The little bustard is a critically endangered bird. He has always been valued for his meat, was the object of sport hunting. Now the little bustard population is in a deplorable state, so it is very important to know what environmental factors and behaviors are necessary to restore the population of this rare species.
Origin of the species and description
The little bustard belongs to the bustard family; the scientific name of the bird — Tetrax tetrax. These birds live in Europe, Asia and Africa and include 26 species and 11 genera. Initially, bustards were classified as crane-like, but molecular studies of scientists have shown that this is a completely different family.
The most common genera of bustards are:
- beautiful bustards;
- large bustards;
- small bustards;
- African bustards;
- little bustards (both a genus and the only representative of the genus — species), which do not belong to the common genus, but have a significant status in it.
Most bustard species (16 out of 26) live in tropical zones, although birds easily adapt to any climate.
Bustards are different in appearance, but it is possible to distinguish features that prevail in almost all species:
- strong physique with a large head;
- many species among males have a crest on the head, which plays an important role in courtship games;
- a long but strong neck;
- short straight beak;
- strong wide wings;
- the rear toe is missing, which indicates a terrestrial lifestyle of birds;
- male bustards are larger than females, but this is noticeable mainly in large species;
bustard plumage is camouflage, protective.
All representatives of the bustard family live on the ground and move well on their paws. In danger, unlike partridges, they prefer not to run, but to fly, which makes them easy objects for sport hunting.
Appearance and Features
The bird has the size of a chicken: the weight rarely exceeds 1 kg., The body length is about 44 cm; the wingspan of females is 83 cm, for males – up to 91 cm. The mass of males and females is also different – 500 and 900 g, respectively.
The little bustard has a strong body constitution with stable dark yellow legs, large , slightly flattened head, orange short beak. The eyes of the little bustard are colored dark orange. Color camouflage, but different in females and males. The tail is short, in a calm state the wings fit snugly to the body.
In the summer, females and males look different. The female does not change her outfit in different seasons: she has a gray plumage with numerous patches of black spots. These spots resemble small waves, which makes the color as camouflage as possible, capable of confusing a hunting predator. The belly and inside of the neck are white.
Video: Little bustard
When the female bustard spreads its wings in flight, a white border becomes visible along the edge of the wings – long feathers are painted white to also confuse the enemy in flight. The outermost feathers are painted black. Also, in females, you can notice a small crest on the head, which is sometimes blown up by the wind during flight, but it does not carry any practical significance.
In winter, males do not differ in color from females and it is possible to distinguish birds from afar only by size – the male is larger. But in the summer, the mating season, he changes plumage to bright, attracting the attention of females. Feathers acquire a reddish tint, wavy stripes remain, but become almost invisible – brown.
White abdomen and base of legs become cream. The brightest of all is the neck: it is painted in two large black stripes and two thin white ones. A white stripe at the base of the head forms a collar-like corner. The feathers on the head also turn grey, taking on a silvery hue.
Interesting fact: When a male starts to scream during the mating season, his chest becomes clearly visible, divided into two parts – a throat pouch that allows you to make loud sounds.
During singing the male fluffs the feathers on his head – he does not have a crest on the crown, but on the left and right sides of the head, passing to the neck, two lines of dark feathers lead. In this form, a male bird can be compared to a frilled lizard.
Where does the little bustard live?
Unlike other representatives of the bustard family that prefer a tropical climate, the little bustard loves moderate temperatures. He settles in Europe, Asia and North Africa. For settlements, open spaces are chosen – fields and steppes.
In Russia, the little bustard can be found in isolated areas:
- Middle and Lower Volga regions;
- south of the Ulyanovsk region (about three years they cannot find traces of the little bustard – probably disappeared); was widespread in the Lipetsk region, on the Lower Don, in Kalmykia, in the Kletsky and Serafimsky regions, on the banks of the Ilovlinsky and Frolovsky regions, in the Salsko-Manych steppes.
For little bustards, soil fertility and low moisture are important. Therefore, fertile areas not yet developed by agricultural crops are chosen as nesting sites. Due to the massive land development and plowing of fields and steppes, little bustards, which once had a huge population, have become a rarity.
Birds choose dry valleys with large slopes and rare river channels – water is important for little bustards, but too many predators and other competing birds run to it. The slopes of the selected valleys are often densely overgrown with turf, which hides the birds from prying eyes. Less often they choose green meadows – it is more difficult to disguise them. Sometimes little bustards can be found in clay plains.
Fun fact: Little bustards are hard to spot because the birds are quiet and inconspicuous during the non-mating season. But hunters followed their tracks – little bustards often leave a three-toed foot print in wet soil.
Bird nests are also built on the ground, but, as a rule, females do this and only during the nesting period – males do without a permanent home. For the nest, the female digs a hole and insulates it with grass and her own fluff.
Now you know where the little bustard lives. Let's see what it eats.
What does the little bustard eat?
Birds are nocturnal, because during the day it is often hot, from which little bustards hide in dark bushes. In winter, they can go out late in the evening, when it is already dark enough. Individuals living in the northern regions are more active during the day, feeding early in the morning and ending in the late evening.
Interesting fact: Bustards are very shy – they can be scared by a car passing in the distance or grazing on livestock fields.
Birds are omnivores; more often the daily diet includes:
- seeds and shoots of plants;
- soft roots;
- green grass;
- flowers with sweet pollen;
- crickets, grasshoppers, locusts;
- insect larvae;
- bloodworms, butterflies.
Birds of northern regions prefer animal food, they can even eat young field mice and other rodents. The ratio of plants and animals in the diet is approximately 30 and 70 percent, respectively.
