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Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

A largely solitary bird, the houbara bustard feeds alone or in small groups on beetles, ants and plants. In the breeding season, males and females meet only to choose a mate and to breed. Courtship takes place between December and March and involves a sophisticated display (4). The male ruffles the feathers of his crest, neck and head and raises the wings. He walks steadily and calmly in a large circle or straight line, with the tail raised and fanned out, occasionally lowering the wings. Abruptly, the male then begins to leap back and forth as he attempts to attract the attention of the female. Once the female has made her choice and mated with a male, neither bird will mate again that season (2). The female leaves the male after mating and both sexes remain solitary for the remainder of the breeding season. Between February and April the female lays two or three eggs in a small scrape (4). After hatching, the chicks follow the female for protection as she feeds, as they are vulnerable to predators, including eagles, falcons, foxes, wolves, monitor lizards, snakes and kestrels (5).
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Description

A striking bird resembling a turkey in shape, the houbara bustard is at its most magnificent during the courtship display. It has a long neck and tail, narrow wings, and long black and white feathers drooping over the neck. The head is small with a short, black and white crest and large eyes. Males are slightly larger and have ornate bristles on the head and neck. The body is brown with wavy, black barring on the back and white on the underside. Juveniles resemble adult females (2).
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Distribution

Range Description

Chlamydotis undulata occurs across a wide range in North Africa. The nominate subspecies occurs in northernmost Mauritania, Western Sahara, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt west of the Nile, with old records from Sudan. Subspecies fuertaventurae is confined to the eastern Canary Islands, Spain, where its population in the mid-1990s was estimated at 527 birds, with 18 on La Graciosa, 268 on Lanzarote and 241 on Fuerteventura. More recent estimates place the population at 108-252 birds on Fuerteventura, 272-801 on Lanzarote and 3-10 on La Graciosa (Carrascal et al. 2006), whilst another census estimated the population at around 1,000 birds on the all the islands, with 384-459 on Fuerteventura, 383-806 on Lanzarote and 11-17 on La Graciosa (Lorenzo et al. 2007). The population of nominate undulata in the mid-1990s was estimated to be at least 9,800 individuals, of which over 50% were in Algeria, 30% in Morocco and 10% in Libya (Goriup 1997). In more recent discussions, however, a reliable estimate for the number of individuals in North Africa has not been considered achievable (without huge confidence limits).

Although this species showed a steady decline of c.25% in the 20 years preceding 2004 (F. Launay pers. comm. 2004), this trend may since have been reversed by a captive breeding and release programme in eastern Morocco and western Algeria, and the overall population of undulata is said to be increasing (O. Combreau in litt. 2012). However, research is required into the efficacy of such releases at improving the demographic trends of the entire population without compromising its genetic integrity. Furthermore, the species has become extremely rare in Tunisia, and declines are suspected in other range states (R. Ayé in litt. 2013). Until further information is available, the global population is suspected to be in rapid decline owing to continued hunting and pressures on its habitats.

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Range

There are three subspecies of houbara bustard: Chlamydotis undulata macqueenii is found in the deserts of Russia and the Middle East, C. u. undulata is found in North Africa and C. u. fuertaventurae is found in the eastern Canary Islands. They differ slightly in their size and colouration, but are not consistent in their migratory tendencies (4). North African and Middle Eastern birds are resident or partially migratory, moving short distances to find fresh vegetation, whereas other Asian populations are fully migratory (5).
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
It inhabits sandy and stony semi-desert and is specialised to arid conditions where trees are absent and both shrub cover and herb layer are sparse (Collar 1979, Goriup 1997, Snow and Perrins 1998, Martí and del Moral 2003). It feeds on invertebrates, small vertebrates and green shoots, and typically lays 2-4 eggs in a scrape on the ground. Eggs and young are susceptible to ground predators. North African populations may be sedentary or partially migratory, moving relatively short distances to find recent plant growth (Snow and Perrins 1998).

Males attract their mates with an extravagant courtship display which they perform at the same site each year. The display begins with a period of strutting and culminates with the male retracting his head within an ornamental shield of erected neck feathers and then running at speed in either a straight or curved line. The display is often accompanied by a series of subsonic booming calls (Gaucher et al. 1996).


Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Adapted to arid conditions with little vegetation, the houbara bustard is found in sandy and stony semi-desert regions (5).
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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
2014

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S.

Contributor/s
Ayé, R., Collar, N., Combreau, O., González, C., Hingrat, Y., Islam, Z., Iñigo, A., Launay, F., Lewis, A. & Lorenzo, J.

Justification
This newly split species is listed as Vulnerable because it is suspected to be in rapid decline owing mainly to hunting pressure and habitat loss and degradation. Releases of captive-bred birds may buffer the overall population against these threats; however, further research is required into the demographic consequences of such releases, and surveys are needed to assess the population trend. If it can be demonstrated that these releases have bolstered the breeding population, without detrimental genetic effects, and slowed or halted declines, then the species may warrant downlisting in future.

