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Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax

This species is listed as Near Threatened because it is probably experiencing a moderately rapid overall population decline, driven by rapid declines in the west of its range, owing mainly to habitat loss and degradation, as well as low-level hunting pressure. Recent increases in the east of its range are so far unquantified, and require further study. Such data may have implications for the overall population trend and listing of the species.

Taxonomic source(s)
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: # _the_WP15.xls#.
Cramp, S.; Perrins, C. M. 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

Distribution and population
Tetrax tetrax has two widely separated breeding populations. In its eastern range it occurs in Russia (likely to have been previously underestimated at 9,000 displaying males as 14,000-17,000 individuals were reported in one region alone [Orenburg] in the last two years [A. Antonchikov in litt. 2012]), Georgia (60 non-breeding individuals [E. García in litt. 2007]), Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan (c.20,000 individuals and likely to be increasing [N. Petkov in litt. 2012]), Ukraine (100-110 individuals [Y. Andryuschenko in litt. 1999]), north-west China, northern Iran and Turkey (20-100 pairs [Eken and Magnin 1999]). Its western range covers Spain (71-147,000 individuals comprising 41,482-86,195 breeding males [García de la Morena, et al. 2006], down from 100,000-200,000 males in the 1990s [De Juana and Martínez 1996]) and Portugal (c.17,500 displaying males [E. García in litt. 2007]), with smaller populations in Italy (1,515-2,220 individuals [E. García in litt. 2007]), France (1,677-1875 displaying males in 2008 [Jolivet 2009]) and Morocco. Eastern populations winter from Turkey and the Caucasus to Iran, and erratically elsewhere in south Asia, with Azerbaijan holding the main wintering quarters (over 150,000 individuals in 2005-2006 [Gauger 2007, E. García in litt. 2007]) and sightings in the winter of 2010 report 25,000 and 50,000-70, 000 individuals in Adjinohur valley and Shirvan National Park respectively (Gauger and Heiß 2010). Western populations winter in the Mediterranean zone, with the Iberian peninsula holding the most important wintering quarters (a minimum of 16,429-35,929 and 11,200 individuals in Spain and Portugal, respectively) (E. García in litt. 2007). The global population (excluding Kazakhstan) was estimated at a minimum of c.240,000 individuals in the late 1990s (C. Martínez in litt. 1999), but it may be substantially lower than this, due to the re-evaluation of the size of the Spanish population (García et al. 2007). Whilst it remains widespread and numerous, in some parts of its range it has declined dramatically since the 19th century, leading to extinctions in at least 11 European countries, Algeria, Tunisia and probably as a breeding bird in Azerbaijan. The species has now disappeared from mainland Italy, where it occurred in Apulia, and it is presently declining in France and Spain (V. Bretagnolle in litt. 2007). In Portugal, the population appears to be stable, and eastern populations are said to have increased in recent years (E. García in litt. 2007). The population in the Eurasian steppe belt is thought to have recovered due to an increase in fallow land during the transition process of the former Soviet Union (Gauger 2007).

Population justification
The global population (excluding c.20,000 individuals in Kazakhstan) has been estimated at a minimum of c.240,000 individuals (C. Martínez in litt. 1999).

Trend justification
Despite some local population increases reported (e.g. Kazakhstan [N. Petkov in litt. 2012]), overall the population is estimated to be in decline owing to ongoing habitat destruction.

This species inhabits dry grassland and, in Europe, it also occurs in areas of low-intensity arable cultivation and pastoral land, selecting areas with a high diversity of ground cover such as mosaics of pasture, stubble fields, long-rotation fallow land and legume crops. The species has been observed to form mixed-species flocks with Pin-tailed Sandgrouse Pterocles alchata in Iberian regions and France (Martin et al. 2010). Wintering birds in Azerbaijan prefer semi-desert and steppe areas under winter pasturing, and avoid areas of intensive agriculture (Gauger 2007).

