Sarus cranes are beautiful, majestic birds found in parts of the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia and Australia. They are one of the tallest of flying birds, growing to a height of around 5ft 11" (1.8m). Usually found foraging around open wetlands, marshes and agricultural lands, these birds are considered as ‘Vulnerable’ species owing to the rapid urbanisation and vast depletion of its habitat.
Sarus cranes are known to form long-lasting pair-bonds and maintain territories. Their territorial call and display is a wonder to watch. In places like Bharatpur, where they are commonly seen, when a pair of these birds is spotted, one can see many bird enthusiasts stopping by and waiting patiently for their display.
In mid November, when I was in the exact same place, I witnessed a different kind of behaviour from these tall, lanky birds. There were three of them together. Two were looking taller and bulkier than the third one. At first I thought that they were two adults ( male and female ) and one juvenile.
However, the word around was that the two taller ones were males and they were getting ready for a rather aggressive squabble to decide as to who among them gets to choose the third one ( which was a female ) as his mate.
Things were quite peaceful in the beginning. They seemed to be silently foraging and preening themselves. I could sense some kind of a tension brewing though :-) The two males were moving back and forth on a small mound and looking around very anxiously and cautiously. It seemed like a calm before the storm.
After a while, one of the males decided to get on with it. He went to the other one and caught hold of his beak. Therefrom ensued the dance of the cranes.
It was a full-on battle. High flying kicks raining down on each other and pieces of feathers scattering all around.
Call it kickboxing or taekwondo, the cranes were really agile and powerful. They were using all their height and long legs to good advantage and landing powerful kicks onto the opponent.
Amidst all this melee, the female seemed to be unflustered or quite not bothered. She carried on with her chores of foraging and preening :-)
It seemed that locking the beak of the opponent and pinning him down was the intent of the bout, a way of declaring the winner.
Albeit the contest going on only for a brief time, the cranes were chasing each other around the wetland, with both of them taking some mutually accepted respite in-between, before starting off again. Inspite of all the expense of energy and effort, it didn’t seem like there was a clear winner. All three of them flew away, probably coming to a compromise and deciding to take up the case in question another day.
It was wonderful to have witnessed this whole episode. Hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed watching and describing it here.