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Status in Egypt

Former and resident breeder?

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Status

The houbara bustard is classified as Vulnerable (VU A2bcd + 3bcd) on the IUCN Red List 2004 (1) and is listed on Appendix I of CITES (3). It is also listed on Appendix II of the Berne Convention on European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (6) and on Annex I of the EC Birds Directive (7).
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Population

Population
In the mid-1990s, this species's population was estimated to number at least 9,800 individuals (Goriup 1997). It had been roughly estimated that North Africa held around 30% of the total population of C. undulata and C. macqueenii when lumped, which has been estimated at c.106,000-110,000 individuals. On the basis of these estimates, the population of C. undulata (as split from C. macqueenii) is placed in the band for 20,000-49,999 individuals, assumed to equate to c.13,000-33,000 mature individuals.


Population Trend
Decreasing
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Threats

Major Threats
The principal threat is from hunting, which has worsened with the increased use of firearms, off-road vehicles and other technology (Azafzaf et al. 2005, Michler 2009). This threat is compounded by pressures on the species's habitats, from agricultural expansion, over-grazing of livestock, road construction, other infrastructure development and tourism developments (Azafzaf et al. 2005). Eggs are susceptible to trampling by livestock and collection by humans. Disturbance can be caused by oil exploration activities, along with disturbance associated with other threats. Locust control programmes can lead to direct and indirect poisoning of birds and a reduction in food supply. Floods and droughts cause additional pressures (Azafzaf et al. 2005).

Subspecies fuertaventurae is considered threatened by collisions with powerlines (Lowen 2007, C. González and J. A. Lorenzo in litt. 2007), as well as habitat degradation caused by tourist facilities, off-road vehicles, military exercises, overgrazing, sand extraction and road development, and possibly also nest predation by introduced mammals and illegal hunting (Martín. et al. 1997, Martín and Lorenzo 2001, Martí and del Moral 2003). Recent evidence suggests that the impact of military exercises and hunting have reduced considerably in recent years, but mortality from powerlines may still be significant (C. González and J. A. Lorenzo in litt. 2007).

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The traditional practice of hunting for houbara bustards by Middle Eastern falconers has reduced populations significantly, mainly on the wintering grounds. This over-hunting has been compounded by habitat loss and degradation. The subspecies C. u. fuertaventurae has been particularly affected by habitat degradation as a result of tourist activities and associated development, as well as by military exercises, over-grazing, sand-extraction, and road-development. Further threats include collisions with power lines, and nest-predation by introduced mammals (5).
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I. National legislation protects the species or controls hunting in most range states; however, hunters are often able to circumvent these laws (Azafzaf et al. 2005). Subspecies fuertaventurae has received improved protection from poaching, reduction of grazing (agricultural decline) and habitat management within protected areas (Martín et al. 1997, Martín and Lorenzo 2001, Martí and del Moral 2003). SEO/BirdLife purchased a 209-ha reserve to protect the species on Fuerteventura in 2005. The nominate subspecies in North Africa was the subject of an action plan (Azafzaf et al. 2005). A captive breeding and release programme is on-going in Morocco and Algeria (Lesobre et al. 2009, O. Combreau in litt. 2012), although the demographic consequences of this for the entire population have not yet been established. Captive breeding is carried out by the International Fund for Houbara Conservation (IFHC) at the Emirates Centre for Wildlife Propagation (ECWP), at Missour and Enjil in Morocco. The numbers bred and released each year have increased regularly, with 20,310 individuals bred in 2013 (IFHC 2014).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Carry out comprehensive and coordinated surveys to establish the total population size and quantify the overall trend. Establish robust, workable systems for the sustainability of hunting throughout range. Create hunting preserves and other types of managed protected areas. Reduce grazing and other farming pressures (Goriup 1997, O. Combreau and M. Lawrence in litt. 2004, F. Launay pers. comm. 2004). Study the impacts of releasing captive-reared birds on the demographics and genetic structure of the whole population.

For subspecies fuertaventurae: designate new and expand existing special protected areas under European law. Increase wardening of key areas. Ensure safe powerline positions; conduct a rigorous census every five years. Undertake local awareness campaigns (Martín et al. 1997, Martín and Lorenzo 2001, Martí and del Moral 2003).

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Conservation

C. u. fuertaventurae has benefited from improved protection from poaching and improved habitat management within protected areas. C. u. macqueenii has been the subject of several studies into its status, ecology and migration routes. It has also been involved in captive breeding programmes for restocking areas where it is heavily hunted. No conservation measures are known to have been put into action for C. u. undulata. A whole species action plan has yet to be produced although there is a European action plan for C. u. fuertaventurae. Managed hunting preserves are crucial to the recovery of the houbara bustard (5).
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Wikipedia

Houbara bustard

This article is about the North African species. For the Asian houbara that was considered a subspecies, see MacQueen's bustard.