The primary cause of its decline has been conversion of dry grassland and low-intensity cultivation to intensive arable agriculture, especially where this has included the planting of monocultures or perennial crops, irrigation or afforestation. The fragmentation of traditional habitats, by means of agricultural intensification or infrastructure development, negatively affects habitat availability and quality for the species, as well as male density (E. García in litt. 2007, García et al. 2007) as displaying males exhibit a preference for old and same-year fallows which offer shelter and food (Delgado et al. 2010). The use of pesticides could reduce food availability (E. García in litt. 2007). Harvesting with modern farm machinery, operated at high speed and often during the night, is the key threat to females and nests in Europe and is the cause for the observed male-biased sex structure and low fecundity (Iñigo and Barov 2010). Farm machinery accounts for 40% of clutch failure in southwest France (Inchausti & Bretagnolle, 2005). Conversion to intensive arable agriculture continues to be the primary threat and cause of continuing declines in Europe (E. García in litt. 2007) and is predicted to cause declines in the eastern population in the near future (Kamp et al. in press). It also suffers from illegal hunting (Y. Andryuschenko in litt. 1999), although this is a minor threat (V. Bretagnolle in litt. 2007). The collision of birds with overhead powerlines is a locally important cause of mortality (E. García in litt. 2007). The release of farm-reared gamebirds could eventually introduce new pathogens to wild populations of T. tetrax (E. García in litt. 2007). In Azerbaijan, the main threats are disturbance from intensive land use (mainly heavy grazing), habitat loss to infrastructure development and probably hunting (Gauger 2007). Climate change effects could lead to shorter rainy seasons and reduced winter precipitation in Southern Europe which could have a detrimental effect on habitat quality for the species (Delgado et al. 2009, Delgado and Moreira 2010)

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. A European action plan was published in 2001 (E. García in litt. 2007), its implementation reviewed in 2010 (Barov and Derhé 2011) and updated in 2010 (Iñigo and Barov 2010). A species action plan for the species in Sardinia is in preparation. In Catalonia, Management Plans for the SPA with a Little Bustard population have been developed. The species has been the subject of several LIFE Nature projects in Portugal, Spain, France and Italy. France and Spain have attempted a joint programme of reinforcement of the populations in Central and Western France by release of captive-bred chicks during 2006-2009. In France, targeted agri-environmental measures (MAET) have been developed and tested in the region of Poitou-Charentes. Management agreements have been elaborated and signed with farmers, which are believed to have led to an increase of the affected populations (Leitão et al. 2006, Bamière et al. 2011, Bretagnolle et al. 2011). In France, Spain and Portugal national census takes place every 5 (4 in France) years. The number of protected areas established in steppe habitats in those countries has increased.
Conservation Actions Proposed
Carry out coordinated surveys to obtain an up-to-date estimate for the total population. Continue to conduct surveys to monitor population trends. Preserve habitat and alter land-use practices through EU and national policies. Work with land-owners to manage land favourably and reduce hunting. Reduce hunting pressure through awareness campaigns. Ensure fields with permanent cover on arable land through agri-environmental schemes using rotations and fallow land. Eliminate dangerous powerlines.

Related state of the world's birds case studies

Bamière, L., Havlã­k, P., Jacquet, F., Lherm, M., Milleta, G., Bretagnolle, V. 2011. Farming system modelling for agri-environmental policy design: the case of spatially non-aggregated allocation of conservation measures. Ecological Economics 70: 891-899.

Barov, B and Derhé, M. A. 2011. Review of The Implementation Of Species Action Plans for Threatened Birds in the European Union 2004-2010. Final report. BirdLife International For the European Commission.

Bretagnolle, V.; Villers, A.; Denonfoux, L.; Cornulier, T.; Inchausti, P.; Badenhausser, I. 2011. Rapid recovery of a depleted population of Little Bustards Tetrax tetrax following provision of alfalfa through an agri-environment scheme. Ibis 153(1): 4-13.

De Juana, E. 2009. The dramatic decline of the Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax in Extramadura (Spain). Ardeola 56(1): 119-125.

de Juana, E.; Martínez, C. 1999. European Species Action Plan. Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax: draft action plan. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.

