Cranes and Wetlands

Sarus Cranes, and a host of other wildlife species, in south Asia thrive in an unlikely landscape - the crowded and nearly-completely cultivated floodplains of north-central India, and southern Nepal. This collaborative programme of the International Crane Foundation and NCF is striving to uncover how this alliance of people and wildlife is possible, and how it can be strengthened. We will bring together diverse disciplines to ensure long-term persistence of this unique coexistence.

Waterbird Monitoring Over Time and Space

Cranes and many other waterbirds in south Asia are long-lived, have wide distribution ranges, and with the majority of their populations outside of protected wetland systems. Scientific information to understand their ecology and inform conservation interventions are largely missing. Our work strives to fill this lacuna by undertaking systematic, long-term monitoring of waterbird populations in diverse landscapes.

Bns sarus


Breeding success in croplands

Understanding limits to Sarus Crane and Black-necked Stork productivity



Of Storks In Farmlands

Asian Openbills and Lesser Adjutants feeding in a Nepali SarusScape

Exploring the SarusScape

Sarus Cranes inhabit landscapes with a multitude of cropping patterns, human habits, and a pleasantly high wild species diversity. As part of our work we explore patterns and processes driving habitat and biodiversity persistence, and the ecology of species and habitats, in these landscapes. We explore also impacts of past and current institutional frameworks that act on the Sarus, on the co-occurring species, the wetlands, and indeed the landscape to locate conditions that maximize coexistence.


The IUCN Stork, Ibis and Spoonbill Specialist Group (SIS-SG) is a global network of scientists, conservationists, governmental and non-governmental institutions, and people committed to the scientific understanding and conservation of SIS species and their habitats.


This volunteer network of 75 experts focuses on 60 SIS species worldwide.


The SG is located at, and affiliated to, the Nature Conservation Foundation, the International Crane Foundation, and the Complutense University of Madrid.


Iucn 20ssc 20sis sg 20logo

Introduction to the SIS-SG

Structure and goals




  • Journal Article
    Temporal variations in patterns of Escherichia coli strain diversity and antimicrobial resistance in the migrant Egyptian Vulture
    Pradeep Sharma, Sunil Maherchandani, B.N. Shringi, Sudhir Kumar Kashyap, K S Gopi Sundar
    Infection Ecology and Epidemeology 8:1, 1450590.


    Aims: Multiple antimicrobial resistance in Escherichia coli of wild vertebrates is a global concern with scarce assessments on the subject from developing countries that have high human-wild species interactions. We studied the ecology of E. coli in a wintering population of Egyptian Vultures in India to understand temporal changes in both E. coli strains and patterns of antimicrobial resistance.

    Methods and Results: We ribotyped E. coli strains and assessed antimicrobial resistance from wintering vultures at a highly synanthropic carcass dump in north-west India. Both E. coli prevalence (90.32%) and resistance to multiple antimicrobials (71.43%) were very high. Clear temporal patterns were apparent. Diversity of strains changed and homogenized at the end of the Vultures’ wintering period, while the resistance pattern showed significantly difference inter-annually, as well as between arrival and departing individuals within a wintering cycle.

    Significance of study: The carcass dump environment altered both E. coli strains and multiple antimicrobial resistance in migratory Egyptian Vultures within a season. Long-distance migratory species could therefore disseminate resistant E. coli strains across broad geographical scales rendering regional mitigation strategies to control multiple antimicrobial resistance in bacteria ineffective.

  • Journal Article
    The role of artificial habitats and rainfall patterns in the unseasonal nesting of Sarus Cranes (Antigone antigone) in south Asia
    K S Gopi Sundar, Mohammed Yaseen, Kandarp Kathju
    Waterbirds 41(1): 80-86.

    Sarus Cranes (Antigone antigone) in south Asia breed during the rainy season (monsoon), with few nests initiated outside of the monsoon. Several hypothesis have been put forth to explain the unseasonal nesting outside the monsoon, but a careful evaluation of the hypotheses has been absent. Using a multi-year (2004-2017), multi-scale (four Indian states) data set, this study explored the factors potentially responsible for unseasonal nesting by Sarus Cranes. Nests outside the monsoon were very rare (0.3% of all nests) and were initiated when Sarus Crane pairs were in areas with artificial water sources (irrigation canals or reservoirs) or faced abnormal monsoonal conditions. Unseasonal nests were initiated only when breeding pairs had been unsuccessful in raising chicks in the previous primary nesting season. Altered cropping patterns associated with increased artificial irrigation and changing rainfall patterns appear responsible for unseasonal nesting in Sarus Cranes. Nesting of this species outside the monsoon may increase in response to the increasing changes in cropping patterns and changing rainfall conditions.

