The man and the sarus crane who walks - and flies - in his footsteps

08:14 PM Feb 27, 2023 | PTI |

Amethi: It stands like a sentinel while he surveys his fields, flaps its wings almost in tune with his rhythmic claps and won’t accept food from anyone else. That’s the everyday story of the sarus crane and Arif Khan Gurjar, the stately, loyal bird and the man who took it under his wings.


The sarus flies – and walks – in Gurjar’s footsteps, inside his home and in the fields, when he’s zipping through the narrow roads of Mandhaka village near this Uttar Pradesh town on his motorcycle or when he’s ambling in his courtyard. The world’s tallest flying bird in complete sync with the human who has adopted it.

The tale, the toast of social media and other media platforms, began on a cold February morning last year when Gurjar found the sarus lying unconscious in his fields. He thought the bird was dead but realised soon that it was still breathing and decided to take it home. He cleaned the injured leg, which was bleeding, and applied a mixture of turmeric and mustard oil to treat the wound. To ensure the leg remains unmoved and protected, he covered it with bamboos sticks: a remedy popular in rural areas to treat fractures. The painstaking care paid dividends.

”This saras is now like a family member. On a number of occasions, I left it in the fields to fly away to its own bird community but it refuses to leave me. It comes back to me every time,” Gurjar told PTI. ”Now even I don’t want it go anywhere,” he added simply. The sarus, the tallest flying bird in the world standing 152-156 cm tall with a wingspan of 240 cm according to WWFIndia, eats with the family. It is regular humble everyday fare.

“It doesn’t cost me much. The bird eats homemade food. We do not make anything extra or special,” Gurjar said. According to, sarus cranes are omnivorous, and eat a wide range of food, such as aquatic plants like sedge tubers, seeds, rice and other grains, crustaceans, snails, large insects such as grasshoppers, amphibians, reptiles, small vertebrates and fish. But this crane, a familiar sight for people in the area, is clearly not complaining. The bird gets restless if it can’t find Gurjar around. It cries out loud if it doesn’t see him and bites anyone else who comes close to it.


In fact, the bond is so intense that Gurjar, who sows wheat, paddy and other crops, said he can’t step outside his home. ”I have not attended any family function in last year because I just can’t go anywhere. If it doesn’t find me around, it becomes uncomfortable. If I have to go for some work, I need to dodge him. During the night, the bird sleeps by my cot on his one leg,” he said. ”I spend a lot time taking care of him and my family does not mind that. The bird has been accepted as a family member. I have a pet dog too and all of us like the bird,” Gurjar added.

Quite like any other pet, the crane, he said, understands him and follows his instructions. According WWFIndia, sarus cranes with predominantly grey plumage, naked red head and upper neck and pale red legs, are social creatures, found mostly in pairs or small groups of three or four. They are known to mate for life with a single partner. Once a common sight in the paddy fields of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Assam, their population is now on the decline with only 15,000-20,000 found in India, a majority of which are in Uttar Pradesh, it said.


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