Bustard Appearance

And Courtship in the Breeding Season

The Great Bustard and its Reintroduction to the UK

Bustard Appearance and Breeding Season Courtship

Food, Habitat and Range of the Bustard

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Continued from The Great Bustard and its Reintroduction to the UK

Bustard Appearance

The Great Bustard is the the World's heaviest flying bird.  The male bird weighs up to 18 kilograms.

An adult male measures almost 4 feet from the end of its tail to the tip of its bill.  The span of its wings is up to 260 cm and the bird reaches a height of around 104 cm, standing as high as a roe-deer.  The female Great Bustard is much smaller, being up to 8 kg in weight and around half the size of the male bird.

The bill is of average size, but can seem to be more lengthy than it actually is, due to the bustard's particulaly flat head.

The neck of the bustard is quite thick, and both the head and neck are light gray, the back being an attractive brown and black.  The underparts are of a white colour.  The secondaries and greater wing-coverts are white, which creates a striking contrast with the black primaries when the bustard is in flight.  The ear-coverts of both genders are quite long, which is probably where the Otis part of the bird's scientific latin name  is derived from.  The male has a long tuft of conspicuous bristly white feathers which sprout from both sides of the base of the mandible.

One particularly conspicuous characteristic of the Great Bustard's appearance is the existence of a pouch or gular sack which opens below the tongue. This curious peculiarity was first identifid by the Scottish Physician James Douglas, and was publicly announced in 1740 by the English naturaist Eleazar Albin.  However, even 60 years prior to this, physician Sir Thomas Browne MD made some indication of the existence of this feature.  It was once believed that the pouch served as a water container from which the bustard could drink, or supply its fellow birds with drinking water when in dry areas. This idea has long been discarded and it is now understood that the male Great Bustard uses this pouch in its mating display.  During the male's display the pouch is inflated and the thin wisp-like feathers which cover the pouch stand up on end.

The existence and structure of this gular sac varies depending on the species of bustard.  For example, Garrod's researches in the 19th Century showed that in the Australian Bustard (Ardeotis australis), rather than having a sack or pouch, the bird simply possesses a highly dilated oesophagus, which can be expanded in size at the Bustard's will, giving much the same effect and appearance as the sack of the Great Bustard.

The Bustard and Breeding Season Courtship

The thickness of the male bustard's neck is particularly evident during the breeding season.  During this period the bustard makes an effort almost as impressive as some of  the courtship displays of the Bird of Paradise. The male bustard is polygamous and usually carries its tail in an upward attitude during the breeding season.  During courtship the tail is turned forwards whilst the male draws his neck and head rearwards along his back, lowering his wings at the same time and erecting the shorter feathers.  In this position the he looks very odd to us humans (although I guess it must be highly attractive to the female bustards), as the neck, head are all virtually buried among the erect feathers, and the male bird's breast sticks out extraordinarily.  During the height of the breeding season the male bustard has a streak of deep brown (or a claret-like colour in some birds) which runs down from each shoulder, forming a wide collar on his breast.
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