The bustard is a huge, regal bird of the treeless open plains and natural steppes, occupying some low-intensity agricultural areas. She walks majestically, but can run rather than fly if disturbed. The flight of the bustard is heavy and goose. The bustard is very sociable, especially in winter.
Origin of the species and description
The bustard is a member of the bustard family and the only member of the genus Otis. It is one of the heaviest living birds capable of flight and is found throughout Europe. Huge, robust, yet stately-looking adult males have a prominent neck and heavy chest with a characteristically upturned tail.
The male tribal plumage includes a 20 cm long white whisker, and their back and tail become more colorful. On the chest and lower neck, they develop a band of feathers that are red in color and become brighter and wider with age. These birds walk upright and fly with powerful and regular wing beats.
In the bustard family there are 11 genera and 25 species. The kori bustard is one of 4 species in the genus Ardeotis, which also contains the Arabian bustard, A. arabs, the Indian great bustard, A. nigriceps, and the Australian bustard, A. australis. There are many bustard relatives in the Gruiformes series, including trumpeters and cranes.
There are about 23 bustard species related to Africa, Southern Europe, Asia, Australia and parts of New Guinea. The bustard has rather long legs adapted for running. They have only three fingers and lack a back toe. The body is compact, held in a fairly horizontal position, and the neck stands straight in front of the legs, like other tall, running birds.
Appearance and features
The most famous bustard – great bustard (Otis tarda), the largest European land bird, male weighing up to 14 kg and 120 cm long and with a wingspan of 240 cm. Occurs in fields and open steppes from central and southern Europe to Central Asia and Manchuria.
The sexes are similar in color, grayish above, with black and brown stripes, whitish below. The male is thicker and has white, bristly feathers at the base of the bill. The wary bird, the great bustard, is difficult to approach and runs fast when threatened. On land, she demonstrates a majestic gait. Two or three eggs, with olive brown spots, are laid in shallow pits protected by low vegetation.
Interesting fact: Bustard shows a relatively slow, but powerful and long-lasting flight. In the spring, they are characterized by mating ceremonies: the male's head leans back, almost touching the raised tail, and the throat pouch swells.
The little bustard (Otis tetrax) ranges from Western Europe and Morocco to Afghanistan. Bustards in South Africa are known as pows, the largest being the great pow or kori bustard (Ardeotis kori). The Arabian bustard (A. arabs) is found in Morocco and northern tropical Africa south of the Sahara, as are a number of species belonging to several other genera. In Australia, Choriotis australis is called a turkey.
Now you know what a bustard looks like. Let's see where this unusual bird lives.
Where does the bustard live?
Bustards are endemic to central and southern Europe, where they are the largest bird species, and throughout temperate Asia. In Europe, the population mostly stays for the winter, while Asian birds travel further south in the winter. This species lives in pasture, steppe and open agricultural lands. They prefer breeding areas with little or no human presence.
Four members of the bustard family are found in India:
- the Indian bustard Ardeotis nigriceps from lowland plains and deserts;
- MacQueen bustard Chlamydotis macqueeni, a winter migrant to the desert areas of Rajasthan and Gujarat;
- Lesp Florican Sypheotides indica, found on the plains with short grass in western and central India;
- Bengal florican Houbaropsis bengalensis from the high, humid grasslands of the Terai and the Brahmaputra valley.
All native bustards have been classified as endangered, but the Indian bustard is approaching critical. Although its current range largely overlaps with its historical range, there has been significant population decline. The bustard disappeared from almost 90% of its former range and, ironically, disappeared from two reserves created specifically to protect the species.
In other sanctuaries, the number of the species is rapidly declining. It used to be mainly poaching and habitat destruction that led to such a miserable situation, but now poor habitat management, sentimental protection of some problematic animals are bustard problems.
What does the bustard eat?
The bustard is omnivorous, feeding on vegetation such as grass, legumes, cruciferous plants, grains, flowers, and grapes. It also feeds on rodents, chicks of other species, earthworms, butterflies, large insects and larvae. Bustards also eat lizards and amphibians, depending on the season.
Thus, they prey on:
- various arthropods;
- small mammals;
- small amphibians.
Insects such as locusts, crickets, and beetles make up the bulk of their diet during the summer monsoon, when India's rainy peaks and bird breeding season mostly occur. Seeds (including wheat and peanuts), by contrast, make up the largest portions of the diet during the coldest, driest months of the year.
Australian bustards were once widely hunted and foraged, and with habitat changes introduced by introduced mammals such as rabbits, cattle and sheep, they are now restricted to inland areas. This species is listed as an endangered species in New South Wales. They are nomadic, in search of food they can sometimes be interrupted (quickly accumulate), and then disperse again. In some areas, for example, in Queensland, there is a regular seasonal movement of bustards.
Character and lifestyle features
These birds are diurnal and Among vertebrates, they have one of the largest differences in size between the sexes. For this reason, males and females live in separate groups for almost the entire year, with the exception of the mating season. This size difference also influences food requirements as well as breeding, dispersal and migration behavior.
Females tend to flock together with relatives. They are more philopatric and sociable than males and will often stay in their natural area for life. During the winter, males establish group hierarchies by engaging in violent, prolonged brawls, striking on the head and neck of other males, sometimes causing serious injury, behavior typical of bustards. Some bustard populations are migratory.
