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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

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Maximum longevity: 28.3 years (captivity)
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Biology

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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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Conservation

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The great bustard is legally protected in all countries in its range (5), and both a European Action Plan and an East Asian Action Plan have been formulated. These propose research into the factors causing population decline, protection of current breeding sites and winter grounds, as well as improvements to habitat in East Asia. Introducing low-intensity farming, preventing steppe fires, illegal hunting and collisions with power lines are also high priority actions (4).
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Description

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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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Habitat

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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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Range

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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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Status

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The great bustard is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1). It is listed on Appendix II of CITES (3) and Appendices I and II of the Convention on Migratory Species (4).
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Threats

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Increasing human disturbance and land privatisation is expected to lead to habitat loss caused by the ploughing of grasslands, intensive agriculture, afforestation, increased development of irrigation schemes, and the construction of roads, power lines, fencing and ditches. Mechanisation, chemical fertilisers and pesticides, fire and predation are serious threats for chicks and juveniles, and hunting of adults contributes to high mortality in some of their range countries (4).
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Status in Egypt

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Accidental visitor.

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Dietary divergence in the most sexually size-dimorphic bird

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In sexually size-dimorphic species, physiological constraints derived from differences in body size may determine different food requirements and thus a trophic niche divergence between males and females. These relationships between sexual size dimorphism (SSD) and dietary overlap are not well understood in birds. We analyzed differences between the sexes in diet composition, dietary diversity, diet selection, and volume and density of droppings, as well as the dietary overlap between sexes, in the Great Bustard (Otis tarda), the species showing the highest SSD among birds. We discuss the differences that we found in relation to various predictions derived from ecological and physiological differences between the sexes, under the hypothesis that these differences are ultimately determined by the strong SSD of this species. As expected, our best linear mixed-effects food selection models included sex as a main factor explaining differences in diet composition and dietary diversity of Great Bustards throughout the annual cycle. Both sexes were mostly herbivorous, consuming legumes when they were available. Males consumed fewer arthropods, but of significantly larger size, than females. The droppings of males were larger, heavier, and slightly denser than those of females. Males showed higher dietary diversity than females, except during the postmating season. The mean dietary overlap between the sexes was 0.7, one of the smallest values among birds. Overall, our results suggest that the species' extreme SSD along with the distinct reproductive role of each sex might explain the trophic niche divergence in the Great Bustard.

Effects of great bustard (Otis tarda) gut passage on black nightshade (Solanum nigrum) seed germination

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Birds are important seed dispersers for fleshy fruits through their transportation of ingested seeds. The seeds of many species germinate faster and in greater proportions after passing through a digestive tract, although the effects of this passage vary amongst bird and plant species. Many factors determine the germination success of ingested seeds, such as seed scarification during the digestion process, the fertilizing effect of droppings and the removal of pulp surrounding the seeds. In central Spain, the great bustard (Otis tarda) may act as a disperser of European black nightshade (Solanum nigrum). We analysed the germination success of ingested and non-ingested S. nigrum seeds. The fertilizing effect of bustard droppings and the disinhibition effect of the removal of Solanum pulp on final germination percentage, germination speed and viability were also assessed. Although ingested seeds germinated faster than non-ingested seeds, the former showed a lower germination percentage than the latter: 80–87% versus 99%. Droppings and fruit pulp showed no effect on germination enhancement, except in one aspect: the germination speed of non-ingested seeds decreased when they were sprayed with a fruit extract. We confirm that seeds ingested by great bustards had lower germination success than non-ingested seeds. Although seed ingestion by great bustards reduced seedling emergence, the number of emerged seedlings was still quite large. Thus, great bustards may play a role as a S. nigrum seed dispersal vector.

