyderabad. 

More about the great Indian Bustard (Son Chiraiyya) सोन चिरैया:

The great Indian Bustard is one of the largest and heaviest flying birds in the world. Its height above the ground and length is approximately 1 meter each and it weighs about 8 to 15 kg. This extremely endangered terrestrial bird’s species was once flourishing across the grasslands of undivided India, but today is total population has reduced to 250 birds and are confined to small patches of grasslands in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh in India. 

These birds are not selective eaters. Their diet depends on the seasonal availability of food. They eat grass seeds; insects like grasshoppers and beetles, and even go for small rodents and reptiles. They are built to survive in harsh weather conditions, yet they have gone extinct because of hunting and poaching. They have been annihilated from almost 90% of their grasslands they inhabited have been converted into agricultural land and urbanized into villages, towns and cities.

In spite of the fact that they are listed in Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act of India, 1972, they are still being hunted for sport and meat by aristocrats.  

Historical References about The great Indian Bustard: 

Descriptions of the great Indian Bustard are found in the Rajput, Mogul and Maratha periods’ history also. Warriors of that period, especially the Moghuls and British shooters were fond of hunting the great Indian Bustard as it was considered a highly skilled hunting adventure by shooting a fast flying target. Moghuls and British soldiers in India considered it a delicacy. The great Indian Bustard was among the top game-birds of that period and that was the reasons that the great Indian Bustard has become extinct (दुर्लभ) today. 

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