Great bustard (Otis tarda)

Spanish: Avutarda, Avutarda Común
GenusOtis (1)
SizeLength: 75 – 105 cm (2)

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).

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).

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).

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

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.

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).

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).

For further information on the great bustard see:

You can see the great bustard by visiting the Salisbury Plain:

Authenticated (05/05/08) by Al Dawes, Project Officer, Great Bustard Group.

  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2004)
  2. BirdLife International (November, 2004)
  3. CITES (November, 2004)
  4. CMS (November, 2004)
  5. Dawes, A. (2008) Pers. comm.
  6. BirdLife International. (2001) Threatened Birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.