Food availability but not sex determines morning foraging area size in the Great Bustard Otis tarda, the most sexually size-dimorphic bird species

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Sexual size dimorphism (SSD) may favour physiological peculiarities in diet, behaviour and home-range size both across species and within species. Sex-specific differences in diet and behaviour have been reported in several bird species but there are fewer studies of foraging area size in sexually dimorphic bird species. Foraging area size should be greater in the bigger sex according to home-range size predictions based on body mass. We tested this prediction in a winter study of foraging area size in the Great Bustard Otis tarda, the most sexually size-dimorphic bird species, which forages in unisexual flocks. In this species the temporal pattern of a flock's feeding intensity; the proportion of birds actively feeding (FI) and the size of the morning foraging area (MFA) of each sex are unknown. We recorded the behaviour and movements of unisexual flocks of Great Bustards during winter mornings and sampled food availability to take into account its effect on FI and MFA. FI increased and then decreased through the morning in both sexes, and was lower in males than in females. This sexual difference was greater where legume availability was smaller. Legumes were the most preferred substrate type. Consequently, MFA sizes were smaller in sites with more legume availability. We did not find sexual differences either in the size of MFA or in the selection of the two preferred substrate types: legumes and stubble fields. MFA and FI were determined to a greater extent by ecological factors such as food availability than by metabolic requirements derived from body size differences. These results obtained from a short-term study do not preclude an effect of sexual size dimorphism on MFA size and FI of Great Bustards over longer periods but show that the body size effect on foraging behaviour may be smaller than predicted only by SSD.

Males of a strongly polygynous species consume more poisonous food than females

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We present evidence of a possible case of self-medication in a lekking bird, the great bustard Otis tarda. Great bustards consumed blister beetles (Meloidae), in spite of the fact that they contain cantharidin, a highly toxic compound that is lethal in moderate doses. In addition to anthelminthic properties, cantharidin was effective against gastrointestinal bacteria that cause sexually-transmitted diseases. Although both sexes consumed blister beetles during the mating season, only males selected them among all available insects, and ingested more and larger beetles than females. The male-biased consumption suggests that males could use cantharidin to reduce their parasite load and increase their sexual attractiveness. This plausibly explains the intense cloaca display males perform to approaching females, and the meticulous inspection females conduct of the male’s cloaca, a behavior only observed in this and another similar species of the bustard family. A white, clean cloaca with no infection symptoms (e.g., diarrhea) is an honest signal of both, resistance to cantharidin and absence of parasites, and represents a reliable indicator of the male quality to the extremely choosy females. Our results do not definitely prove, but certainly strongly suggest that cantharidin, obtained by consumption of blister beetles, acts in great bustards as an oral anti-microbial and pathogen-limiting compound, and that males ingest these poisonous insects to increase their mating success, pointing out that self-medication might have been overlooked as a sexually-selected mechanism enhancing male fitness.

Population increase of the great bustard Otis tarda in its main distribution area in relation to changes in farming practices

provided by EOL authors

We update and present relevant information regarding the abundance and distribution of the great bustard Otis tarda in Castilla y León (Spain) in 2008, compare it with previous census results, and analyse the effects of agricultural changes on the provincial abundance and distribution of the species. The study area was surveyed from four-wheel drive vehicles driven at low speed (20-30 km/h) along predetermined transects, stopping frequently at prominent spots. The intention was to detect all the great bustards present in the study area. The great bustard population in Castilla y León during the breeding season of 2008 was 14,025 birds: 5,637 males, 7,760 females and 628 individuals whose sex could not be determined. The population was 34% greater in 2008 than in 1998 when the area surveyed in both censuses is compared. Population increases were recorded in all provinces except for Soria, where no birds were observed. Not all local populations within provinces increased: we detected population declines of over 10% in 43 (27%) of the 160 polygons surveyed both in 1998 and 2008, population increases of over 10%in 93 (58%) polygons, and largely stable populations (changes less than 10%) in 24 (15%) polygons. Provincial increases in bustard numbers were positively correlated with increases in the extent of unirrigated legume crops. The great bustard population in Castilla y León in 2008 was the largest in the world, accounting for 27-32% of the global population and about 47% of the estimated Spanish population. The spread of unirrigated legumes, crops that are promoted by agri-environment schemes, may have fostered the observed population increase between 1998 and 2008. A survey of the region every ten years is proposed to monitor future population trends.
. Actualizamos y aportamos nueva información sobre la abundancia y distribución de la avutarda común Otis tarda en Castilla y León (España) en 2008, comparamos dicha información con la de censos anteriores, y analizamos los efectos de la transformación agrícola sobre la abundancia provincial de la especie. El área de estudio fue censada en recorridos predefinidos con vehículos todo terreno a baja velocidad (20-30 km/h) y realizando paradas frecuentes en lugares con amplio campo visual. El objetivo fue detectar y contabilizar todos los individuos presentes en el área de estudio. La población reproductora de avutarda censada en 2008 fue de 14.025 aves: 5.637 machos, 7.760 hembras y 628 aves cuyo sexo no pudo determinarse. El número de avutardas contabilizadas en 2008 fue un 34% superior al de 1998 teniendo en cuenta el área muestreada en ambos censos. Se registraron incrementos poblacionales en todas las provincias excepto en Soria donde, al igual que en la primavera de 1998, no se detectó la especie. Las poblaciones locales no se incrementaron en todos los lugares ni en la misma proporción: en 43 (27%) de los 160 polígonos visitados en 1998 y 2008 se produjeron descensos poblacionales superiores al 10%, 93 (58%) polígonos experimentaron un aumento poblacional superior al 10%, y en 24 (15%) no se observaron cambios superiores al 10%. El incremento en el número de avutardas censadas en cada provincia se correlacionó positivamente con el incremento en la superficie de leguminosas de secano. Concluimos que la población de avutardas de Castilla y León censada en 2008 fue la mayor del mundo, representando alrededor del 47% de la estima poblacional de España y el 27-32% de la mundial. La expansión de cultivos adecuados para la especie como las leguminosas de secano, que son subvencionadas por programas agroambientales, han debido favorecer el aumento poblacional observado entre 1998 y 2008. Sin embargo, para confirmar la tendencia al alza en la población de Castilla y León y sus causas, es necesario mantener un programa de censos de la especie con una periodicidad al menos decenal.

