Lesser florican (Sypheotides indicus)
|Spanish:||Sisón de Penacho, Sisón Indio|
|Size||Length: 46 - 51 cm (2)|
Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).
Eye-catching in both appearance and behaviour, the lesser florican belongs to a family of birds, the bustards, renowned for their elaborate courtship displays (4). The lesser florican is a relatively small and slender bustard, with a long, curved neck and thin, gangly legs (2) (5). The adult male is adorned with several distinct, black head plumes that broaden into spatulate tips (2). The head, neck and belly of the male is also black, but the feathers of the back and wings are mostly warm-brown with black edges, except for white coverts and a white collar across the upper mantle. The female is larger than the male, and has a predominantly sandy or buff colouration with black streaking on the head, neck and underparts, as does the juvenile (2) (5).
Endemic to the Indian sub-continent, where it was once widespread and common, the lesser florican now breeds in restricted regions of India, including Gujarat, south-east Rajasthan, north-west Maharahtra and western Madhya Pradesh (2) (6). There is some dispersal to south-east India in the non-breeding season and it is a rare visitor to the Terai region of Nepal, where it was once abundant (2). It is also recorded as occurring in Pakistan and as a vagrant in Bangladesh (3).
The lesser florican is typically found in dry grasslands with scattered bushes and scrub and to a lesser extent in tall crops of millet and cotton (2) (5) (6). Sufficient vegetation cover is particularly important during the breeding season (6).
The start of the summer monsoon, which occurs from July to September, is the time when male lesser floricans establish territories and compete to dazzle and charm potential mates with their aerial displays and fine plumage (2). The males leap up to two metres into the air in an energetic flurry of wing beats, and then, with wings tucked in, fall swiftly back to earth (4). During courtship they repeat this seductive aerial routine as many as 500 times a day, all the while emitting a frog-like croak (2) (4). Following successful courtship, the female will choose a scrape in the ground to locate a simple nest, in which she will lay four to five eggs (6). During the 21 day incubation period, in which the male plays no part, the female sits cautiously still on the nest to avoid detection. The relatively mobile, newly hatched chicks stay with their mother for at least 15 to 30 days but possibly longer (6).
Aside from a few records of lesser floricans dispersing to south-east India, its behaviour and movements during the non-breeding season are poorly understood (2). Many bustards lead nomadic lives outside the breeding season, determined by the availability of food (4). The diet of the lesser florican comprises a diverse mix of locusts, other insects, seeds and plant shoots (4) (5).
A steady decline in the population of the lesser florican began around the 1870s, principally as a consequence of relentless hunting for sport and food (2). In time, other familiar threats became increasingly more significant, including habitat loss through agricultural land conversion and over-grazing of livestock, and the rapid encroachment of non-native vegetation (2) (6). In the 1980s the world population of lesser florican declined by 60 percent to just over 1,600 birds but fortunately rebounded by the mid 1990s to a moderately less alarming 2,200. These recent fluctuations have been found to closely match breeding season rainfall patterns, and reveal the vulnerability of the species to extinction in the event of a severe drought. Worryingly, it is anticipated that the pressure on remaining grassland habitat is set to continue in the future and as result the rate of decline in the lesser florican population will increase (2).
Despite the prohibition of hunting of lesser floricans throughout India and inclusion on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, the species’ long-term survival remains uncertain because of the continued threat of rapid habitat loss coupled with high vulnerability to drought (2) (3) (6). In an effort to preserve breeding habitat, two lesser florican sanctuaries, Sailana and Sardarpur, in Madhya Pradesh, were established in 1983 (2) (7) (8). However, the value of these sanctuaries is limited by the movement of monsoonal conditions, which determine which areas lesser floricans choose to breed. If weather conditions are unfavourable in any given year, only a small number of floricans may actually breed within the protective bounds of the sanctuaries (8). In recent years, a proposal known as ‘Project Bustards’ has been put to the Indian government, to ensure the survival of India’s four species of bustard, all of which are endangered (2) (8). This broadly includes: strictly protecting bustard habitat, involving local communities in conservation, establishing regional cooperation amongst different states, and increasing scientific research into bustard ecology. An ambitious proposal specific to the lesser florican is to develop a network of fodder-producing grasslands throughout its range, to afford local communities fodder security whilst also providing optimal breeding habitat for the lesser florican during the monsoon (8). Unfortunately, until ‘Project Bustard’ receives government approval, these vitally important proposals remain on paper and the lesser florican leaps ever closer to extinction.
For further information on ‘Project Bustard’ see:
- Bombay Natural History Society:
For more information on this and other bird species please see:
- BirdLife International:
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- Coverts: small feathers concealing the bases of larger flight feathers, usually on the wings or tail.
- Endemic: a species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
- Incubation: the act of incubating eggs, that is, keeping them warm so that development is possible.
- Mantle: in birds, the wings, shoulder feathers and back, when coloured differently from the rest of the body.
IUCN Red List (November, 2011)