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Great Bustard Otis tarda
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
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This species has suffered rapid population reductions across most of its range owing to the loss, degradation and fragmentation of its habitat, as well as hunting. Although populations in its Iberian stronghold have stabilised and possibly increased, hunting in Central Asia results in high rates of adult mortality, and land-use changes in eastern Europe, Russia and central Asia may have a significant impact on this species's population and the extent of its remaining habitat, such that it is likely to continue declining at a rapid rate over the next three generations. It therefore qualifies as Vulnerable. Should research show the species to be declining at a more moderate rate, it would warrant downlisting to a lower category of threat.

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.

75-105 cm. Large, grey-and-brown bustard. Grey head and neck, brown barred black above. White underparts with reddish-brown breast-band, developing with age in males. Males significantly larger than females and develop a gular pouch and long white whiskers during the breeding season. Upright stance and deliberate walk. In flight, powerful regular wing beats resemble an eagle, but does not glide. Voice Displaying males make hollow umb sound. Alarm call a short, nasal bark. Young birds have a soft, trilling call.

Distribution and population
Otis tarda breeds in Morocco (91-108 birds), Portugal (1,893 birds), Spain (29,400 - 34,300 birds), Austria (199-216 birds), Czech Republic (0-2 birds), Germany (114-116 birds), Slovakia (0-3 birds), Hungary (1,413-1,582 birds), Serbia and Montenegro (35-36 birds), Romania (0-8 birds), Turkey (400-1,000 birds), Iran (89-161 birds), Russia (8,000-12,000 birds), Ukraine (520 -680 birds), Kazakhstan (0-300 birds), Mongolia (c.1,000 birds [Palacín and Alonso 2008]), and China (c.500-3,300 birds [Chan and Goroshko 1998, Alonso and Palacín 2010, M. Kessler in litt. 2012]); and a reintroduction scheme is currently taking place in the United Kingdom. Its Palearctic range is becoming increasingly disjunct and there have been rapid declines and some extinctions throughout eastern and central Europe (Bulgaria, Poland, Moldova [Palacín and Alonso 2008]). Numbers have almost certainly declined in Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Turkey, Iran, and Morocco, and in most of the eastern distribution range (Chan and Goroshko 1998, Barati and Amerifar 2008, Palacín and Alonso 2008), along a with a range contraction due to the disappearance of smaller populations across the species's range (e.g. in Iberia [Alonso et al. 2003, Alonso et al. 2004] and Hungary [Faragó 1993]). In contrast, the species has increased in Hungary, Austria, and Germany, and there are possible increases in Spain and Portugal (Alonso and Palacín 2010). The previous fluctuating trend in Russia has changed to a rapid decrease during recent years (Antonchikov 2008, 2011). Recent trends are unknown in Ukraine and some parts of Asia. The world population is estimated to be between 44,054 and 57,005 individuals, of which c1,900-4,600 occur in east Asia (Alonso and Palacín 2010). Most populations are partially migratory and 8,000-10,000 birds occur on passage or in winter in Ukraine (Y. Andryucshenko in litt. 1999).

Population justification
Alonso and Palacín (2010) estimate the global population to number 44,054-57,005 individuals, rounded here to 44,000-57,000 individuals.

Trend justification
Despite a lack of accurate data on trends in several countries with important populations (e.g. Russia, Mongolia, China, Turkey, Ukraine), a rapid and on-going population decline is suspected overall, owing to habitat loss and fragmentation for agricultural intensification, as well as hunting and collision with power lines. Should research show the species to be declining at a more moderate rate, it would warrant downlisting to a lower threat category.

It occurs in open, flat or somewhat rolling landscapes, usually with a mixture of crops (cereals, vineyards, fodder plants, in some countries also with steppic grassland [J. C. Alonso in litt. 2012]). Areas with little or no disturbance and abundant supply of insects are required for successful breeding (Y. Andryucshenko in litt. 1999). Nest sites are selected in fallow or cereal fields (primarily alfalfa in Central Europe) in areas of low patch-type diversity, far from human infrastructure and with good horizontal visibility (Magaña et al. 2010). Highly variable migratory behaviour across populations, including obligate winter migrants (Asia, Russia), facultative migrants (central European populations) and partial winter and summer migrants with differential migratory pattern by sex (Iberian populations) (Morales et al. 2000, Alonso et al. 2000, 2001, Palacín et al. 2009, 2011)

Key threats are increased habitat degradation, fragmentation and loss due to agricultural intensification, land-use changes and infrastructure development which has the potential to increase following land privatisation in eastern Europe (S. Nagy in litt. 1999, 2007, Nagy 2009) and is occurring in China (Chan and Goroshko 1998). Habitat loss and fragmentation continues as a result of ploughing of grasslands, intensive grazing, afforestation and increasing development of irrigation schemes, roads, power-lines, fencing and ditches. Mechanisation, chemical fertilisers and pesticides, fire and predation all contribute to high mortality in eggs, chicks, juveniles and incubating females (Nagy 2009). Hunting is a major threat in Morocco, Syria, Turkey, Ukraine, China, Kazakhstan and Mongolia (Y. Andryucshenko in litt. 1999, Chan and Goroshko 1998, P. Goriup in litt. 2007, M. Kessler in litt. 2012) and is expected to intensify as the paved road network in Mongolia expands. Collision with power lines (J. C. Alonso in litt. 2007, Nagy 2009, M. Kessler in litt. 2012) and wind turbines are also significant threats (S. Nagy in litt. 2012).