  • Journal Article
    Hunting or habitat? Drivers of waterbird abundance and community structure in agricultural wetlands of southern India
    Ramachandran, R., Ajith Kumar, K S Gopi Sundar, Ravinder Singh Bhalla
    Ambio, 46(5): 613-620. DOI: 10.1007/s13280-017-0907-9

    The relative impacts of hunting and habitat on waterbird community were studied in agricultural wetlands of southern India. We surveyed wetlands to document waterbird community, and interviewed hunters to document hunting intensity, targeted species, and the motivations for hunting. Our results show that hunting leads to drastic declines in waterbird diversity and numbers, and skew the community towards smaller species. Hunting intensity, water spread, and vegetation cover were the three most important determinants of waterbird abundance and community structure. Species richness, density of piscivorous species, and medium-sized species (31–65 cm) were most affected by hunting. Out of 53 species recorded, 47 were hunted, with a preference for larger birds. Although illegal, hunting has increased in recent years and is driven by market demand. This challenges the widely held belief that waterbird hunting in India is a low intensity, subsistence activity, and undermines the importance of agricultural wetlands in waterbird conservation.

  • Journal Article
    Factors affecting provisioning times of two stork species in lowland Nepal
    K S Gopi Sundar, Bijay Maharjan, Roshila Koju, Swati Kittur, Kamal Raj Gosai
    Waterbirds, 39: 365-374. doi:

    The ecology of stork colonies in south Asia are very poorly understood. Factors affecting provisioning times by adults were evaluated at nests of two stork species, the Asian Openbill (Anastomus oscitans) and the Lesser Adjutant (Leptoptilos javanicus), in lowland Nepal where the landscape is dominated by multi-cropped agriculture fields. Analyses focused on understanding if provisioning times are influenced more due to colony-level variables, wetlands around colonies, or season. Using generalized additive mixed models and the information-theoretic approach, colony-level variables (brood size and chick age) showed non-trivial associations with provisioning times (substantially better than the null model). Univariate models with colony size and wetlands had poor support (worse than the null model). Season, which represented the changing cropping patterns, rainfall, and wetness on the landscape, was the most important variable for both species. The combination of season and wetlands was very important for provisioning Asian Openbills whose chicks fledged during the monsoon (July–October), but not for Lesser Adjutants whose chicks fledged in the drier winter months (November–February). Results strongly suggest that changing cropping patterns to a drier monsoonal crop, or reductions in wetland extents, will be detrimental to storks in Nepal.

  • Report
    NCF Annual Report 2016

    PDF, 13.1 MB

  • Thesis
    Food-provisioning behaviour in heronries in Rupandehi and Kapilbastu districts of Nepal
    Bijay Maharjan
    Dissertation Submitted for the partial fulfillment of the requirements for Master of Science in Environment Science of Tribhuvan University Majoring in Biodiversity Conservation and Wildlife Management. Submitted to Department of Environmental Science Khwopa College ((Affiliated to Tribhuvan University), Nepal. 38pp.

    Food provisioning is directly influenced by the availability of food resources around the nesting site and provisioning by the parents. This study was carried out to assess food provisioning in heronries with respect to i) water bird species, ii) chicks age iii) heronry size and iv) behaviour changes across the nesting season in Heronries during the 2014-15 nesting season. Study was carried out in 36 Village Development Committee (VDCs) of Rupandehi and 11 VDCs of Kapilbastu. Road routes were taken as transect for survey and covered once in 15 days during the entire nesting season (egg laying to fledging of chicks from nests; Aug 2014-Jan 2015). The food provisioning behaviour of Asian open bill (AOB) and Lesser Adjutant Stork (LAS) of varied sizes (Heronry size: no of nest in a tree) were taken for study. The food provisioning behaviour observations were carried out in the morning (6 am-12 pm) at 10-15 days interval in each heronry. 

    The average food provisioning time of AOB and LAS heronries was found to be 27.67±29.29 (n=341) and 38.13±49.99 (n=381) respectively. Both the species prefer short provisionig time i.e. more than 50% of provisioning time for both AOB heronries and LAS heronries was less than 20 minutes. The frequency percentage of provisioning time decreased continuously as the provisioning time increased at all stages of AOB as well as LAS heronry. Similarly, in case of heronry size for AOB heronries the average provisioning time was almost similar for all heronry size.and found to be not significantly different (χ2=0.93, P3,0.05=7.815). For LAS heronries the average provisioning time was high for heronry size 1 and size 5 and found to significantly different for heronry size (χ2=47.902, P14,0.05=12.592). Initially (first week of September) average provisioning time for AOB heronries was lowest and gradually increased till fledging of chick (late October). But in case of LAS heronries before October the average provisioning time was almost similar and increased from November to till fledging of chick (January). 

