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.
Habitat and Ecology
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).
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
Status in Egypt
Former and resident breeder?
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).
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).
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.
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.[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.[clarification needed]
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. 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.
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. The committee responded to this scepticism, by explaining that there are differences in both courtship and pre-copulation displays.
Distribution and habitat
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.
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.
Subspecies fuertaventurae of the Canary Islands is highly restricted and endangered. A 1997 survey found a total population of about 500 birds.
Status and conservation
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.
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.
- BirdLife International (2012). "Chlamydotis undulata". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- Ali, S. (1993). The Book of Indian Birds. Bombay: Bombay Natural History Society. ISBN 0-19-563731-3.
- CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses by John B. Dunning Jr. (Editor). CRC Press (1992), ISBN 978-0-8493-4258-5.
- Taxonomic recommendations for British birds (PDF).
- 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.
- Cowan, P. J. (2004) Are there really two species of houbara? British Birds 97(7): 346-7
- Collinson, Martin (2004) Are there really two species of houbara? - a response from the TSC British Birds 97(7): 348
- 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.
- Habitat use and mating system of the houbara bustard (Chlamydotis undulata undulata) in a semi-desertic area of North Africa: implications for conservation
- Stone, Richard. "The Houbara: Headed for Oblivion?" Science, Vol. 321, 12 September 2008, p. 1441.
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