Great Indian bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps)

Spanish: Avutarda India, Avutarda Índica
GenusArdeotis (1)
SizeMale length: 122 cm (2)
Female length: 92 cm (2)

The great Indian bustard is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

The great Indian bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps) is a tall, long legged bird. The underparts and neck are white, there is a black crown on the forehead and the upperbody is brown (2). The wings are marked with black, brown and grey (2). The sexes are similar in appearance although males have a larger black crown, long hind crown feathers and a black band across the breast (2).

Previously widespread and common across the Indian subcontinent, the great Indian bustard has today all but disappeared from Pakistan and populations in India are severely reduced (4).

The great Indian bustard is found in dry grasslands and scrub where there are scattered bushes and some cultivation (2).

In the 19th century, flocks of more than 20 birds were a common site on Indian grasslands but today groups are unlikely to number more than three individuals (5). Little is known about the breeding ecology of the great Indian bustard. Although it is possible for breeding to take place year-round, it seems to be mainly dictated by the monsoon (5). Nests are situated in the open ground and males take no part in incubation or care of the developing young; only a single egg is usually laid (5). The fledglings tend to remain with their mother until the following breeding season (5).

Great Indian bustards are opportunists, feeding on a wide range of items depending on their seasonal availability. Invertebrates such as grasshoppers and beetles are the preferred diet but in leaner times these are substituted with seeds such as Bengal gram, groundnut and soeha (5).

The great Indian bustard has become extinct in almost 90 percent of its former range, principally as a result of loss of habitat and poaching (6). The conversion of the land for agriculture and widespread hunting, which became more prevalent with the onset of vehicle transport, have both contributed to the precipitous decline in this species (2).

The great Indian bustard is listed in Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 in India and international trade is prohibited by its listing on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (5). A number of sanctuaries have been set up with the aim of preserving this species; however, this may not be the most effective means of conservation, as population numbers have continued to decline. The Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) is urging the Indian Government to adopt a ‘Project Bustard’ scheme along the same lines of ‘Project Tiger’ (5). Such a high-profile project would be invaluable for raising awareness about the plight of India’s 4 bustard species, and would be an important method of preserving the arid grassland habitat that is currently poorly protected in this country (6).

For more on the great Indian bustard:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2011)
  2. Erritzoe, J. (1993) The Birds of CITES and How to Identify Them. The Lutterworth Press, Cambridge.
  3. CITES (August, 2003)
  4. BirdLife International (June, 2011)
  5. Encyclopaedia Britannica (2000) Students' Britannica India: Volume 2: Dadra and Nagar Haveli to Hyena. Encyclopaedia Britannica Private Limited, Hong Kong.
  6. Jha, A.K. and Rao, Y.L.P. (2008) The great Indian bustard: a great indicator of ecosystem health. The Nature of Drylands: Diverse Ecosystems, Diverse Solutions. IUCN, Nairobi, Kenya.