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What is a Great Bustard?

S. Ashraf
S. Ashraf

The great bustard, scientifically named Otis tarda, is the largest member of the bustard family of birds. Scientists regard the male great bustard as the world’s largest flying animal. A male great bustard is about 35-41 inches (90-105 cm) in length, has a wing span of about 83-94 inches (210-240 cm) and weighs 17-35 pounds (8-16 kg). Females are smaller, with an average length of about 30 inches (75 cm) and a weight of 7-12 pounds (3.0-5.3 kg). Great bustards have brown backs speckled with black bars and long grey heads and necks.

Geographically, the great bustard is found in scattered distributions from southern and central Europe through the Middle East, Russia and Central Asia to Mongolia. Great bustards have experienced declines in populations and have become regionally extinct in some European and north African nations such as Algeria and the United Kingdom. More than 50 percent of the estimated remaining 30,000-40,000 great bustards are found in either Spain or Portugal.

Great bustards are attracted to kale crops.
Great bustards are attracted to kale crops.

As a habitat, the great bustard is partial to extensive areas of open grass plains. These birds prefer river valleys and lowlands and will avoid rocky terrain as well as forests, wetlands and deserts. Agricultural areas are increasingly attractive places for habitation as long as the cultivated fields are not located too close to human settlements. Arable crops such as kale and oil seed rape will attract great bustards. Some populations of the great bustard are migratory and move in flocks to winter grounds.

The great bustard is an omnivorous eater. Its diet consists mainly of plant parts, seeds and insects. Occasionally, this bird will eat larger prey such as amphibians and reptiles. It also has been known to consume the chicks of other species.

One environment that great bustards can occupy is the desert.
One environment that great bustards can occupy is the desert.

Courtship rituals happen in the spring. Male great bustards might mate with as many as five females during breeding season. A male puts on an intricate display designed to attract females, and the display includes bending his head back to touch his uplifted tail. At the same time, he inflates his neck pouch and forms a fan of white feathers by pointing his wing feathers down and twisting them.

After the female has chosen her mate, she builds a nest in a shallow hole protected by low vegetation. Great bustards build their nests on dry plains and inclines. Females lay one, two or three eggs and receive no help from the male great bustard in incubating or caring for the chicks. The eggs hatch in about 21-28 days.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Great Bustard?

The Great Bustard (Otis tarda) is one of the largest flying birds in the world, known for its impressive size and distinctive mating displays. Native to Europe and Asia, these birds prefer open grasslands and agricultural fields. They are omnivorous, feeding on a mix of plants and small animals, and are recognized by their heavy build and long legs.

How large can Great Bustards get?

Great Bustards are notable for their size, with males being significantly larger than females. Males can weigh between 10 to 16 kilograms and have a wingspan that can exceed 2.5 meters, making them one of the heaviest birds capable of flight. Females are smaller, typically weighing around half as much as males.

Are Great Bustards endangered?

Yes, Great Bustards are considered vulnerable to extinction. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), habitat loss, agricultural intensification, and hunting have contributed to their decline. Conservation efforts are in place to protect their habitats and mitigate threats, aiming to stabilize and increase their populations.

What is the mating behavior of Great Bustards?

Great Bustards have a lekking system of mating, where males gather in open areas to display their plumage and perform elaborate dances to attract females. The males puff up their feathers, arch their backs, and fan their tails to showcase their size and vigor, often engaging in competitive displays to win the attention of watching females.

Where can Great Bustards be found?

Great Bustards are found across a range of countries, with populations in Spain and Portugal being the most significant. They also inhabit parts of central and eastern Europe, and across the Eurasian steppe into China. Their habitats are typically flat, open landscapes where they can forage and breed.

What conservation measures are being taken to protect Great Bustards?

Conservation measures for Great Bustards include habitat protection and management, creation of protected areas, and reintroduction programs in countries where they have disappeared. Efforts also focus on reducing threats from agriculture, such as pesticide use and collisions with power lines, and raising public awareness about the species' plight.

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    • Great bustards are attracted to kale crops.
      By: lohner63
      Great bustards are attracted to kale crops.
    • One environment that great bustards can occupy is the desert.
      By: george kuna
      One environment that great bustards can occupy is the desert.