The hullabaloo over the Valentine day and the fervor of the Deepawali festival are two things at the either end of rope. However there is a uniting thread, the Sarus Cranes!
Legend says that Valmiki was watching a pair of courting Sarus Cranes when a hunter’s arrow killed the male. The female Sarus bereaved and her loud wailing calls moved Valmiki to curse the hunter. The curse turned out to be in rhyme. That was the first ever poetic expression or as we call in Hindi-padhya and he then went on to write Ramayan, giving us our first epic poem, Mahakavya Ramayan. This epic depicts female Sarus’ pathos and wailing and dying in Sita’s sorrow. It also gives us our loveliest festival Deepawali.
Sarus crane in India is a symbol of conjugal bliss as it is believed to pair for the life, and death of a partner makes other pine for death. Their display of courtship is uninhibited yet beautiful. The bird gets its name from the Sanskrit word ‘Sarasa’ meaning courtship, and the spectacular dance of breeding pair justifies it. So next time you hear all the noise about Valentine Day, think of Sarus Cranes.
You might have heard many stories in your childhood which told that a pair of Sarus lived at the banks of lake or pond or river “jheel ke kinare ek sarus ka joda rahta tha., and the breeding birds are always found in pairs. Non breeding birds occur in flocks.
Cranes are large wading birds with long necks and legs. Storks also have long legs and neck but their bill is very long as compared to cranes. Six species of cranes are found in India of which only the Sarus is a non migratory resident bird. And it is also the world’s tallest flying bird. Its red head and upper neck is its distinguishing feature.
It just happened by chance that we stumbled on sighting its dance. It was a usual Sunday and we decided to visit Surajpur Bird Sanctuary in Greater Noida. Among all that we saw, the dance of Sarus is the most memorable of all my birding experiences.
Sarus pair ‘dances’ both in and out of breeding season, which sometimes may last up to half an hour. When we spotted this pair,it was standing together quietly. Then one of them spread its wing span, balancing delicately on its long legs, making a seductive curve of the red-jeweled-neck, and the other also made the same elegant curve of its own neck.
Then as one was jumping and bowing, other kept circling around the partner.
And their avian kissing moment was..well, Vatsyayan could write a treatise on all the poses to kiss.
Sometimes while one was stretching itself to the hilt, other just remained unimpressed. Poor fellow! It must have been a male. But then the so-called male also looked away. I said, ‘Oh sure it is a male! He is looking for someone else to impress!’ But the poor fellow did not have a chance as the breeding pair defines a territory, and both of them themselves ruled out any competitor.
When they made a lovely Radha Krishna pose, we assigned their sexes based on our recall of Mughal and Rajasthani miniature paintings, because both the sexes look similar except that males are generally larger than females.
More and more of wingspread and bowing and jumping kept us engaged, and their trumpeting and unison calls accompanied their spectacular dance,
till a Purple Heron poked her nose too close.
They retreated, and flew past leaving the marshland in the hands of Lapwings, Herons, Purple Swamp-Hen, Ibis, Painted Stork and many more. Wetlands or marshlands are its main habitat as they forage in shallow water to feed on aquatic plants, frogs, crustaceans and insects. Because of large-scale destruction of wetland for farming and then urban usage, it is now highly dependent on water merged paddy cultivation.
I still remember the area near Dadri in Uttar Pradesh which used to be a beautiful wetland attracting a large number of migratory birds and it had a few flocks of Sarus cranes. Now, when I last visited it in 2013, what remained was nothing but a few puddles, with a mega urban center planned and begun there. If I was an urban planner I would leave that area undisturbed and build a city around it, making the wetland teeming with birds, the city center.
If and if wishes were horses!
Know more here