Justification of Red List Category
This species is classified as Vulnerable because it has undergone a rapid population decline which is projected to continue, concurrent with the rapid decline in extent and quality of its specialised habitat. Hunting is an additional pressure.
The population size is preliminarily estimated to fall into the band 10,000-19,999 mature individuals. This equates to 15,000-29,999 individuals in total, rounded here to 15,000-30,000 individuals.
The species is suspected to be in rapid decline owing to the on-going and rapid conversion and drainage of wet grassland habitats and the intensification of agricultural practice.
Francolinus gularis is endemic to the Ganges and Brahmaputra river basins, from the Terai of western Nepal to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, and Arunachal Pradesh, northern India. It formerly occurred abundantly in Chittagong, the Chittagong Hill Tracts and the Sundarbans, Bangladesh (BirdLife International 2001), but there have been no recent records from the country and the species is considered extirpated (Siddiqui and Islam 2008). In India, populations have been found in all well-protected Terai grasslands, suggesting it exists in greater numbers than previously thought. In Nepal, where its range covers c.2,400 km2 with an area of occupancy of 330 km2, the population is estimated at fewer than 500 birds and perhaps gradually declining. There are no recent records from Sikkim or Meghalaya (A. Choudhury in litt. 2004).
It is resident in tall, wet, natural grasslands, particularly those dominated by Phragmites, Arundo, Saccharum and Narenga, and also occurs (at lower densities) in wet agricultural areas dominated by sugarcane and paddy interspersed with natural vegetation. Surveys in Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, Nepal, recorded seasonal shifts in habitat preference, with woodland-grassland and wet grassland favoured in the breeding season and summer, and dry grassland and woodland preferred in the monsoon season (Dahal et al. 2009). It is predominantly known from the lowlands (generally below 250 m), but moves to slightly higher altitudes during periods of high flood. Its range size is small compared with other Galliformes, offering hope for the species's conservation. A matrix of habitat including some agricultural areas is capable of supporting the species; however, in human-modified areas retention of some natural grassland habitat associated with wet areas appears to be critical (Iqubal et al. 2003).
Most remaining habitat within its range is subject to intense pressures from drainage for agriculture, human encroachment, fire, grass harvesting, grazing by domestic stock (especially during chick rearing), commercial forestry plantations and dam and irrigation schemes. Significant populations reported from outside the protected areas in Assam in the 1990s (Choudhury 2000) have virtually vanished in recent years due to conversion of habitat into farmland (A. Choudhury in litt. 2012). Hunting and trapping for sport (cock fighting), food and the aviculture trade also occur (A. Rahmani in litt. 2012). Agricultural pesticides may be affecting its numbers, either through direct mortality or the reduction in potential food sources (invertebrates), and poisoning of wetlands for fishing is a threat reported from Nepal (Singh 2004). The drying out of swampy areas during the breeding season represents a threat that may become more severe owing to climate change. In August 2008, the Koshi River breached its eastern bank, resulting in the flooding of 3-4 km2 of habitat in Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, Nepal. Work to repair the breach brought construction traffic and labourers into the reserve, with a subsequent increase in hunting levels. A decrease in sightings of this species in the affected area suggests that birds had shifted to alternative habitat elsewhere (Dahal 2009). A negative correlation between numbers of this species and numbers of people present in part of Koshi Tappu suggests that disturbance and/or habitat alteration may significantly impact the species; however, the same effect was not found for the presence of livestock (Dahal et al. 2009).
Conservation Actions Underway
The species is legally protected in India and Nepal. It is currently known from at least 14 protected areas in India, the largest populations surviving in North Pilibhit Wildlife Sanctuary, Dudwa National Park and Kishanpur Wildlife Sanctuary, in Uttar Pradesh; Valmikinagar Tiger Reserve, in Bihar, and Kaziranga, Orang, Dibru-Saikhowa and Manas national parks, in Assam (A. Choudhury in litt. 2012). Important populations occur in two protected areas in Nepal. Ecological studies have been conducted in northern India (Iqubal et al. 2003) and are underway in Nepal (S. Javed in litt. 2004).
37 cm. Terrestrial gamebird with bright rufous throat. Finely barred upperparts and bold, white streaking below. Similar spp. Within range, only likely to be confused with Black Francolin F. francolinus and Grey Francolin F. pondicerianus. Differs from both by orange-rufous throat. Voice Territorial call is long series of sharp chuill notes, at rate of c.10 every eight seconds.
Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Bird, J., Keane, A., Taylor, J. & Khwaja, N.
Choudhury, A., Dahal, B., Islam, Z., Javed, S. & Rahmani, A.
BirdLife International (2021) Species factsheet: Francolinus gularis. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 25/02/2021. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2021) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 25/02/2021.