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Overview

Brief Summary

Taxonomy

Great bustard is one of the world’s largest flying birds:
  • adult males stand about 105cm tall and weigh up to 18kg
  • females are smaller - about 75cm tall and about 4.5kg
The bird has a stout body, long legs and neck and an upright stance. They are best known as ground birds, walking with a deliberate gait, but with a wingspan of up to 2.5m in males, they are also strong fliers. However, while capable of powerful sustained flight, they are poor gliders.Non-breeding males and females have:
  • gold and black barred upperparts
  • white underparts
  • pale grey head, neck and breast
Breeding males differ, with long whitish chin whiskers, russet breast and lower neck. Great bustard is the only species in the genus Otis, but key features shared with other bustards are:
  • no hind toe
  • no preen gland
  • distinctive pinkish coloured down feathers
Otis tarda was formally named by Linnaeus in 1758. However, the species was already well known to naturalists, mentioned in books back to Pliny the Elder (23–79AD), who called it avis tarda. Otis is an early Greek name for bustard, while tarda seems to come from a lost Spanish word related to ‘tread’. However, in Latin, tarda can also suggest slow and deliberate.
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Introduction

Its large size, striking plumage and spectacular displays make the great bustard one of the world’s most impressive birds.However, its future is uncertain as its widespread, fragmented populations decline rapidly under the impact of global agricultural expansion and intensification. This bird was once commonplace in the UK, but became extinct in Britain in the 1830s. A unique conservation project is currently underway to reintroduce this great bird to Wiltshire in southern England.
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Biology

Male great bustards become sexually mature at four to five years of age, while females are known to have bred at just one year of age (5). Males compete in what is known as a lekking system, gathering together at small display grounds (known as a 'lek') from where they attempt to impress females (6). The nests, which are shallow pits on dry, soft slopes and plains, are usually situated close to leks. After the female has chosen a male and mated with him, she lays one to three eggs and incubates them for 21 to 28 days (5) (6). The male does not incubate the eggs or contribute to caring for the chicks. The chicks can stand soon after hatching and will forage alone after ten days. After 30 to 35 days, the fledglings will be able to fly (6). Some great bustard populations are migratory (5), and gather in large numbers at pre-migratory sites in order to move collectively to winter grounds (6). Both winter and summer grounds differ between populations.
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Description

A tall bird, the great bustard has a grey head and neck, and a brown back barred with black (2). The underparts are white with males developing a reddish-brown breast band that gets bigger with age (2) (5). The great bustard has an upright stance when walking, and flies with regular and powerful wing beats (2).
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Comprehensive Description

Biology

Breeding
Male bustards first breed at 5–6 years of age, though they can start showing breeding behaviours, such as displaying, sooner. Females first breed at 2–3 years old. Males moult into their breeding plumage in January, and begin displaying in April. One male may mate several females attracted by his displays, but has no further part in chick-rearing.Females nest on the ground, in a simple scrape - 2–3 eggs are laid from April to May, or into June in more northern regions.Eggs are about 80mm long, smooth, glossy and vary in colour, but are typically olive browns or greens. Eggs are incubated for about 25 days. Chicks fledge at 30–35 days, but remain dependent on the female until they reach full size at about 80–120 days.

Dispersal
Western populations are largely resident, but frequently disperse in winter to find suitable food sources. Eastern populations are fully migratory.
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Distribution

