• The critically endangered Bengal florican – a grassland bird more threatened than the tiger – use not just protected grasslands but agricultural fields, too, find scientists.
  • This suggests that conserving these cultivated areas could be as important as protecting the grasslands where these birds breed.
  • Fewer than 1,000 adult Bengal floricans remain in the world in two, very fragmented populations. One of them is in the grasslands of the terai, the fertile foothills of the Himalayas, which spans across Nepal and Indian states such as Uttar Pradesh.
  • During the monsoon (the non-breeding season), the birds had far larger home ranges.
  • They moved out of protected grasslands and into low-intensity agricultural fields along large rivers – which were interspersed with grasslands, had no roads and very few people – to escape the floods common during this time.
  • Floricans need alternating patches of short and tall grass to thrive, and till several decades ago, the large herbivores of the terai – such as rhinoceroses and swamp deer – would do this job of creating these perfect habitats.
  • But now there are fewer mega-herbivores left, so only dense, tall grasslands remain in protected areas.
  • “So this could be triggering this movement of floricans into fields.”
  • Conserving these fields – by ensuring safe agricultural practices – could be as important as protecting the birds’ grassland habitats.
  • Their analyses show that though the birds’ habitats get severely fragmented towards the western parts of the Indian subcontinent, there could be some unrecorded populations of floricans in the states of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh which have not yet been surveyed