(2038) Antigone antigone antigone.
THE INDIAN SARUS CRANE.
Ardea antigone Linn., Syst. Nat., 10th ed., i, p. 142 (1758) (India, Hartert). Grus antigone. Blanf. & Oates, iv, p. 188.
Vernacular names. Saras, Sirhans (Hind.); Khur-sang (Assam).
Description. A patch of grey-white feathers on the oral region; a ring of bristly black feathers round the neck and on the throat; a few coarse bristles on the lores; remainder of head and neck bare, the crown smooth, the rest of the naked parts covered with coarse granulations; a ring of white feathers next the base of the bare neck; winglet, primary coverts and primaries black; the remainder of the plumage pale grey, becoming almost white on the lengthened inner secondaries.
Colours of soft parts. Iris orange; bill pale greenish-horny with dark tip ; legs fleshy-red to livid-red or red; bare skin of crown and lores ashy-green or glaucous-green ; the papillose skin of head and neck orange-red, becoming much deeper and brighter in the breeding-season.
Measurements. wing 670 to 685 mm.; tail 255 to 263 mm.; tarsus about 310 to 355 mm.; culmen 172 to 182 mm.; rather smaller wing 625 to 645 mm.
Young birds have the whole neck and head covered with short buff, or rusty-buff, feathers.
Nestlings are covered with rich deep brown down above, more rufous and lighter on sides and on the head and paler below.
Distribution. Northern India from the Indus to Western Assam (Gowhati): South to Bombay Presidency on the West as far as Khandesh and to the Godavery River on the East.
Nidification. The Sarus Crane breeds after the rains have well set in, that is to say from July onwards. Most eggs are laid between the middle of that month up to the end of August but many are laid in September. From then to the end of November casual nests and eggs may constantly be found, whilst I have one clutch from the Central Provinces taken in March, Pershouse took a nest with a single egg in December and Capt. E. O'Brien found a newly-hatched young one on the 12th of February. The birds generally select for their nesting-site some piece of ground entirely surrounded by water or by swampy marsh-land but occasionally they will nest in comparatively dry open places. Concealment never seems to be aimed at, rather they choose a place from which they can themselves see danger from afar off. Jackals and other vermin have no terror for these birds, which can protect eggs and young so long as they can see their enemies coming and get back to their nests in time. Even of man they have but little fear.
The nests vary considerably in size, those on dry ground being only a few inches high, whilst those built in swamps may be as much as three feet high and nine feet across. The eggs number two or one only and, even when two eggs are laid, it is but seldom more than one young is reared. The ground-colour of the eggs is white, rarely tinged with green or pink a few eggs are unspotted but most are sparsely blotched with reddish, deep reddish-brown or purple-brown, with others underlying them of lavender or reddish-grey. In shape they are long pointed ovals, the texture coarse and the surface pitted but highly glossed. One hundred eggs average 104.4 x 64.3 mm.: maxima 113.2 x 69.8 mm.; minima 93.2 x 65.0 and 105.5 x 53.8 mm.
Habits. The Sarus Crane is resident wherever it occurs and is always to be found in pairs usually accompanied by the last-hatched young. They are most affectionate birds, pairing for life, and if one is killed the grief of the other is quite distressing. They are essentially birds of the well-watered open plains and avoid hills, forested country and desert-lands. Their flight is powerful but they rise slowly and seldom fly at any great height from the ground, so that the sound of their powerful wings can be heard from a considerable distance. Like all Cranes they indulge in much dancing, more so in the breeding-season than at other times, which is much less graceful than their dignified quiet walk. They eat grain, green crops and aquatic plants, frogs, lizards etc., feeding both in shallow water and in fields. Their call is a very fine trumpet, uttered chiefly in the mornings and evenings, whilst two birds of a pair if feeding apart will constantly call to one another through the night. If forced to move locally, owing to drought or other cause, they sometimes collect in small flocks and when moving then seem to adopt the usual V-shaped flight.