India is blessed with rich flora and fauna. This is because the country is a subcontinent.
Hence, we have different climatic conditions and forests. The unique geographical features render it possible for indigenous and migratory species of birds to dwell in India.
Unfortunately, denudation of forests, global warming and rampant poaching on eggs and certain species for food has caused 15 indigenous and migratory birds in India to be critically endangered.
The Red List of India released by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) lists a total of 15 birds as being on the verge of extinction.
Here is a list of most critically endangered birds in India which includes both Indian as well as migratory birds that may soon vanish from this planet unless extreme measures are taken to protect their habitats and enable their breeding.
List of 15 Critically Endangered Birds in India
1. Baer’s Pochard
Indigenous to India, China, Vietnam and Japan, the Baer’s Pochard is a species of duck that lives in marshy wetlands.
Baer’s Pochard is distinguished by its dark backs and white lower feathers. Its habitat is usually dense vegetation near lakes and watery meadows.
The Baer’s Pochard in India is listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ by IUCN. The main reason for their near extinction is rampant hunting and poaching of their eggs for food.
They are found mainly in north-eastern states of India bordering Myanmar and Bangladesh.
2. Forest Owlet
Found in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, the Forest Owlet is nearly an endangered bird in India.
It features on IUCN and CITES list as ‘Critically Endangered.”
According to various forest and wildlife conservation sources in India, only about 25 to 30 pairs of these owls exist in India.
Initially, Forest Owlet was deemed extinct. Indian ornithologists, however, spotted this bird in forests in Madhya Pradesh and later in Maharashtra.
Since then, various technologies are being used to find their exact number.
These birds are widely hunted because villagers and multiple tribes wrongly consider them as a harbinger of misfortune.
3. Great Indian Bustard
The Great Indian Bustard is a critically endangered species of birds found in Rajasthan desert.
It is a shy bird that prefers to conceal its large body in desert vegetation.
This bird is scarce.
Its numbers have depleted due to excessive hunting by poachers from Pakistan and indigenous people that cherish its meat, eggs and feathers.
The Great Indian Bustard has also been at the centre of a diplomatic standoff between India and Saudi Arabia.
A group of Saudi Arabian royals attempted to hunt this bird but were denied permits by the Indian government.
However, some Saudis are suspected to have illegally killed at least a couple of Great Indian Bustards, according to unconfirmed sources.
4. Bengal Florican
Bengal Florican is also a type of bustard. It is found primarily in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and parts of Uttar Pradesh bordering Nepal.
IUCN categorises Bengal Florican as ‘Critically Endangered’ because only about 500 of these birds survive across Asia, including in India.
This is rare species of bird in India due to rapid depletion of its habitat. They breed in grasslands near lakes and sweet water bodies but shy away from flooding.
Unfortunately, a lot of their habitat is now being utilised for dry farming of rice, which is threatening the existence of this species.
Efforts are being made in India and abroad to protect this species and encourage their breeding.
5. Siberian Crane
Siberian Crane, as the name suggests, breeds Tundra region and near rivers Ob, Konda and Sossva in Russia and its neighbouring nations.
They generally migrate to wetter lands such as Bihar in India during winters.
The Siberian Crane has distinct snow-white feathers. Its population is on the decline due to massive hunting during their migratory flights and depletion of habitat.
IUCN also lists Siberian Crane, a migratory bird in India as ‘Critically Endangered.’
6. Spoon Billed Sandpiper
Less than 2,500 of these extremely rare species of bird remain worldwide. They are a migratory species that breeds in North Eastern Russia and Far East Asia.
The Spoon-Billed Sandpiper can be distinguished by its distinctive bill which is shaped like a spatula and used for hunting fish from lakes.
It arrives in India as a migratory bird, residing on coastlands and riverbeds in the eastern part of the country.
This Indian bird is feared to be on the verge of extinction since it is fast losing habitat for living and breeding.
Efforts are underway in Russia and elsewhere to breed these birds in captivity by incubating their eggs artificially.
These efforts are fetching results, but the Spoon Billed Piper remains very critically endangered bird in India
7. Sociable Lapwing
The golden-brown feathers and dark legs distinguish sociable Lapwing. This rare beautiful bird in India lives in colder regions of India both as indigenous and migratory species.
It lives in cooler grasslands of India and feeds on insects and small worms.
Other than the loss of habitat caused by global warming, flooding and depletion of grasslands, Sociable Lapwing is also threatened by extensive poaching of its eggs that have unique colour, design and shape.
8. Jerdon’s Courser
Jerdon’s Courser is indigenous to eastern Andhra Pradesh. British naturalist Thoman Jerdon first spotted the bird in 1848.
For over a century, it was assumed that Jerdon’s Courser had gone extinct due to rapid deforestation and other factors.
Indian ornithologists spotted the Jerdon’s Courser in 1986. The bird lives in the dry scrub forest and sparse ground. It can be located only during twilight hours and dusk. This bird is scarce and almost an extinct bird in India.
A few of its eggs were found, which triggered hope that more of Jerdon’s Courses could be living.