Interesting fact: Bustards make local movements within a radius of 50 to 100 km. Male birds are known to be solitary during the breeding season, but form small flocks during the winter.
The male is believed to be polygamous, using a mating system called “exploded ” or “scattered”. The bird is omnivorous and feeds on insects, beetles, rodents, lizards and sometimes even small snakes. They are also known to feed on grass, seeds, berries, etc. When threatened, female birds carry young under their wings.
Social structure and reproduction
Although some of the bustard's reproductive behaviors are known, the finer details of nesting and mating, and the migratory activities associated with nesting and mating, are thought to vary widely among populations and individuals. For example, they are capable of year-round breeding, but for most populations, the breeding season runs from March to September, which largely encapsulates the summer monsoon season.
Similarly, while they do not return to the same nests year after year and tend to create new ones instead, they sometimes use nests made in previous years by other bustards. The nests themselves are simple and often located in depressions formed in the soil in the lowlands of arable land and grasslands, or on open rocky soil.
Whether the species uses a specific mating strategy is unknown, but elements of both promiscuous (where both sexes mate with multiple partners) and polygynous (where males mate with multiple females) mating have been observed. The species does not seem to form pair bonds. Lekking, where males gather at public show grounds to perform and court females, is found in some population groups.
However, in other cases, solitary males may attract females to their sites with loud calls that can be hear at a distance of at least 0.5 km. The male's visual display is to stand on the open ground with his head and tail up, fluffy white feathers and an air-filled mirror pouch (neck pouch).
After breeding, the male leaves, and the female becomes the exclusive caregiver for her cubs. Most females lay one egg, but two-egg clutches are not unknown. She incubates the egg about a month before it hatches.
Chicks are able to feed on their own after a week, and they become full-fledged when they are 30-35 days old. Most young are completely freed from their mothers at the beginning of the next breeding season. Females can breed as early as two or three years of age, while males become sexually mature at five or six years of age.
Fun Fact: Several distinctive patterns of migration have been seen among bustards out of season breeding. Some of them may make short local migrations within a region, while others fly long distances across the subcontinent.
Natural enemies of the bustard
Predation is a threat primarily to eggs, juveniles and immature bustards. The main predators are red foxes, other carnivorous mammals such as badgers, martens and wild boars, as well as crows and birds of prey.
Mature bustards have few natural enemies, but they show considerable excitement around certain birds of prey such as eagles and vultures (Neophron percnopterus). The only animals watching them — gray wolves (Canis lupus). On the other hand, cats, jackals and wild dogs can prey on chicks. Eggs are sometimes stolen from nests by foxes, mongooses, lizards, as well as vultures and other birds. However, the biggest threat to the eggs comes from grazing cows, as they often trample on them.
This species is suffering from fragmentation and loss of its habitat. Increasing land privatization and human unrest are expected to result in more habitat loss through plowing of grasslands, afforestation, intensive farming, increased use of irrigation schemes, and construction of power lines, roads, fences, and ditches. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides, mechanization, fires and predation are the main threats to chicks and juveniles, while hunting of adult birds causes high mortality in some countries where they live.
Because bustards often fly and their maneuverability is limited by their large weight and large wingspan, power line collisions occur where there are multiple overhead power lines within ridges, in adjacent areas, or on flight paths between different ranges.
Population and species status
The total bustard population is about 44,000-57,000 individuals. The species is currently classified as vulnerable and is declining in numbers today. In 1994 bustards were listed as an endangered species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List of Endangered Species. By 2011, however, the population decline was so severe that the IUCN reclassified the species as critically endangered.
Habitat loss and degradation appear to be the main causes of bustard population decline. Conservationists estimate that approximately 90% of the species' natural geographic range, which once covered most of northwest and west-central India, has been lost, fragmented by road building and mining activities, and transformed by irrigation and mechanized farming.
Many arable lands that once produced sorghum and millet seeds, where bustards thrived, have become fields of sugarcane and cotton or vineyards. Hunting and poaching have also contributed to the population decline. These actions, combined with the low fertility of the species and the pressure of natural predators, put the bustard in a precarious position.
Programs for vulnerable and endangered bustards have been established in Europe and the former Soviet Union, and for the African great bustard in the United States of America. Projects with endangered bustard species aim to produce surplus birds for release into protected areas, thus complementing the decline in wild populations, while houbara bustard projects in the Middle East and North Africa aim to provide surplus birds for sustainable hunting with falcons.
US captive breeding programs for bustards and cinnamon bustards (Eupodotis ruficrista) aim to maintain populations that are genetically and demographically self-sustaining and do not depend on continuous imports from the wild.
In 2012, the Government of India launched the Project Bustard, a national conservation program to protect the great Indian bustard, along with the Bengal florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis), the less common florican (Sypheotides indicus) and their habitats from further decline. The program was modeled after Project Tiger — massive national effort in the early 1970s to protect India's tigers and their habitat.
Bustard — one of the heaviest flying birds currently in existence. It can be found throughout Europe, moving as far south as Spain, and north, for example, in the Russian steppes. The bustard is listed as vulnerable and its population is declining in many countries. It is a terrestrial bird that is characterized by a long neck and feet and a black crest on the top of its head.