The houbara bustard or North African houbara (Chlamydotis undulata) is a large bird in the bustard family. This bustard is found in arid habitats spread across northern Africa with a population on the Canary Islands. They are dull brown with black markings on the wings with a greyish neck and a black ruff along the side of the neck. Males and females appear very similar but males are larger and heavier. This species formerly included MacQueen's bustard, sometimes known as the Asian houbara as a subspecies.

Description[edit]

The houbara bustard is a small to mid-sized bustard. It measures 55–65 cm (22–26 in) in length and spans 135–170 cm (53–67 in) across the wings. It is brown above and white below, with a black stripe down the sides of its neck. In flight, the long wings show large areas of black and brown on the flight feathers. It is slightly smaller and darker than MacQueen's bustard. The sexes are similar, but the female, at 66 cm (26 in) tall, is rather smaller and greyer above than the male, at 73 cm (29 in) tall.[2][clarification needed] The body mass is 1.15–2.4 kg (2.5–5.3 lb) in males and 1–1.7 kg (2.2–3.7 lb) in females.[3][clarification needed]

Taxonomy[edit]

The former Asian subspecies, C. u. macqueenii, has now been split as a full species, MacQueen's bustard, Chlamydotis macqueenii. These two species are the only members of the Chlamydotis genus.[4] The Canarian houbara is the subspecies Chlamydotis undulata fuertaventurae. The dividing line between the two Chlamydotis species is the Sinai peninsula. Based on the rates of divergence of mitochondrial DNA sequences, the two subspecies are thought to have separated from a common ancestor around 20 to 25 thousand years ago. The separation from MacQueen's bustard is older at 430 thousand years ago.[5]

The British Ornithologists' Union's Taxonomic Records Committee's decision to accept this split has been questioned on the grounds that the differences in the male courtship displays may be functionally trivial, and would not prevent interbreeding, whereas a difference in a pre-copulation display would indicate that the two are separate species.[6] The committee responded to this scepticism, by explaining that there are differences in both courtship and pre-copulation displays.[7]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The houbara bustard is found in North Africa west of the Nile mainly in the western part of the Sahara desert region in Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. Some old records exist from Sudan. A small population is found in the Canary Islands. The Asian houbara or MacQueen's bustard which was earlier included in this species occurs east of the Sinai Peninsula. The north African species is sedentary unlike the northern populations of MacQueen's bustards.

Behaviour[edit]

C. u. fuertaventurae in Lanzarote, Canary Islands

Breeding[edit]

Like other bustards, this species has a flamboyant display raising the white feathers of the head and throat and withdrawing the head. Two to four eggs are laid on the ground. It hardly ever uses its voice.

Feeding[edit]

This species is omnivorous, taking seeds, insects and other small creatures.

Status[edit]

Subspecies fuertaventurae of the Canary Islands is highly restricted and endangered. A 1997 survey found a total population of about 500 birds.[8]

Status and conservation[edit]

The North African houbara bustard declined in populations in the two decades before 2004, but unlike its near relative the Asian houbara or MacQueen's bustard, has been on the increase since. Although hunted both by falconers and by hunters with guns, the extent is much less than that faced by MacQueen's bustard in the middle east and west Asia.[9]

The International Foundation for Conservation and Development of Wildlife (IFCDW) is a major conservation and breeding project established with funds from Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud and based near Agadir, Morocco. The centre releases captive bred populations to boost wild populations. Similar projects breed MacQueen's bustards using artificial insemination are also carried out in the United Arab Emirates.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Chlamydotis undulata". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Ali, S. (1993). The Book of Indian Birds. Bombay: Bombay Natural History Society. ISBN 0-19-563731-3. 
  3. ^ CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses by John B. Dunning Jr. (Editor). CRC Press (1992), ISBN 978-0-8493-4258-5.
  4. ^ Taxonomic recommendations for British birds (PDF).
  5. ^ Idaghdour, Youssef; Broderick, Damien; Korrida, Amal; Chbel, Faiza (2004). "Mitochondrial control region diversity of the houbara bustard Chlamydotis undulata complex and genetic structure along the Atlantic seaboard of North Africa". Molecular Ecology 13 (1): 43–54. doi:10.1046/j.1365-294X.2003.02039.x. 
  6. ^ Cowan, P. J. (2004) Are there really two species of houbara? British Birds 97(7): 346-7
  7. ^ Collinson, Martin (2004) Are there really two species of houbara? - a response from the TSC British Birds 97(7): 348
  8. ^ Aurelio Martin; Juan Antonio Lorenzo; Miguel Angel Hernandez; Manuel Nogales; Félix Manuel Medina; Juan Domingo Delgado; José Julián Naranjo; Vicente Quilis and Guillermo Delgado (1997). "Distribution, status and conservation of the houbara bustard Chlamydotis undulata fuertaventurae Rothschild & Hartert, 1894, in the Canary Islands, November–December 1994". Ardeola 44 (1): 61–69. 
  9. ^ IUCN

Further reading[edit]

References[edit]

  • Stone, Richard. "The Houbara: Headed for Oblivion?" Science, Vol. 321, 12 September 2008, p. 1441.
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