Range Description

Otis tarda breeds in Morocco (91-108 birds), Portugal (1,893 birds), Spain (29,400 - 34,300 birds), Austria (199-216 birds), Czech Republic (0-2 birds), Germany (114-116 birds), Slovakia (0-3 birds), Hungary (1,413-1,582 birds), Serbia and Montenegro (35-36 birds), Romania (0-8 birds),Turkey (400-1,000 birds), Iran (89-161 birds), Russia (8,000-12,000 birds), Ukraine (520 -680 birds), Kazakhstan (0-300 birds), Mongolia (c.1,000 birds [Palacn and Alonso 2008]), and China (c.500-3,300 birds [Chan and Goroshko 1998, Alonso and Palacn 2010, M. Kessler in litt. 2012]); and a reintroduction scheme is currently taking place in the United Kingdom. Its Palearctic range is becoming increasingly disjunct and there have been rapid declines and some extinctions throughout eastern and central Europe (Bulgaria, Poland, Moldova [Palacn and Alonso 2008]). Numbers have almost certainly declined in Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Turkey, Iran, and Morocco, and in most of the eastern distribution range (Chan and Goroshko 1998, Barati and Amerifar 2008, Palacn and Alonso 2008), along a with a range contraction due to the disappearance of smaller populations across the species's range (e.g. in Iberia [Alonso et al. 2003, Alonso et al. 2004] and Hungary [Farag 1993]). In contrast, the species has increased in Hungary, Austria, and Germany, and there are possible increases in Spain and Portugal (Alonso and Palacn 2010). The previous fluctuating trend in Russia has changed to a rapid decrease during recent years (Antonchikov 2008, 2011). Recent trends are unknown in Ukraine and some parts of Asia. The world population is estimated to be between 44,054 and 57,005 individuals, of which c1,900-4,600 occur in east Asia (Alonso and Palacn 2010). Most populations are partially migratory and 8,000-10,000 birds occur on passage or in winter in Ukraine (Y. Andryucshenko in litt. 1999).

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Range

Found scattered across Europe and Asia, the great bustard is thought to breed in Morocco, Portugal, Spain, Austria, Germany, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Turkey, Iran, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Mongolia and China (2).
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
It occurs in open, flat or somewhat rolling landscapes, usually with a mixture of crops (cereals, vineyards, fodder plants, in some countries also with steppic grassland [J. C. Alonso in litt. 2012]). Areas with little or no disturbance and abundant supply of insects are required for successful breeding (Y. Andryucshenko in litt. 1999). Nest sites are selected in fallow or cereal fields (primarily alfalfa in Central Europe) in areas of low patch-type diversity, far from human infrastructure and with good horizontal visibility (Magaa et al. 2010). Highly variable migratory behaviour across populations, including obligate winter migrants (Asia, Russia), facultative migrants (central European populations) and partial winter and summer migrants with differential migratory pattern by sex (Iberian populations) (Morales et al. 2000, Alonso et al. 2000, 2001, Palacn et al. 2009, 2011)


Systems
  • Terrestrial
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The great bustard inhabits steppe, grassland and open, agricultural land. Areas with little or no human disturbance are favoured for breeding (2).
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General Ecology

Distribution ecology

Present distribution
The great bustard has a very wide range, broken into smaller populations. Strongholds for the species are in Spain and Portugal (about 14,000–14,500 birds), Hungary (1,000–1,200) and Russia (10,000–11,000). Smaller populations occur in northern Morocco, Turkey, southern Ukraine and Germany, with remnant populations elsewhere in eastern Europe.It also occurs across central and eastern Asia, through Kazakhstan and Krgyzstan, and wintering from Syria through southern Azerbaijan and nothern Iran to Uzbekistan and Tadjikistan.

Former European distribution
The great bustard has recently become extinct in Poland, Bulgaria and former Yugoslavia. It became extinct during the 1800s in France (it was last bred 1863) and also in Sweden and Greece

Former British distribution
The bird became extinct in Britain in the late 1830s.Its last confirmed breeding in England was in 1832, and the last known bird was seen in 1838.It was formerly widespread in the UK - from southern England to southern Scotland - and was strongly associated with the chalk downs of Wiltshire, Dorset, Sussex and Kent, and the Wolds of Lincolnshire and Yorkshire.

Habitat
The Great bustard requires large expanses of open, flat or rolling grassland and is strongly associated with meadows, pastures and stubbles in regions of low intensity agriculture. In Spain, it sometimes uses open woodland, such as olive groves.

Nutrition
It lives mainly on plant material and invertebrates, especially beetles (Coleoptera), crickets and grasshoppers (Orthoptera). Sometimes it eats small vertebrates, such as amphibians or nestling birds.
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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Behaviour

Social behaviour
Great bustards are the most social of the bustards. They are commonly found in small, loose flocks called droves, made up of birds of the same sex and age.

