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Critically Endangered Birds in India
Jun 11, 2014

As per the Red Data Book of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), there are 13 Critically Endangered species of birds in India. Among animals, 34 species have been identified in India as Critically Endangered in the class mammals, reptiles, fishes and amphibians. 

The IUCN Red List is the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of animal, fungi and plant species and their links to livelihoods. Far more than a list of species and their status, the IUCN Red List is a powerful tool to inform and catalyse action for biodiversity conservation and policy change, critical to protecting the natural resources we need to survive. It provides information on population size and trends, geographic range and habitat needs of species.


Critically endangered is the highest risk category assigned by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red list to wild species. There are five quantitative criteria to determine whether a taxon is threatened. A taxon is critically endangered when the best available evidence indicates that it meets any of the following criteria:


I. Populations have declined or will decrease, by greater than 80% over the last 10 years or three generations. 


II. Have a restricted geographical range. 


III. Small population size of less than 250 individuals and continuing decline at 25% in 3 years or one generation. 


IV. Very small or restricted population of fewer than 50 mature individuals. 


V. High probability of extinction in the wild.


List of Critically Endangered Bird Species of India :

1. Ardea insignis (White-bellied Heron):

  • Extremely rare bird found in five or six sites in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, one or two sites in Bhutan, and a few in Myanmar.

  • This species is rarer than previously believed. Indeed, it appears close to extinction.

  • Habitat: Rivers with sand or gravel bars or inland lakes.

  • Threats: Loss and degradation of lowland forests and wetlands through direct exploitation and disturbance by humans. 

2. Eurynorhynchus pygmeus (Spoon-billed Sandpiper):

  • Requires highly specialized breeding habitat, a constraint that has always kept its population scarce. India is home to some of the last existing wintering grounds of this species (estimated at only 150-320 breeding pairs worldwide).

  • Breeds in north-eastern Russia and winters in Southeast Asia.

  • Habitat: Coastal areas with sparse vegetation. No breeding records further inland beyond 7 km of seashore. 

  • Distribution: Found at Chukchi Peninsula and southwards along the isthmus of the Kamchatka peninsula It migrates down the Pacific coast through Japan, North Korea, South Korea and China, to its main wintering grounds in South and South-East Asia, where it has been recorded from India (West Bengal, Orissa, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.), Bangladesh,  Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Sri lanka, Peninsular Malaysia, the Philippines,  and Singapore.

  • Threats: Habitat degradation and land reclamation. Human disturbance also leads to high incidence of nest desertion.

3. Grus leucogeranus (Siberian Crane):

  • Habitat: Wetland areas.

  • Distribution: Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan.

  • Threats: Pesticide pollution, wetland drainage, development of prime habitat into agricultural fields, and to some extent, hunting.

4. Gyps bengalensis (White-rumped Vulture)/ Gyps indicus (Indian Vulture)/ Gyps tenuirostris (Slender-billed Vulture)/ Sarcogyps calvus (Red-headed Vulture):

  • Out of nine species of vultures, the population of three species- White-backed Vulture (Gyps bengalensis), Slender-billed Vulture (Gyps tenuirostris) and Long-billed Vulture (Gyps indicus) has declined by 99%. The Red- headed Vulture (Sarcogyps calvus) has also suffered a rapid decline in the recent past. Vultures keep the environment clean, by scavenging on animal carcasses. The decline in vulture populations has associated disease risks, including increased risk of spread of rabies and anthrax.

  • Habitat: Forests, villages etc.

  • Distribution: Across India.

  • Threats: A major threat to vultures is the painkiller diclofenac used by veterinarians to treat cattle. When vultures consume these carcasses, diclofenac enters their system, but they are unable to metabolize it. Accumulation of diclofenac results in gout-like symptoms such as neck-drooping, ultimately leading to death.

5. Heteroglaux blewitti (Forest Owlet):

  • It is an owl that is endemic to the forests of central India. This species belongs to the typical owl’s family, Strigidae. After it was described in 1873 and last seen in the wild in 1884, it was considered extinct.

  • After 113 long years, the owlet was rediscovered in 1997 and reappeared on the list of Indian birds. 

  • Habitat: Dry deciduous forest.

  • Distribution: South Madhya Pradesh, in north-west Maharashtra and north-central Maharashtra.

  • Threats: Logging operations, burning and cutting of trees damage roosting and nesting trees of the Forest Owlet.

6. Houbaropsis bengalensis (Bengal Florican):

  • Also called Bengal Bustard, is a very rare bustard species from the Indian subcontinent, with a smaller separate population in Southeast Asia.

  • Habitat: Grasslands occasionally interspersed with scrublands.

  • Distribution: Native to only 3 countries in the world - Cambodia, India and Nepal. In India, it occurs in 3 states, namely Uttar  Pradesh, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh

  • Threats: Ongoing conversion of the bird’s grassland habitat for various purposes including agriculture is mainly responsible for its population decline.

7. Ophrysia superciliosa (Himalayan Quail):

  • Presumed to be extinct since no reliable records of sightings of this species exist after 1876.

  • Habitat: Tall grass and scrub on steep hillsides.

  • Distribution: Western Himalayas.

  • Threats: Indiscriminate hunting during the colonial period along with habitat modification.

8.   Rhinoptilus bitorquatus (Jerdon's Courser):

  • It is a nocturnal bird.

  • Belong to the Pratincole and courser family Glareolidae endemic to India.

  • The bird was discovered by the surgeon-naturalist Thomas C. Jerdon in 1848 but not seen again until its rediscovery in 1986.

  • Habitat: Undisturbed scrub jungle with open areas. 

  • Distribution: Jerdon’s Courser is endemic to Andhra Pradesh. However, 19th century records do attribute its presence in the neighbouring areas of the state of Maharashtra.

  • Threats: Clearing of scrub jungle, creation of new pastures, growing of dry land crops, plantations of exotic trees, quarrying and the construction of the Telugu-Ganga Canal. Illegal trapping of birds is also a threat.

9.  Rhodonessa caryophyllacea (Pink-headed Duck) :

  • A large diving duck that was once found in parts of the Gangetic plains of India, Bangladesh and in the riverine swamps of Myanmar but feared extinct since the 1950s.

  • Males have a deep pink head and neck from which the bird derives its name.

  • Habitat: Overgrown still-water pools, marshes and swamps in lowland forests and tall grasslands.

  • Distribution: Recorded in India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. Maximum records are from north-east India.

  • Threats: Wetland degradation and loss of habitat, along with hunting are the main causes of its decline.

10.   Vanellus gregarius (Sociable Lapwing):

  • It is a winter migrant to India. This species has suffered a sudden and rapid population decline due to which it has been listed as critically endangered.

  • Habitat: Fallow fields and scrub desert.

  • Distribution: Kazakhstan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, India, Pakistan and Oman. In India, distribution is restricted to the north and north-west of the country.

  • Threats: Conversion of habitat to arable land, illegal hunting and proximity to human settlements.



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