Great bustard

provided by wikipedia EN

The great bustard (Otis tarda) is a bird in the bustard family, the only member of the genus Otis. It breeds in open grasslands and farmland from northern Morocco, South and Central Europe, to temperate Central and East Asia. European populations are mainly resident, but Asian populations migrate farther south in winter. It has been listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List since 1996.[1]

Portugal and Spain now have about 60% of the world's population.[2] It became extinct in Great Britain when the last bird was shot in 1832. Recent attempts to reintroduce it into England have met with some success[3] and there is a population of 40 birds on Salisbury Plain, a British Army training area. Here the lack of public access allows them the freedom needed as a large ground-nesting bird.

Taxonomy and etymology

The genus Otis was introduced in 1758 by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus in the tenth edition of his Systema Naturae.[4] Linnaeus placed four species in the genus but of these the type species was designated as the great bustard (Otis tarda) by George Robert Gray in 1840.[5] Pliny the elder briefly mentions a bird that has been taken to be the bustard in his Natural History that was published around 77 AD. He gave the Ancient Greek name ωτις/ōtis, ωτιδος/ōtidos and the Latin aves tardas.[6][a] These names were mentioned by the Pierre Belon in 1555 and Ulisse Aldrovandi in 1600.[7][8]

The common names of the great bustard are derived from the Latin avis tarda. The English name comes from the Old French bistarda and some other languages: abetarda (pt), abetarda (gl), avutarda (es). The naturalist William Turner listed the English spelling "bustard" and "bistard" in 1544.[9][10] The specific name, tarda, is Latin for "slow" and "deliberate", which is apt to describe the typical walking style of the species.[11]

Description

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Captive male great bustard, showing the characteristic long, beard-like feathers and heavy build

