Jerdon’s courser (Rhinoptilus bitorquatus)
|Size||Average head-body length: 27 cm (2)|
Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).
Previously feared to be extinct, Jerdon’s courser was dramatically rediscovered in 1986, after a lapse of 86 years since the previous sighting. Found in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, where a tiny population is believed to be clinging to existence, Jerdon’s courser is a small ground-dwelling bird, with a slender body and elongated wings (3). It has a cryptic, sandy-brown plumage on the back and breast that conceals the bird from predators when roosting during the day. Walking with an upright stance on long stilt-like legs, white underparts with a banded lower breast, and a distinctive rufous patch on the neck are exposed. The hindneck and the crown are dark brown, and broad, cream eye-stripes join to form a V shape. Jerdon’s courser differs from similar species by having black flight feathers with rufous on the bend of the wing, and white patches at the tip. The tail is black with a white base, and the legs are yellowish white (2).
Endemic to the Eastern Ghats mountain range in Andhra Pradesh state, India, Jerdon’s courser has an extremely limited range (1). It was initially rediscovered at Lankamalai, but recent surveys have since found the species at a further six localities, though all were within 14 kilometres of the original site (4) (5) (6).
Jerdon’s courser inhabits scrub forest and bushes, on silty or stony land with sparse ground vegetation and patches of bare open ground. It is often found in areas between undisturbed forest, and human degraded forest or agriculture, and appears to show a preference for areas dominated by small woody bushes of native species (2) (6) (7) (8).
Like the other Rhinoptilus coursers, Jerdon’s courser is nocturnal, and consequently, is extremely elusive and rarely seen. The rarity of records and the relatively recent re-discovery of the species has contributed to a lack of knowledge about the biology of Jerdon’s courser. The limited information available on its diet shows that Macrotermes termites are eaten and it is likely to forage on the ground in open areas for a variety of insects. During the day, Jerdon’s courser will rest amongst dense thorny bushes, relying on its cryptic plumage to avoid detection by predators (5). However, if discovered, Jerdon’s courser is a fast runner and will flee on foot, but may take to flight when forced to do so. Coursers make nests on the ground, and it is likely that Jerdon’s courser lays its eggs in a shallow scrape in the vegetation, or on open stony ground, with two to three eggs laid each season (3). The timing of the breeding season is unclear; however, the collection of a male specimen with enlarged gonads in June, suggests that it may have been breeding (5).
Jerdon’s courser has an extremely limited range and a very small population, estimated between 50 and 240 individuals (1). The principal threat to Jerdon’s courser is loss and degradation of habitat. Inhabiting scrub forest bordering villages and agricultural land, it is vulnerable to the effects of livestock overgrazing, firewood collecting, forest clearing for agriculture, bird trapping and direct human disturbance. Extensive areas of suitable habitat have also been lost through quarrying and mining (5) (6). Between 1991 and 2000, an estimated 11 to 15 percent of suitable habitat was lost, while forest patches became smaller and fragmented (9). Furthermore, the construction in 2005 of the Telugu-Ganga Canal resulted in the loss of Jerdon’s courser habitat and the destruction of one newly-discovered site for the species (6). The recent construction of the Somasilla dam resulted in the relocation of 57 villages to the Lankamalai region, bordering Jerdon’s courser habitat. This is expected to increase the disturbances on Jerdon’s courser habitat as the settlers are dependant on the forests for resources, such as firewood and livestock grazing (4).
As a direct result of the re-discovery of Jerdon’s courser, the Lankamalleswara Wildlife Sanctuary was established, with the aims of protecting the species and its habitat (6). Since 2001, the Bombay Natural History Society, in collaboration with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and the Universities of Cambridge and Reading, have been working to determine the distribution and habitat requirements of the species. The application of tracking strips, camera traps and audio-playback methodologies have successfully identified new locations for Jerdon’s courser, investigated habitat usage, and evaluated threats (7) (8). Lobbying against the construction of the Telugu-Ganga canal through the Jerdon’s courser's range successfully avoided further habitat destruction and fragmentation in 1986, but in 2005 the canal project recommenced and resulted in the destruction of some Jerdon’s Courser habitat. However, although canal construction proceeded, the route was modified to make it less damaging and 1,000 hectares of additional land were acquired by the Andhra Pradesh Forest Department in compensation (6) (10). If Jerdon’s courser can be restored on this degraded land, the future prospects of the species can be improved (5). Further proposed measures include a radio-telemetry study to determine ecological requirements for the species, and the initiation of conservation awareness programmes amongst local communities to minimise habitat loss and alteration (4).
For more information on Jerdon’s courser conservation projects, see:
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
For more information on this and other bird species please see:
- BirdLife International:
Authenticated (16/04/10) by Rhys Green, Honorary Professor, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, UK.
- Endemic: a species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
- Gonads: the part of the reproductive system that produces and releases gametes, either eggs or sperm.
- Nocturnal: active at night.
IUCN Red List (January, 2010)
- del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1994) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
- Perrins, C. (2009) The Encyclopedia of Birds. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Birdlife International (January, 2010)
- BirdLife International. (2001) Threatened Birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.
- Green, R. (2010) Pers. comm.
- Jeganathan, P., Green, R.E., Norris, K., Vogiatzakis, I.N., Bartsch, A., Wotton, S.R., Bowden, C.G.R., Griffiths, G.H., Pain, D. and Rahmani, A.R. (2004) Modelling habitat selection and distribution of the critically endangered Jerdon’s courser Rhinoptilus bitorquatus in scrub jungle: an application of a new tracking method. Journal of Applied Ecology, 41: 224–237.
- Jeganathan, P., Green, R.E., Bowden, C.G.R., Norris, K., Pain, D. and Rahmani, A.R. (2002) Use of tracking strips and automatic cameras for detecting critically endangered Jerdon’s Courser Rhinoptilus bitorquatus in scrub jungle in Andhra Pradesh, India. Oryx, 36: 182–188.
- Senapathi, D, Vogiatzakis, I.N., Jeganathan, N., Gill, J.A.,Green, R.E., Bowden, C.G.R., Rahmani, A.R.,Pain, D. and Norris, K. (2007) Use of remote sensing to measure change in the extent of habitat for the critically endangered Jerdon's Courser Rhinoptilus bitorquatus in India. Ibis, 149: 328–337.
Birdlife International (January, 2010)