The great Indian bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps) is an endemic endangered bird of the Indian subcontinent with a declining population, as a result of hunting and continuing habitat loss. In this first genetic study of this little-known species, we investigate the diversity of the mitochondrial DNA (hypervariable control region II and cytochrome b gene) among samples (n = 63) from five states within the current distribution range of great Indian bustards in India. We find just three haplotypes defined by three variable sites, a comparatively low genetic diversity of π = 0.0021 ± 0.0012 for cytochrome b, 0.0008 ± 0.0007 for the control region (CR), and 0.0017 ± 0.0069 for combined regions and no phylogeographic structure between populations. We provide evidence for a bottleneck event, estimate an effective population size (Ne) that is roughly concordant with recent population size estimates based on field surveys (~200 to 400), but extremely low for a widely distributed species. We also discuss the conservation implications.