(Nikon D500, 200-500mm lens; 1/640, f/6.3, ISO160; hand-held; North Bengal, 10/03/23)
(Nikon D500, 200-500mm lens; 1/3200, f/5.6, ISO220; hand-held; Kaziranga NP, 02/03/23)
Lesser Adjutant (Leptoptilos javanicus): It was interesting to spot a Lesser Adjutant foraging in the roadside fields while driving on a highway in North Bengal. This large wading bird is actually a stork but has bare head and neck like a vulture, an adaptation seen in the storks of Leptoptilos genus. This helps in their scavenging habits because a feathered head and neck can get clotted with blood and other substances when the bird buries its head in a large corpse to feed and can be difficult to clean and maintain. However, lesser adjutants are known to scavenge only occasionally as their preferred meal is fish, especially mudskippers, frogs, reptiles, large invertebrates and small mammals. Another peculiarity of this genus is that unlike a stork, the adjutant birds fly with their neck tucked in, much like a heron. Though seen in many parts of India, the population of this bird is on the decline and is currently placed in the ‘Vulnerable’ category of IUCN red list. Habitat loss/degradation, egg harvesting and hunting are some of the factors contributing to it.