Friday, 30 March 2018

Sarus Cranes Spotted at the Sultanpur National Park

While going through my photographs that were taken at the Sultanpur National Park a few kilometres from my home in Gurgaon, I came across a few more snaps of a couple of Sarus Cranes that were good to share. I had not known that they existed because they had been in a lot that I had overlooked. I guess, this is what happens when you get to take too many photographs of the same bird. Nevertheless, the intimacy and the courtship ritual displayed in the photographs are worth a relook. The Sarus Crane, Antigone antigone is a large non-migratory bird found in the South Asian continent and Australia. These are incidentally huge birds reaching a height of five feet eleven inches! Their red head contrasting with their grey bodies makes for a study in natural aesthetics. These handsome birds have been the subjects of many medieval paintings. I saw recently a painting of a pair of Sarus Cranes with an inscription in what I believe was Urdu or perhaps Farsi at my uncle's home recently. These birds, unfortunately, are facing extinction, what with a lopsided contest with human beings for space. Sarus Cranes are revered in Indian Mythology and they are revered and respected by people in India.

Sarus Cranes mate for life and their fidelity is a lesson for everyone! I was able to somehow edge very close to them moving through the thick grass, and when we came face to face, I wonder who was more surprised the cranes or me! Immediately on spotting me, the cranes started to do an odd kind of dance. The male, I presume because of his height and size began to dance aggressively in what could be either an act of aggression or perhaps a show of his love for his lady, that too in front of me.

Sarus Cranes pairs imitate each other's movements and they make the same kind of sounds as if singing a duet! I wouldn't, of course, claim that they have a melodious voice; they create a ruckus when they sing and it is startling enough! I guess because of their size they have little to fear!

The male is the more dominant of the pair, and he is the one who leads, whether it is in dancing or making a move or even initiating the song!

As you might see, the female of the pair is smaller and more delicate than the male! She seems to be the more passive of the two and seems to be happy to follow her mate's orders! The Sarus Crane pair build up their nests on a pile of twigs and stubble close to the water level. The nest is protected at all times and though the eggs and the hatchlings are perhaps most vulnerable till they gain in size. As you can see from the snaps, Sarus Cranes are to be found in wetlands, and paddy fields and their diet consists of whatever they can forage from the shallow water bed and the undergrowth. Their diet consists of roots, tubers, insects and crustaceans. These birds can be found in wetlands and marshes all over the northern part of India.

I can only hope that conservationists and Government organisations take definite steps to protect this species from total extinction. The dwindling number of wetlands in the country is a matter of concern. Today wetlands and marshlands are being drained out to make space for building projects. Whatever wetlands exist as protected spaces, continue to be threatened by the very fact that water runoff from rains has been severely cut off by building projects that come up around protected wetlands. If we don't take up immediate steps to conserve our wetlands, then surely all that will remain of these majestic birds are these photographs!

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