The adult male great bustard is amongst the heaviest living flying animals. A male is typically 90–105 cm (2 ft 11 in – 3 ft 5 in) tall, with a length of around 115 cm (3 ft 9 in) and has a 2.1–2.7 m (6 ft 11 in – 8 ft 10 in) wingspan. The male can range in weight from 5.8 to 18 kg (13 to 40 lb).[2][12] The heaviest verified specimen, collected in Manchuria, was about 21 kg (46 lb),[12][13] a world record for heaviest flying bird.[14] In a study in Spain, one male weighed as much as 19 kg (42 lb).[15] Larger specimens have been reported but remain unverified. Average male weights as reported have been fairly variable: in Russia, males weighed a median of 9.2 kg (20 lb); in Spain, males weighed a mean of 11.62 kg (25.6 lb) during breeding season and 9.65 kg (21.3 lb) during non-breeding; in Germany, males weighed a mean of 11.97 kg (26.4 lb); and the Guinness World Records has indicated that male bustards in Great Britain weighed an average of 13.5 kg (30 lb). Average weight of males is almost an exact match to that of male Kori bustards. Among all flying animals and land birds, male Andean condors (Vultur gryphus) may match or exceed the mean body masses of these male bustards but not their maximum weights. Furthermore, male swans of the two largest species (trumpeter and mute) may attain a similar average mass depending on season and region.[16][15][17][12][18][19] Among both bustards and all living birds, the upper reported mass of this species is rivaled by that of the kori bustard (Ardeotis kori), which, due to its relatively longer tarsi and tail, is both longer and taller on average and is less sexually dimorphic.[15] In terms of weight ranges reported, the great Indian bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps) also only lags slightly behind these species.[16][17][12]

The great bustard is also arguably the most sexual dimorphic extant bird species, in terms of the size difference between males and females. Adult male great bustards measured in Spain weighed on average 2.48 times more than females.[20] Going on mass, the only known bird with a higher dimorphism is the green peafowl (Pavo muticus) as the males are apparently near four times as heavy as females.[16][13] The female is about a third smaller in linear dimensions, typically measuring 75 to 85 cm (2 ft 6 in to 2 ft 9 in) in height, about 90 cm (2 ft 11 in)[19] in length and 180 cm (5 ft 11 in) across the wings.[2][18] Overall, the female's weight can range from 3.1 to 8 kg (6.8 to 17.6 lb).[18][21] Like male weights, females weights are quite variable as reported: in Germany, females had a mean weight of 3.82 kg (8.4 lb), in Spain, females had a mean weight of 4.35 kg (9.6 lb) and in Russia, females reportedly had a median weight of 6 kg (13 lb). The latter figure indicates that eastern birds (presumably O. t. dybowskii) are considerably less sexually dimorphic in body mass than in other populations.[16][15][17] Perhaps because of this physical sexual dimorphism, there is a skewed sex ratio of about 1.5:1 female to male.

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Mounted specimen of a female, with somewhat more muted tones and a more slender, smaller build than the adult male

An adult male is brown above, barred with blackish colouration, and white below, with a long grey neck and head. His breast and lower neck sides are chestnut and there is a golden wash to the back and the extent of these bright colours tending to increase as the male ages. In the breeding season, the male has long white neck bristles, which measure up to 12–15 cm (4.7–5.9 in) in length, continually growing from the third to the sixth year of life.[2] In flight, the long wings are predominantly white with brown showing along the edges of the lower primary and secondary feathers and a dark brown streak along the upper-edge of the wing. The breast and neck of the female are buff, with brown and pale colouration over the rest of the plumage rendering it well camouflaged in open habitats. Immature birds resemble the female. The eastern subspecies (O. t. dybowskii) is more extensively grey in colour in both sexes, with more extensive barring on the back.[2] The great bustard has long legs, a long neck and a heavy, barrel-chested body. It is fairly typical of the family in its overall shape and habitat preferences. Three other bustard species overlap in range with this species: the Macqueen's (Chlamydotis macqueenii), houbara (Chlamydotis undulata) and little bustards (Tetrax tetrax). However, none of these attains the plumage coloration nor approach the body sizes of this species. Thus, the great bustard is essentially unmistakable.

Habitat

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Great bustards in Spain in fairly typical habitat for the species.

These birds' habitat is grassland or steppe defined by open, flat or somewhat rolling landscapes. They can be found on undisturbed cultivation and seem to prefer areas with wild or cultivated crops such as cereals, vineyards and fodder plants. However, during the breeding season, they actively avoid areas with regular human activity and can be disturbed by agricultural practices. Great bustards are often attracted to areas with considerable insect activity.

