Saving the national bird of India

The National Bird of India

- Samar Singh, President, World Pheasant Association - India.

Several countries have adopted the concept of a ‘national bird’. In India and the United States of America (USA), apart from a national bird, each state of the federal union has a designated state bird. The USA was perhaps the first to start this practice, coinciding with the growth of the conservation movement in that country. The idea was adopted for the States in India in the mid-80s. However, much before that in 1963, the Government of India had named the Indian Peafowl(Pavo cristatus), also called the Blue Peafowl, as the National Bird of India. The Asiatic Lion was declared the National Animal, but the Tiger replaced it in 1974, after the launch of Project Tiger and following a worldwide outcry about the fate of the Tiger. Significantly, no such change has occurred in regard to the Indian Peafowl, which proudly continues to be the National Bird.

Renowned ornithologist, the Late Dr. Salim Ali, once told me that the choice was between the Indian Peafowl and the Great Indian Bustard, both big and prominent birds and typically Indian. The matter was debated in the Indian Board for Wildlife and eventually the Indian Peafowl was selected and recommended to the Government, not only on account of its widespread distribution in the country but also because of its longstanding association with the life and culture of the Indian people. Somehow, this latter aspect is taken for granted and it is generally not appreciated that in no other country of the world the bonds between the national bird and its people are as ancient and intimate as in India.

Another remarkable attribute of the Indian Peafowl is its amazing adaptability. It belongs to the Pheasant family, of which there are 17 species in India, which means one-third of the world’s total number of 51 pheasant species. All of them are essentially birds of the jungles and mountains. While the Indian Peafowl prefers scrub forest for its habitat and is distributed widely through the country, it is the only pheasant species that is able to adjust easily to human beings and is at home near habitations and even in urban areas. This is another factor that has facilitated its long and intimate association with the people in India.

For sheer attractiveness, adorning ability and adaptability, the Indian Peafowl is clearly unsurpassed and incomparable. No other bird can claim such a triple ‘A’ standing. Regal and resplendent, yet common and plebian, it stands in a class of its own, a true symbol of India in all its beauty and colourful splendour. It is rightly theNational Bird of India.

( Photograph; Susan Sharma)
-To be continued

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