De Juana, E.; Martínez, C. 1996. Distribution and conservation status of the Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax in the Iberian Peninsula. Ardeola 43: 157-167.

Delgado, A.; Moreira, F. 2010. Between-year variations in Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax population densities are influenced by agricultural intensification and rainfall. Ibis 152: 633-642.

Delgado, M. P.; Morales, M. B.; Traba, J.; de la Morena, E. L. G. 2009. Determining the effects of habitat management and climate on the population trends of a declining steppe bird. Ibis 151(3): 440-451.

Delgado, M. P.; Traba, J.; García de la Morena, E. L.; Morales, M. B. 2010. Habitat selection and density-dependent relationships in spatial occupancy by male Little Bustards Tetrax tetrax. Ardea 98(2): 185-194.

Eken, G.; Magnin, G. 1999. A preliminary biodiversity atlas of the Konya Basin, Central Turkey. Dogal Hayat Koruma Dernegi, Istanbul.

García, J.; Suárez-Seoane, S.; Miguélez, D.; Osborne, P. E.; Zumalacárregui, C. 2007. Spatial analysis of habitat quality in a fragmented population of Little Bustard (Tetrax tetrax): implications for conservation. Biological Conservation 137(1): 45-56.

García de la Morena, E. L.; Bota, G.; Ponjoan, A.; Morales, M. B. 2006. El sisón común en España: i censo nacional (2005). SEO/BirdLife, Madrid.

Gauger, K. 2007. Occurrence, ecology and conservation of wintering Little BustardsTetrax tetrax in Azerbaijan. Archiv für Naturschutz und Landschaftsforschung 46(2): 5-27.

Gauger, K., and Heiß, M. 2010. Winter trip 2010: Birdwatching news and bird photography from Transcaucasia. Available at: (Accessed: 21December).

Inchausti, P.; Bretagnolle, V. 2005. Predicting short-tern extinction risk for the declining Little Bustard (Tetrax tetrax) in intensive agricultural habitats. Biological Conservation 122: 375-384.

Iñigo, A.; Barov, B. 2010. Action plan for the Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax in the European Union. SEO/BirdLife and BirdLife International for the European Commission.

Jolivet, C. 1997. L'Outarde canepetière en France: le declin s'accentue. Ornithos 4(2): 73-77.

Jolivet, C. 2009. Effectifs et répartition de l'Outarde canepetière Tetrax tetrax en France en 2008. Ornithos 16(4): 214-219.

Kamp, J., Urazaliev, R., Donald, P., Hölzel, N. 2011. Post-Soviet agricultural change predicts future declines after recent recovery in Eurasian steppe bird populations. Biological Conservation (in press).

Leitão, D.; Jolivet, C.; Rodríguez, M.; Tavares, J. P. 2006. Bustard conservation [in Europe in the last 15 years]. RSPB/BirdLife, Sandy, U.K.

Martin, C. A.; Casas, F.; Mougeot, F.; García, J. T.; Viuela, J. 2010. Positive interactiions between vulnerable species in agrarian pseudo-steppes: habitat use by Pin-tailed Sandgrouse depends on its association with the Little Bustard. Animal Conservation 13(4): 383-389.

Further web sources of information
Detailed regional assessment and species account from the European Red List of Birds (BirdLife International, 2015)

Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

Detailed species accounts from the Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book (BirdLife International 2001).

European Union Species Action Plan

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Capper, D., Derhé, M., O'Brien, A., Taylor, J.

Andryucshenko, Y., Bretagnolle, V., García, E., Jolivet, C., Martínez, C., Petkov, N., Antonchikov, A.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Tetrax tetrax. Downloaded from on 10/10/2015. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2015) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 10/10/2015.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Little bustard (Tetrax tetrax) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Near Threatened
Family Otididae (Bustards)
Species name author (Linnaeus, 1758)
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 990,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- 2015 European Red List assessment