Great Bustard

The Great Bustard (Otis tarda) is a species of bird of the bustard family. It is found in southern and central Europe, where it is the largest species of bird. It is also found across much of temperate Asia. Populations in Europe are mainly resident, but the Asian population move further south for the winter months. It is declining due to habitat loss through much of its range. It is extinct on the British Isles, and in the Bărăgan region of Romania. There are still large populations found in Hungary, Portugal, Slovakia, Russia and Spain. Two very rare albino Great Bustards that came from the same nest were killed by electricity cables in Hungary in 2000 and 2003.

The male Great Bustard is possibly the heaviest bird still existing that is capable of flight, along with the similarly-sized Kori Bustard. The adult male weighs between 22 and 35 pounds. The largest known bird was 46 pounds. Reports of larger birds are not verified. The Great Bustard grows to 36 to 44 inches long with an 83 to 98 inch wingspan. The adult male is brown above and white below. It has a long gray neck and head. The breast and lower sides of the neck or chestnut colored. The male has long, white neck bristles in the breeding season. The female is only about two-thirds (30 inches) the size of the male, and only half (6 to 11 lbs) the weight. Both sexes are silent. The young resemble the adult female.

Males molt into breeding plumage around January, before the mating season begins. Like other bustards, the male Great Bustard has a flamboyant display showing much white, mainly from the undertail, and withdrawing the head. Breeding begins in March, and a single male may have up to 5 females to mate with. Molting begins again for all great bustards from June to September. The female lays 2 or 3 tan colored, glossy eggs in a small ground scrape. Incubation lasts about 4 weeks and the chicks leave the nest almost immediately after being hatched, though they do not stray far from their mother until they are about one year old. Males start mating at around 5 years of age. Most bustards live for 10 years, though some may live as long as 15 years.

This bird’s habitat is open grassland, although it can be found on undisturbed cultivation. It has a stately slow walk, and tends to run when disturbed rather than fly. It is gregarious, especially in winter. This species is omnivorous, taking seeds, insects and other small creatures, including frogs and beetles. The bustards, despite their large size, are able to fly at a high velocity (more than 35 mph) and are often mutilated or killed by the cables which are placed in Hungary just at their flying heights.

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