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Endangered Garuda Birds are Breeding in Bihar
by Imran Khan
Patna, Jan 17
It is good news for bird lovers. The endangered Garuda bird of the stork family has been sighted in a village in Bihar's Bhagalpur district, where the birds have also started nesting.

"The endangered Garuda birds have taken shelter on a silk cotton tree near a village in Ganga-Diara area in Bhagalpur. They are breeding, a major occasion in the conservation of the birds," Arvind Mishra, an avid naturalist, told IANS.

"The Garuda birds face very high risk of extinction if proper conservation efforts are not taken. There are only 800 Garuda birds around the world and a few dozen in India," said Mishra, coordinator in Bihar and Jharkhand for the Indian Birds Conservation Network.

The Garuda, biologically known as Greater Adjutant, is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List 2004 of threatened species and listed under Schedule IV of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. The large wading bird belongs to the Leptoptilos dubius species.

This huge stork has a naked pink head, a very thick yellow bill and a low-hanging neck pouch. The neck ruff is white. The bird looks like a vulture. Other than the pale grey edge on each wing, the rest of the Greater Adjutant's body is dark grey.

Juveniles have a narrower bill, thicker down on the head and neck and entirely dark wings, Mishra said. A Garuda bird measures 145-150 cm (about three feet) in length and four to five feet in height.

Mishra, who has been studying birds and conducting surveys for conservation, said: "The birds are on the verge of extinction. Attempts are being made all over the world to conserve and save them."

According to Tapan Ghosh of Mandar Nature Club in Bhagalpur, his club has been working hard to create awareness among the locals on the need for protecting the endangered birds.

He said that last month some villagers sighted the birds on a silk cotton tree and informed the club.

"It is big news that the Garuda birds have chosen this place for shelter and breeding," Ghosh said.

"We have seen a few baby chicks. Out motive is to provide them full protection with the support of locals. The villagers have promised not to disturb their shelter."

Mishra said that several villagers have started worshipping the Garuda birds and the tree on which they have made their nest.

Garuda is the name of the huge bird mentioned in the Indian epic "Mahabharata".

Ghosh said the nesting season of the birds is between September and January. The nests, usually built right on the top of the tree canopy, measure 90-110 cm in diameter.

The Greater Adjutant was formerly found in South and Southeast Asia but there were reports of the birds being sighted in Assam in India and in Cambodia.

"Bhagalpur is the third nesting region of this species in the world. This could be a good sign for the survival of a good number of the species," said Mishra, who has been working on a project supported by the Wildlife Trust of India for the protection of the species.

The number of these bird species has declined drastically in the past few years.

The main threat they now face in Bihar is from the local nomadic Banpar tribes, which collect the eggs and chicks and hunt the birds for food.

Another threat, according to Mishra, is the anti-inflammatory medicine Diclofenac that is used by veterinarians and a major reason behind pushing vultures to near extinction.

The Greater Adjutant feeds on the carcass of dead cattle and could be similarly affected by the medicine, said Mishra, also a member on the Bihar wildlife board.

In May 2006, 42 birds were seen by Mishra and the Mandar Nature Club team for the first time. Prior to this, the Greater Adjutant had never been seen in Bihar during its breeding period.

The Greater Adjutant, like most of its relatives, feeds mainly on frogs and large insects but also young birds, lizards and rodents.

Loss of nesting habitat and feeding sites through drainage, pollutions and disturbance, together with hunting and egg collection, has caused a massive dip in the population of this species. 

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