Display behaviour
Male great bustards are renowned for their spectacular mating display. They are normally well-camouflaged, so males display to advertise their presence and show off their quality to prospective mates.During his display, a male:
  • inflates a special air sac in his neck into a huge balloon, revealing strips of bare skin either side of his neck
  • as he expands, he tilts forwards and pulls his head in so that the long whiskery chin feathers point upwards
  • he cocks his tail flat along his back, exposing the normally hidden bright white plumage
  • then he lowers his wings, with the primary flight feathers folded but with the white secondaries fanning out
  • once in full display, he may hold the pose for many minutes, occasionally shifting his feet and shaking his body to emphasise his spectacular appearance
Shining white against the landscape, a displaying male can be visible from several kilometres away.
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Life Expectancy

Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 28.3 years (captivity)
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Otis tarda

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There is 1 barcode sequence available from BOLD and GenBank.

Below is the sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.

See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen.

Other sequences that do not yet meet barcode criteria may also be available.

AACCGATGACTATTCTCAACTAACCATAAAGACATTGGCACCCTATATCTAATCTTTGGTGCATGAGCTGGCATGGTTGGAACAGCCCTA---AGCCTACTCATTCGCGCTGAACTTGGCCAACCCGGCACTCTCTTAGGAGAT---GATCAAATCTATAATGTGATCGTCACCGCCCACGCCTTCGTAATAATCTTCTTCATGGTAATGCCTATTATAATCGGAGGGTTTGGAAACTGATTAGTTCCACTCATA---ATCGGCGCCCCCGACATAGCATTCCCCCGCATAAACAACATAAGCTTCTGACTTCTCCCCCCATCCTTCCTACTCCTTCTAGCCTCCTCTACAGTAGAAGCAGGAGCCGGCACAGGATGAACAGTATATCCTCCACTAGCCGGCAACCTAGCCCACGCTGGGGCTTCAGTAGACCTG---GCCATCTTTTCACTCCATCTAGCGGGGGTATCCTCCATTCTAGGTGCAATCAATTTTATCACTACTGCCATCAATATAAAACCACCAGCCCTGTCACAATACCAAACACCCCTATTCGTATGATCCGTCCTCATCACAGCTGTCTTACTCTTACTTTCTCTGCCAGTCCTCGCTGCT---GGCATCACTATACTACTGACAGACCGAAACCTAAACACTACATTCTTCGACCCAGCAGGAGGAGGAGATCCAGTCCTATATCAACACCTCTTCTGATTTTTCGGTCACCCTGAAGTCTACATCCTTATCCTACCAGGCTTCGGAATTATTTCACACGTAGTTACATACTATGCGGGTAAAAAA---GAACCATTTGGTTACATAGGCATAGTATGGGCCATACTCTCTATTGGATTCCTAGGCTTCATCGTATGAGCCCACCACATATTCACCGTCGGAATAGACGTAGACACCCGAGCCTACTTTACATCCGCTACCATAATCATTGCTATCCCAACAGGAATTAAAGTCTTCAGCTGACTG---GCCACGCTACACGGGG
-- end --

Download FASTA File

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Otis tarda

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 2
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
VU
Vulnerable

Red List Criteria
A2cd+3cd+4cd

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2015

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S.

Contributor/s
Alonso, J. C., Andryucshenko, Y., Antonchikov, A., Goriup, P., Nagy, S. & Kessler, M.

Justification
This species has suffered rapid population reductions across most of its range owing to the loss, degradation and fragmentation of its habitat, as well as hunting. Although populations in its Iberian stronghold have stabilised and possibly increased, hunting in Central Asia results in high rates of adult mortality, and land-use changes in eastern Europe, Russia and central Asia may have a significant impact on this species's population and the extent of its remaining habitat, such that it is likely to continue declining at a rapid rate over the next three generations. It therefore qualifies as Vulnerable. Should research show the species to be declining at a more moderate rate, it would warrant downlisting to a lower category of threat.


History
  • 2012
    Vulnerable (VU)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Threatened (T)
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