The breeding range of the great bustard currently stretches from Portugal to Manchuria, though previously the species bred even further east in Russian Primorsky Krai. Due to population declines across much of the range, more than half of the global population is now found in central Spain with around 30,000 individuals. Smaller populations are in southern Russia and the Great Hungarian Plain.[22]

Behaviour

The species is gregarious, especially in winter when gatherings of several dozen birds may occur. Male and female groups do not mix outside of the breeding season. The great bustard has a stately slow walk but tends to run when disturbed rather than fly. Running speeds have not been measured but adult females have been known to outrun red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), which can reach a trotting speed of 48 km/h (30 mph).[23][24][2] Both sexes are usually silent but can engage in deep grunts when alarmed or angered. The displaying adult male may produce some booming, grunting and raucous noises. The female may utter some guttural calls at the nest and brooded young make a soft, trilling call in communication with their mothers.

Migration

Some individuals in Iberian populations make short seasonal movements of 5 – 200 km, particularly males which appear to be move in response to higher summer temperatures.[25][26] European populations are sedentary or make irregular movements in response to severe winter weather.[27][28] Populations breeding along the Volga River in Russia migrate 1000 km to overwinter in Crimea and Kherson Oblast.[29] Populations breeding in northern Mongolia migrate over 2000 km to overwinter in Shaanxi Province of China.[30] In migratory populations, great bustards often gather in larger numbers at pre-migratory sites in order to move collectively to winter grounds. In the Iberian Peninsula, bustards that engage in migration seem to choose different periods for movements based on sex.[31][32][33][34][35] No population is known to use the same grounds for wintering and summering.[36] Great Bustards are strong fliers and reach speeds of 48 km/hr to 98 km/hr during migration.[30]

Reproduction

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Male Bustard display
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Eggs, Collection Museum Wiesbaden

The great bustard breeds in March, and a single male may mate with up to five females. Before mating, the males moult into their breeding plumage around January. Males establish dominance in their groups during winter, clashing violently by ramming into and hitting each other with their bills.[2] Like other bustards, the male great bustard displays and competes for the attention of females on what is known as a lek. In this species, the male has a flamboyant display beginning with the strutting male puffing up his throat to the size of a football. He then tilts forwards and pulls his head in so that the long whiskery chin feathers point upwards and the head is no longer visible. He next 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.[37] The displaying males, who may walk around for several minutes at a time with feathers flared and head buried waiting for hens to arrive, have been described as a "foam-bath" because of their appearance.[15] All breeding great bustards also moult again from June to September.

One to three olive or tan coloured, glossy eggs (two eggs being the average) are laid by the female in May or June. The nests, which are shallow scrapes made by the female on dry, soft slopes and plains, are usually situated close to the prior lek location. Nests are situated in sparse clusters, with a study in Inner Mongolia finding nests at a minimal 9 m (30 ft) apart from each other. In the same study, nests were placed at mid-elevation on a hill, at about 190 to 230 m (620 to 750 ft). Nesting sites are typically in dense grassy vegetation about 15 to 35 cm (5.9 to 13.8 in), likely for protection against predation, with extensive exposure to sunlight.[38] Eggs weigh about 150 g (5.3 oz) and are on average 79.4 mm (3.13 in) tall by 56.8 mm (2.24 in) wide. The female incubates the eggs alone for 21 to 28 days. The chicks almost immediately leave the nest after they hatch, although they do not move very far from their mother until they are at least 1 year old. Young great bustards begin developing their adult plumage at about 2 months, and begin to develop flying skills at the same time. They practice by stretching, running, flapping, and making small hops and jumps to get airborne. By three months they are able to fly reasonable distances. If threatened, the young stand still, using their downy plumage, mainly sepia in colour with paler buffy streaks, as camouflage. Juveniles are independent by their first winter, but normally stay with their mother until the next breeding season. Males usually start to mate from 5 to 6 years of age, although may engage in breeding display behaviour at a younger age. Females usually first breed at 2 to 3 years old.[2][37]

Diet

The species is omnivorous, taking different foods in differing seasons. In northwestern Spain in August, 48.4% of the diet of adult birds was green plant material, 40.9% was invertebrates and 10.6% was seeds. In the same population during winter, seeds and green plant material constituted almost the entirety of the diet. Alfalfa is seemingly preferred in the diet of birds from Spain.[39] Other favoured plant life in the diet can including legumes, crucifers, common dandelion and grapes and the dry seeds of wheat and barley.[2] Among animal prey, insects are generally eaten and are the main food for young bustards in their first summer, though they then switch to the seasonal herbivorous preferences of adults by winter. Coleoptera (including beetles), Hymenoptera (including bees, wasps and ants) and Orthoptera (including crickets, grasshoppers and locusts) are mainly taken, largely based on availability and abundance. Small vertebrates, including small rodents, frogs, lizards and chicks of other birds, may supplement the diet when the opportunity arises.[2][40] Great bustards may eat toxic blister beetles of the genus Meloe to self-medicate (Zoopharmacognosy)[41] increasing sexual arousal of males.[42]

