I have fond memories of travelling with my parents on long train journeys during my school vacations, away from studies and away from all compulsions. Those journeys used to be my windows to the world. I would see large, white birds standing tall in the wetlands beside the railway tracks, as our train passed through Uttar Pradesh. I fell in love with these majestic birds, amazed by their size and beauty, and used to wonder why I hadn’t seen them near Kolkata.
These creatures, I learned later, were sarus cranes, the tallest flying birds in the world. Inhabitants of wetlands and marshlands, Sarus cranes were once well-distributed in the lowlands along the Gangetic plain up to the Godavari River in the south, and in north-west India. Today, they are found in the northern parts of India. This iconic, non-migratory species is now threatened by habitat loss and degradation, with the cultivation of marshes and wetlands. The sarus crane has been declared vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Sarus cranes are known for their long-lasting fidelity. They are very territorial and often, breeding pairs will put on a beautiful display as they call in unison. Breeding is mostly during July to October; eggs can be spotted in nests from end-August. The nests are usually built on small mounds in the marshes. However, the huge habitat loss has forced the birds to breed and nest in agricultural lands, exposing them to human interference and the threat of farmers who think they damage crops.
The cranes in the following photos nested on agricultural land, close to a busy road in Gujarat. I used to watch these birds from the road regularly. They seemed comfortable in their surroundings, with the busy road, the traffic, the farmers and passersby. The birth of a chick in the middle of all this hustle and bustle supported my observation.
In spite of human disturbance, the sarus crane has learned to co-exist with us. Now it is our turn to pay back; we humans should try and co-exist with the wild to make our world a better place.
is as elusive as the animals he photographs. His photographs have appeared in National Geographic Traveller, The New York Times, Lonely Planet, WWF, UNESCO, Birdlife.
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