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Range DescriptionThis species breeds in south-west Russia and northern Kazakhstan, and winters south to the Black Sea, Caucasus, northern Iran and southern Central Asia (Alstrm 2004). Less than 10% of the species's global range occurs in Europe, with an estimated 50-100 pairs remaining (BirdLife International 2015). Previous estimates for European Russia suggested a population of 4,000-7,000 pairs (BirdLife International 2004) indicating the extent of the species's decline within Europe. Populations in the most suitable habitat in central Kazakhstan have been estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands, and maybe even millions of breeding pairs (T. Barabashin in litt. 2005) and this is still thought to be the case (J. Kamp in litt. 2015).
Interpretation of the limited available information on population trends is complicated by the species's nomadic nature and large interannual fluctuations in abundance and distribution. The European population declined by 20-50% during 1970-1990, and over 50% during 1990-2000, as a result of steppe cultivation and overgrazing (Tucker and Heath 1994, BirdLife International 2004a). In European Russia it has declined by more than 99% since 2000 alone (BirdLife International 2015). In the Volgograd Region (Russia and western Kazakhstan), there has been a steady decrease in the species's numbers from the mid-1960s to 2000 (Lindeman and Lopushkov 2004).
Spring surveys in the Uzen Limans area (western Kazakhstan) revealed declines exceeding 99% between 1985 and 1995 (V. Mosejikin in litt. 2005). In parts of the Kostanay region (northern Kazakhstan), where the species was once widespread and numerous, its distribution and abundance have decreased noticeably over the past 25 years, and in 2005 large numbers were seen in only two areas (E. Bragin and T. Katzner in litt. 2005). However, in other areas of north-central Kazakhstan, the species was relatively common in 2005, especially in the taller steppe vegetation (T. Barabashin in litt. 2005, P. Donald in litt. 2005). Between 2008 and 2015, moderate local declines are suspected to have taken place in Kazakhstan owing to agricultural reclamation, however data to confirm this is limited (J. Kamp in litt. 2015). It can reach high densities in some areas but be absent from apparently similar neighbouring areas (J. Kamp in litt. 2015). In summary, in Kazakhstan, the species appears to have a relatively stable population and is common in suitable habitats (although not dispersed evenly, with empty areas) (unpublished expert communications to S. Sklyarenko 2005, J. Kamp in litt. 2015). In wintering areas in Uzbekistan, numbers are weather-dependent, but generally stable (unpublished expert communications to S. Sklyarenko 2005).