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The Houbara Bustard (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.
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. 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.
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 the Canary Islands, North Africa, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, China, and the UAE. It breeds in deserts and other very arid sandy areas and is largely resident within its range.
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.
Relation with humans
The Houbara Bustard is widely prized in Arabia as a quarry for falconers, particularly because its meat is valued an aphrodisiac (though according to one doctor it is instead a diuretic). Widespread hunting and loss of habitat have greatly reduced numbers. The allocation of hunting rights led to a diplomatic dispute between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
A major conservation and breeding project is based near Agadir, Morocco and Rahim Yar Khan in Pakistan. The International Foundation for Conservation and Development of Wildlife is a not-for-profit foundation funded by Saudi crown prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud. The project breeds Houbaras using artificial insemination, and the offspring are released to the wild. A similar project, with The National Avian Research Centre of the International Fund for Houbara Conservation, under the auspices of the royal families of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, is under way in the UAE.
In Pakistan, the Houbara Bustard is regarded as the provincial bird of Balochistan (Pakistan). While falconers are reportedly rarely seen in Pakistan anymore because of the poor security situation, Houbaras continue to be hunted each year in Pakistan with 25 permits by the government issued for the 2011-12 hunting season, each permit allowing one hundred birds to be hunted by the permit holder. Most of these permits have gone to royalty, rulers and influential commoners from Arab states such as Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Bahrain, Dubai and Saudi Arabia.
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- Habitat use and mating system of the houbara bustard (Chlamydotis undulata undulata) in a semi-desertic area of North Africa: implications for conservation
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