Less than 250 of this species of birds exist. The Indian government and foreign agencies have launched extensive efforts to prevent Jerdon’s Courser from going extinct.
9. White Backed Vulture
Like all birds of this species, White Backed Vultures are scavenger birds. They feed off carcasses of dead animals including mortal remains of human beings.
White Backed Vulture is on the verge of extinction because of the lack of food.
Unlike other species, White Backed Vulture does not share its food with other birds. Therefore, it has limited food sources.
These birds typically lived near mountainous areas in rural India and fed on carcasses of domestic animals dumped by villagers.
They are also believed to frequent the Tower of Silence- a place where members of the Zoroastrian community leave they’re dead.
10. Red-Headed Vulture
Advances in pain management and veterinary science are causing this indigenous species of vultures to go extinct.
The Red Headed Vulture is also called the Grand Indian Vulture. It is known for its reddish face and bald neck.
Like other vultures, it feeds on carcasses of animals including human beings and sometimes kills weak or dying animals for food.
According to ornithologists, the Red Headed Vulture is fast going extinct due to rampant use of Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs such as Ibuprofen, Diclofenac Sodium and others in veterinary medicine.
These NSAIDS and other medicines remain in carcasses of domestic animals and are proving fatal to the Red Headed Vulture. The Indian government is making efforts to increase their numbers.
11. Slender Billed Vulture
Once again, survival of Slender Billed Vulture, a bird indigenous to India is threatened by NSAIDs including Diclofenac Sodium used in the veterinary treatment of farm and other domestic animals.
These scavenger birds feed on carcasses of dead animals. However, carcasses of animals treated with Diclofenac sound death knell of the Slender Billed Vulture.
Though the Indian government has taken steps to prevent the use of Diclofenac for veterinary use, it continues to be available illegally.
12. Indian Vulture
The Indian Vulture is indigenous to Rajasthan and bordering areas of Pakistan.
Like other species of its category, the Indian Vulture too is threatened by the use of Diclofenac and other veterinary medicines.
The Indian government and their counterparts in Pakistan have combined forces to prevent this species of vulture from going extinct on both sides of the border.
More threats to this bird are posed by kite flying using glass coated twine.
13. Pink-Headed Duck
The Pink-Headed Duck lives in plains of River Ganga. There is a fierce debate whether the bird is still extant or has gone extinct.
The bird was suspected to have gone extinct in the early 1900s. However, it was spotted on banks of River Brahmaputra as late as 1988.
Ornithologists from India and abroad have taken frequent expeditions to try and find any surviving Pink-Headed Duck.
The bird, however, remains elusive, possibly because it is a nocturnal species.
There are isolated reports of its sightings. IUCN and Indian authorities believe the bird could be extinct or critically endangered bird in India.
No conclusive evidence has been found to support any of these theories.
14. White Bellied Heron
Found in tropical and subtropical wetlands near the Himalayas in India, the White Bellied Heron is also a very rare species of bird in India.
IUCN suspects this bird is near extinction in India, Nepal and Bhutan.
Global warming and early melting of snow on the Himalayas that causes water levels of wetland to rise is causing the rapid extinction of the White Bellied Heron.
They are unable to move newborn chicks to safer areas and hence, leave them to predatory birds like eagles and hawks.
Some chicks also die in freezing water. Efforts to breed the White Bellied Heron are underway in India, Nepal and Bhutan as IUCN believes that less than 200 such birds now exist.
15. Himalayan Quail
Questions whether the Himalayan Quail, a small bird that lived in forests is extinct or not continue to plague IUCN and ornithologists.
While the bird was already critically endangered in India more than a century ago, there are isolated reports of its sightings from Uttarakhand and some other states bordering the Himalayas.
Doubts whether this bird is extinct or not exist also because its eggs and newly hatched babies are considered a delicacy in areas around the Himalayas. They command a high price in the exotic meat market.
Unless conclusively proven, the Himalayan Quail cannot be deemed extinct and hence remains on the list of extremely endangered birds in India. IUCN suspects the Himalayan Quail to be most likely extinct.
Massive hunting and loss of habitat are the main reasons for most species of flora and fauna being critically endangered or near extinction in India.
Humans are steadily encroaching on the natural habitat of lots of animals and birds, forcing them to move to greener pastures or face extinction.
For several birds, migration is impossible due to inherent factors.
Another major factor affecting rare birds in India is their demand as food. Quacks and witch doctors in rural India often prescribe parts of rare birds as a cure for various illnesses or use as charms.
Though India’s wildlife protection laws are stringent and harsh punishment is meted to violators, a lot of this crime goes unreported due to lack of awareness or fears of reprisal.
Should you come across any of these rare species of birds, take pictures if possible and contact the nearest natural history group of forest authorities. You may be able to prevent a rare species from going extinct.
You can also prevent a lot of rare birds and endangered animals from going extinct by supporting public and private initiatives aimed at their preservation.
Information about ongoing wildlife conservation projects can be found online or from your nearest forest department.
Exotic Indian animals are a natural resource of this country since they help maintain ecological balance and add beauty to nature.