    Provisioning behaviour studies on waterbird species that form heronries are not available from Nepal, and are rare from South Asia. Thus outcome of this research would be step towards filling gap in ornithology and for understanding heronry ecology to help with planning, management and sustainable conservation of heronry birds in lowland of Nepal. 

    Keyword: Provisioning behaviour, Heronry, Nestling age, Heronry size vi

  • Thesis
    Distribution, nesting trees preference and nesting success of heronries in Rupandehi and Kapilbastu districts, Nepal
    Roshila Koju
    A Dissertation prepared for partial fulfillment of the requirement of the Master of Science (M.Sc.) degree in Environmental Science of Tribhuvan University. Submitted to: Department of Environmental Science, Khwopa College (Affiliated to Tribhuvan University), Nepal. 48 pp.

    The study was carried out in forty-seven VDCs of the adjoining districts, Rupandehi and Kapilbastu of lowland, southern Nepal. This study was focused on the distribution pattern of all heronries as well as for species, nesting trees preference relative to the overall availability on the overall landscape and nesting success of three species (LAS: Lesser Adjutant Stork Leptoptilos javanicus, AOB: Asian Openbill Anastomus oscitans and PH: Pond Heron Ardeola grayii) at heronries. 

    The survey was carried out from august 2014 with intensive survey of focal villages during visits of random points for nest tree preference. Bird species, tree species along with girth at breast height (GBH) and height were recorded. Altogether 75 heronries of AOB, LAS, CE: Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis, PH, WNS: Woolly necked Stork Ciconia episcopus and RNI: Red naped Ibis Pseudibis papillosa were recorded. From Variance mean ratio (VMR), these heronries were distributed randomly. Similarly, AOB, LAS and CE were also distributed randomly as well. Heronries were distributed in all over the study area except some VDCs but they were sighted in those areas as well. AOB were distributed in six VDCs of Rupandehi while PH was distributed in two VDCs of Kapilbastu districts despite of this, their distribution pattern was random from VMR calculation. LAS and CE were distributed in both districts very well. They were also distributed randomly. 

    Bombax ceiba and Ficus religiosa were preferred by heronries as well as by individual species more than availability. Mangifera indica and Dalbergia sisoo were available most in the area. The preferred trees have more GBH (>200 cm) and height (>15 m) compared to random points. A single species appears to have different preferences based on the location of the study. CE preferred all range GBH trees than other bird species. The nesting success of AOB, LAS and PH were obtained to be nearly 95.12±15.8, 82.05±35.39 and 57±40.48 per heronries and the chicks fledge per nest for respective species was obtained to be 2.43±0.7, 1.51±0.69 and 1.32±1.42 respectively. There was negligible difference in numbers of chick fledged in case of AOB and LAS whereas PH has huge variation in numbers of chicks per nest.

     Therefore, the landscape of lowland Nepal provides excellent condition for wide variety of large waterbirds to nest in heronries despite enormous human distribution. 

    Key words: Heronries, Distribution, Nest tree preference, Nesting Success.

  • Journal Article
    Wetland loss and waterbird use of wetlands in Palwal district, Haryana, India: The role of agriculture, urbanization and conversion to fish ponds
    Wetlands. DOI 10.1007/s13157-014-0600-8

    PDF, 1.15 MB

    Wetlands in tropical and sub-tropical landscapes
    are experiencing changes and loss due to urbanization and
    intensive human use, but there is sparse detailed understanding
    of how these affect use by wetland-dependent birds.
    Urbanization and conversion of community wetlands to private
    fish ponds are occurring rapidly in Haryana state in north
    India. We conducted a study in Palwal district, Haryana in
    2013–2014 to simultaneously understand (i) rates and reasons
    for wetland loss between 1970s and 2000s, and (ii) relative
    importance of location (towns/ villages versus those amid
    agriculture) versus site-specific variables on the winter abundance of 31 waterbird species in these fish ponds. Wetland
    extent reduced by 52 %, and average wetland size reduced by
    42 % between 1970s and 2000s. Expansion of urban areas
    converted 105 agricultural wetlands to town wetlands.
    Wetlands of different locations could not be differentiated
    using waterbird abundance suggesting that wetland conditions
    have been homogenized, in part due to conversions to fish
    ponds and in part due to urban expansions. Focal waterbird
    abundance was affected more due to human activities relative
    to location or vegetation. A complex combination of current
    management practices and historical determinants of wetland persistence appear to be driving waterbird use of wetlands in
    locations like Palwal.

  • Book Chapter
    Sarus Cranes, cultivators, and conservation
    In: Nature Without Borders (Eds. M Rangarajan, M D Madhusudan, G Shahabuddin), Orient Blackswan Pvt Ltd, Hyderabad and New Delhi.
  • Popular Article
    The great crane project
    The Hindu in School, 20 February


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