Foraging

In winter the feeding intensity increased and then decreased through the morning in both sexes, and was lower in flocks of males than in flocks of females. This sexual difference is greater where legume availability was smaller in central Spain.[43] Males that foraged slightly less intensively than females could compensate with longer periods of foraging [44] and bigger bite size[45] that would allow them to obtain enough food relative to their absolute daily energy requirements. The size of morning foraging area is smaller in sites with more legume availability, likely because legumes are the most preferred substrate type.[43]

Mortality

Great bustards typically live for around 10 years, but some have been known to live up to 15 years or more. The maximum known life span for the species was 28 years. Adult males seem to have a higher mortality rate than females due mainly to fierce intraspecies fighting with other males during the breeding season. Many males may perish in their first couple of years of maturity due to this cause.[18]

Although little detailed information has been obtained of predators, over 80% of great bustards die in the first year of life and many are victims of predation. Chicks are subject to predation by the fact that they are ground-dwelling birds which are reluctant to fly. Predators of eggs and hatchlings include raptors, corvids, hedgehogs, foxes, weasels, badgers (Meles ssp.), martens (Martes ssp.), rats (Rattus ssp.) and wild boars (Sus scrofa). The most serious natural predators of nests are perhaps red foxes and hooded crows (Corvus cornix).[46] Chicks grow very quickly, by 6 months being nearly two-thirds of their adult size, and are predated by foxes, lynxes, wolves (Canis lupus), dogs, jackals and eagles.[47] Predation on adult male great bustards has been reportedly committed by white-tailed eagles (Haliaeetus albicilla) while golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) are potential predators and eastern imperial eagles (Aquila heliaca) have been known to prey on great bustards (but not likely to include adult males).[48][49][50] Great bustards of unspecified age and sex have been found amongst Eurasian eagle-owl (Bubo bubo) prey remains in Bulgaria.[51] A possible act of predation on a great bustard was observed to be committed by a much smaller raptor, the western marsh harrier (Circus aeruginosus), though it was likely that this bustard was "weak or injured" if it was taken alive.[52] The bold, conspicuous behaviour of the breeding adult male bustard may attract the same large mammalian predators that predate chicks, such as wolves and lynx, while the more inconspicuous female may sometimes be attacked by various predators. However, predation is generally fairly rare for adults due to their size, nimbleness and safety in numbers due to their social behaviour.[2][18][53][54]

Occasionally, other natural causes may contribute to mortality in the species, especially starvation in harsh winter months.[53] However, major causes of mortality in recent centuries have been largely linked to human activity, as described below.

Population distribution

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Bustard juvenille

As of 2008, the global population numbered between 44,000 and 51,000 birds (Palacin & Alonso 2008), about 38,000 to 47,000 in Europe, with 30,000 or more than half in Spain. Hungary had the next largest Great Bustard population with about 1,555 in the year 2012, followed by Ukraine and Austria. Between 4,200 and 4,500 were found in east Asia.[22] In recent times, there have been steep declines throughout eastern and central Europe and in Asia, particularly in Kazakhstan and Mongolia.

Sizeable populations exist in Spain (23,055 birds), Russia (8,000 birds), Turkey (800–3,000 birds), Portugal (1,435 birds) and Mongolia (1,000 birds). In Germany and Austria the populations are small (Germany 2016: 232 birds; Austria 2012: 335 birds) but steadily growing for about two decades.[55][56] Elsewhere, the populations are declining due to habitat loss throughout its range. A sizeable population also exists in Hungary (1,100–1,300 birds) where the Eastern European steppe zone ends, near Dévaványa town and also in the Hortobágy National Park, Nagykunság and Nagy-Sárrét regions. The population is down from a population of 10,000–12,000 before the Second World War.

