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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; it almost meets the requirements for listing as threatened under criteria A2cd+3cd+4cd. Recent increases in the east of its range are so far unquantified, and require further study.

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
This species 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] although this is thought to be an underestimate [J. Kamp in litt. 2015]), Ukraine (100-110 individuals [Y. Andryuschenko in litt. 1999]), north-west China, northern Iran and Turkey (5-50 breeding males [BirdLife International 2015]). Its western range covers Spain (71-147,000 individuals comprising 41,482-86,195 breeding males [García de la Morena, et al. 2006, BirdLife International 2015], down from 100,000-200,000 males in the 1990s [De Juana and Martínez 1996]) and Portugal (13,250-21,771 breeding males [BirdLife International 2015]), with smaller populations in Italy (352 breeding males [BirdLife International 2015]), France (1,350-2,350 displaying males [BirdLife International 2015]) and Morocco.

Eastern populations winter from Turkey and the Caucasus to Iran (estimated 5,000-10,000 wintering birds [Sehhatisabet et al. 2012]), 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 more than 100,000 in autumn 2011 [Heiss 2013]) 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) and the latest European assessment estimated 122,000-240,000 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015). 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 strongly in Spain (46% decline between 1998 and 2012 [BirdLife International 2015]). In Portugal, the population appears to be stable, and eastern populations are said to have increased in recent years (E. García in litt. 2007) although the most recent assessment for the European Red List of Birds did not provide a trend direction for the Portuguese population. 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) was previously estimated at a minimum of c. 240,000 individuals (C. Martínez in litt. 1999). The European population alone was recently estimated to be 122,000-240,000 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015). The eastern population is likely to be of a similar size to the Iberian population (J. Kamp in litt. 2015). The population is therefore placed in the band 100,000-499,999 individuals.

Trend justification
The European population is estimated to be declining by 30-49% in three generations (30.9 years) (BirdLife International 2015). There is little evidence to suggest that the population in Kazakhstan has declined and surveys in central and northern Kazakhstan show that densities did not decrease between 2008-2009 and 2015 (J. Kamp in litt. 2015). Wintering flocks in Azerbaijan are not thought to have declined (J. Kamp in litt. 2015). Given that Europe holds around 40% of the global breeding range, but may hold as much as 80-90% of the global population and the Central Asian population may be exposed to the same threats as the western European population (e.g. agricultural change [Kamp et al. 2011] and power lines [Voronova et al. 2012]), the overall population is estimated to be in moderately rapid decline.

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 (Morales et al. 2013) 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 and 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 and Research 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 five (four in France) years. The number of protected areas established in steppe habitats in those countries has increased.

Conservation and Research 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., Havlík, 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.

BirdLife International. 2015. European Red List of Birds. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg.

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. 1996. Distribution and conservation status of the Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax in the Iberian Peninsula. Ardeola 43: 157-167.

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

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 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.

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.

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).

Heiss, M. 2013. The importance of Besh Barmag bottleneck (Azerbaijan) for Eurasian migrant birds. Acta Ornithologica 48(2): 151-164.

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.

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.

IUCN. 2015. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015-4. Available at: (Accessed: 19 November 2015).

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.; Viñuela, 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.

Morales, M., Traba, J., Delgado, M.P. and García de la Morena, E. 2013. The Use of Fallows by Nesting Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax Females: Implications for Conservation in Mosaic Cereal Farmland. Ardeola 60(1): 85-97.

Sehhatisabet, M.E., Abdi, F., Ashoori, A., Khaleghizadeh, A., Khani, A., Rabiei, K. and Shakiba, M. 2012. Preliminary assessment of distribution and population size of wintering Little Bustards Tetrax tetrax in Iran. Bird Conservation International 22(3): 279-287.

Voronova, V.V., Pulikova, G.I., Kim, K.K., Andreeva, E.V., Bekker, V.R. and Aitbaev, T. 2012. The Impact of Power Lines on Bird Mortality in Central Kazakhstan. Raptors Conservation 24: 52-60.

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. & Ashpole, J

Andryucshenko, Y., Bretagnolle, V., Jolivet, C., Martínez, C., Petkov, N., Antonchikov, A., García de la Morena, E., Kamp, J. & Praveen, J.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Tetrax tetrax. Downloaded from on 26/11/2015. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2015) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 26/11/2015.

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