Their relationship to water also differs. Little bustards from warmer climatic zones can hardly tolerate the lack of water – they always settle near small rivers or ponds. Northern birds get most of their water from plants, so they do not need to be fed from water sources.
Character and lifestyle features
The little bustards lead exclusively terrestrial lifestyle, although they fly well. They move slowly, taking long steps, but in moments of danger they are able to run quickly in a sweeping manner. When taking off, birds often make a cry that looks like laughter, or whistles; during the flight, it also often makes characteristic sounds. During the flight, they intensively flap their wings.
Interesting fact: Little bustards fly very fast, reaching speeds of up to 80 km/h.
The life of a little bustard can be compared to the life of a domestic chicken. They walk through the fields in search of food, often looking back at the slightest noise, but their head is mostly bent to the ground to better see possible food.
Bustards are kept singly or in pairs, which distinguishes them from many bustard species. Only during the breeding season, you can see how the little bustards huddle in small groups, which also quickly break up after the mating season.
Birds are shy and non-aggressive. Despite their territorial way of life (each individual is assigned a certain territory on which it feeds), they do not conflict with each other, often violating territorial boundaries.
When danger approaches, the bird emits a characteristic screech and takes off. But little bustards do not fly far – they just hide in the grass nearby and wait for the predator to leave, having lost the trail. This behavior did not affect the little bustard population in the best way, since hunting dogs easily found birds in the grass.
Social structure and reproduction
Females become sexually mature at the age of one year, males – at the age of two years. Pairs are monogamous, although they form only during the chick rearing season. The mating season starts in April, but can happen later if the bird lives in a colder climate.
During the mating season, the male's neck is painted in black and white stripes – this is facilitated by a quick molt. The male begins to lek, making sounds with special bags on his chest – they swell a little when he sings. Several males choose a female and, while towing, begin to bounce and flap their wings in a peculiar way, inflate their throats and fluff their feathers. The female chooses the male she likes best by his dance and the beauty of his feathers.
Interesting fact: Bird hunting during the mating season was one of the most common – during mating, males fly up in a dance to a low distance from the ground, becoming vulnerable.
After mating, the female begins to equip the nest: she digs a hole about 10 cm deep and about 20 cm wide. Then she lays 3-5 eggs, on which she sits tightly for 3-4 weeks. If the first clutch dies for some reason within a week, then the female lays new eggs.
The male is nearby, but does not feed the female, therefore, during the incubation period, she significantly loses weight. If predators appear nearby, the male attracts their attention to himself and takes them away from the clutch. If, nevertheless, the predator gets to the clutch, then the instinct does not allow the female to leave the nest, because of which she dies.
Hatched chicks from the first days begin to follow their mother and feed on their own. The male stays nearby until the chicks are fully fledged and fly, which takes about a month. Often, babies stay with their mothers for the first winter, and then start living on their own.
Natural enemies of little bustards
Depending on habitat, the little bustard faces various predators.
In North Africa, these are:
- jackals, wolves, foxes;
- caracals and various types of wild cats ;
- hyenas, mongooses;
- otters, martens;
- ferrets, weasels;
- large rodents that devastate clutches of little bustards.
In Russia, the little bustard faces the following predators:
- Arctic fox and other species of foxes;
- sables, martens, minks, which feast on both the birds themselves and their eggs;
- lynx and wolverine;
- vole mice and hedgehogs are able to destroy bird nests.
When confronted with a predator, the bird rises into the air, uttering a cry. It is not known exactly why the bird utters a cry, since little bustards mostly live alone and they have no one to notify of the approach of danger. It is believed that the habit is inherent in all birds of the bustard family, regardless of their lifestyle.
Population and species status
The little bustard is listed in the Red Book.
Its disappearance is connected with many factors:
- low breeding success. Birds lay, as a rule, two eggs once a year, but many chicks do not survive;
- high mortality of adults from natural enemies;
- widespread hunting of the little bustard during its mating season;
- development of fields and steppes – the main habitat of the little bustard. A bird cannot settle near a person because of its shyness.
Most of the little bustard population currently breeds successfully in Spain – about 43,071 thousand individuals. About 9 thousand individuals live in the European part of Russia, approximately 20 thousand individuals were counted in Kazakhstan at the time of 2011.
Despite the large numbers, there is still a sharp decline in the number of little bustards in many countries of the world. The little bustard has completely disappeared in India, Romania and Croatia, although its population was once stable in these countries.
The little bustard is valued by hunters for its taste, and during the time of the Russian Empire, it was actively hunted for sport. Now in Russia, hunting for little bustards is prohibited, although the species still continues to disappear for this reason.
Protection of little bustards
The following methods are proposed as conservation methods for the little bustard population:
- stopping the economic growth of agriculture in the habitat of the little bustard. An increase in the economy in this area entails an increase in the level of mechanization and chemicalization, the involvement of production deposits in circulation, a factor of concern, the destruction of crops that feed on birds;
- ensuring the safe flight of birds to wintering grounds, since during flights and wintering they suffer significant losses due to climatic conditions and poaching; >elimination of the factor of change in steppe and field biotopes – cessation of planting forests where there has always been a steppe, as this destroys the natural habitat of little bustards.
Launched program “Improvement of the system of management mechanisms for protected areas in the steppe biome of Russia ” provides for the study of the number and distribution of birds, taking into account the environmental aspects important to them in the regions of the Orenburg region and in the Republic of Kalmykia.
The little bustard is a bird important for the ecosystem of the steppes and fields. It supports the population of insects, including those harmful to agricultural fields. The disappearance of the little bustard will lead to the spread of insects and the extinction of many predators. Therefore, it is important to be conscious about the population of this rare and beautiful bird.