Agrienvironment schemes as unirrigated legumes fostered a population increase of great bustards in Castilla y Leon, central Spain.[57]

Threats and conservation status

The great bustard is classified as vulnerable at the species level. There are myriad threats faced by great bustards. Increasing human disturbance could lead to habitat loss caused by the ploughing of grasslands, intensive agriculture, afforestation, increased development of irrigation schemes, and the construction of roads, power lines, fencing and ditches. Mechanisation, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, fire and predation by dogs are serious threats for chicks and juveniles, and hunting of adults contributes to high mortality in some of their range countries. Agricultural activity is a major disturbance at nest and, in Hungary, few successful nests are found outside of protected areas.[53]

Bustards, despite their large size, are able to fly at high speed and are often mutilated or killed by overhead electricity cables, which are placed in the West Pannonia region of Eastern Austria and Western Hungary just at their flying height. The electricity companies affected have buried part of the dangerous cables, and have marked remaining aerial parts with fluorescent markers to warn off the birds. These measures have rapidly reduced bustard mortality.[53][58] Bustards are also occasionally killed by collisions with automobiles or by entanglement in wires.[53]

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Wood engraving by Thomas Bewick in his A History of British Birds, 1797; he was concerned about their probable local extinction. A horseman and greyhound gallop after another bustard in the background.

The great bustard was formerly native in Great Britain and a bustard forms part of the design of the Wiltshire Coat of Arms and as supporters for the Cambridgeshire arms.[59] As early as 1797, the naturalist and wood engraver Thomas Bewick commented in his A History of British Birds that "Both this [the little bustard] and the Great Bustard are excellent eating, and would well repay the trouble of domestication; indeed, it seems surprising, that we should suffer these fine birds to be in danger of total extinction, although, if properly cultivated, they might afford as excellent a repast as our own domestic poultry, or even as the Turkey, for which we are indebted to distant countries."[60] Bewick's prediction was correct; the great bustard was hunted out of existence in Britain by the 1840s.

In 2004, a project overseeing the reintroduction to Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire using eggs taken from Saratov in Russia was undertaken by The Great Bustard Group, a UK Registered Charity that aims to establish a self-sustaining population of great bustards in the UK. The reintroduced birds have laid eggs and raised chicks in Britain in 2009 and 2010. Although the great bustard was once native to Britain, great bustards are considered an alien species under English law.[61] The reintroduction of the great bustard to the UK by the Great Bustard Group is being carried out in parallel with researchers from the University of Bath who are providing insight into the habitat of native great bustard populations in Russia and Hungary. On January 19, 2011, it was announced that the Great Bustard Project had been awarded EU LIFE+ funding, reportedly to the tune of £1.8 million.[62] In Hungary, where the species is the national bird, great bustards are actively protected. The Hungarian authorities are seeking to preserve the long-term future of the population by active protection measures; the area affected by the special ecological treatment had grown to 15 km2 (5.8 sq mi) by the summer of 2006.

Under the auspices of the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), also known as the Bonn Convention, the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the Conservation and Management of Middle-European Populations of the Great Bustard was concluded and came into effect on June 1, 2001. The MoU provides a framework for governments, scientists, conservation bodies and others to monitor and coordinate conservation efforts in order to protect the middle-European populations of the great bustard.

Notes

  1. ^ "proximae iis sunt quas Hispania aves tardas appellat, Graecia ωτιδος damnatas in cibis; emissa enim ossibus medulla odoris taedium extemplo sequitur." [Next to these are the birds that Spain calls tardae and Greece otides, which are condemned as an article of diet, because when the marrow is drained out of their bones a disgusting smell at once follows.][6]

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Great bustard: Brief Summary

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The great bustard (Otis tarda) is a bird in the bustard family, the only member of the genus Otis. It breeds in open grasslands and farmland from northern Morocco, South and Central Europe, to temperate Central and East Asia. European populations are mainly resident, but Asian populations migrate farther south in winter. It has been listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List since 1996.

Portugal and Spain now have about 60% of the world's population. It became extinct in Great Britain when the last bird was shot in 1832. Recent attempts to reintroduce it into England have met with some success and there is a population of 40 birds on Salisbury Plain, a British Army training area. Here the lack of public access allows them the freedom needed as a large ground-nesting bird.

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