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I and II, CMS Appendix I and II and CMS MoU in place since 2002. EU Wild Birds Directive Annex I, Bern Convention Annex II, Bonn Convention Annex I (S. Nagy in litt. 1999, 2007, P. Goriup in litt. 2007). A European action plan was published in 1996 and updated in 2009 (Nagy 2009) and an action plan for east Asian populations in 1998. Agri-environmental and land management programmes have been (successfully) implemented in Spain, Portugal, Austria, Hungary, Germany, Serbia. Artificial incubation and chick rearing projects have been established in Germany and Hungary since the 1970s. A UK reintroduction project began in 2003 with chicks imported from the Russian Federation (Dawes 2008). A LIFE Nature project for the species was implemented in Hungary during 2004-2008 with the aim of increasing in-situ protection of the species (Bankovics and Lóránt 2008). Other LIFE projects for the species have been implemented in Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria and Slovakia. Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct nationwide surveys in countries with currently low quality estimates, to confirm worldwide numbers and trends. Research limiting factors. Research wintering distribution in Russia, Ukraine and Asia. Protect and manage breeding and wintering areas. Upgrade existing and establish new protected areas in east Asia. Implement agri-environment measures for low-intensity farming. Prevent steppe fires, illegal hunting and collision with power-lines. Raise public awareness.

Related state of the world's birds case studies

Alonso, J. C.; Martín, C. A.; Alonso, J. A.; Palacín, C.; Magaña, M.; Lane, S. J. 2004. Distribution dynamics of a great bustard metapopulation throughout a decade: influence of conspecific attraction and recruitment. Biodiversity and Conservation 13: 1659-1674.

Alonso, J. C.; Morales, M. B.; Alonso, J.A. 2000. Partial migration, and lek and nesting area fidelity in female Great Bustards. Condor 102: 127-136.

Alonso, J. C.; Palacín, C. 2010. The world status and population trends of the Great Bustard (Otis tarda): 2010 update. Chinese Birds 1(2): 141-147.

Alonso, J.C., Martin, C.A., Palacin, C., Martin, B. and Magana, M. 2005. The great bustard Otis tarda in Andalusia, southern Spain: status, distribution and trends. Ardeola 52(1): 67-78.

Alonso, J.C., Palacin, C. and Martin, C.A. 2003. Status and recent trends of the great bustard (Otis tarda) population in the Iberian Peninsula. Biological Conservation 110(2): 185-195.

Antonchikov, A. N. 2008. The great bustard. In: Zubakin, V. and Lubimova, K. (eds), Rare avian species in the Important Bird Areas of Russia, pp. 45-50. Russian Bird Conservation Union., Moscow.

Antonchikov, A. N. 2011. Conservation of the great and little bustards in Volgograd region. Nauchnaya kniga, Saratov, Russia.

Bankovics, A.; Lóránt, M. 2008. Conservation of Otis tarda in Hungary - Layman's Report.

Barati, A.; Amerifar, A. A. 2008. On the status of the Great Bustard, Otis tarda Linnaeus, 1758 (Aves: Otididae) in Kurdistan Province, Iran. Zoology in the Middle East: 41-48.

Chan, S.; Goroshko, O. 1998. Action plan for the conservation of the Great Bustard. BirdLife Asia, Tokyo.

Dawes, A. 2008. Great Bustards: conservation through nest management and rear and release methods. Proceedings of a Great Bustard Group conference Salisbury, England, 26th - 29th November 2007. Great Bustard Group, Winterbourne Gunner, Wiltshire, UK.

Faragó, S. 1993. Development of Great Bustard populations in Hungary in the period 1981--1990. Folia Zoologica 42: 221-236.

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

Kollar, H. P. 1996. Action plan for the Great Bustard (Otis tarda). In: Heredia, B.; Rose, L.; Painter, M. (ed.), Globally threatened birds in Europe: action plans, pp. 245-260. Council of Europe, and BirdLife International, Strasbourg.

Magaña, M.; Alonso, J. C.; Martín, C. A.; Bautista, L. M.; Martín, B. 2010. Nest-site selection by Great Bustards Otis tarda suggests a trade-off between concealment and visibility. Ibis 152(1): 77-89.

Martin, C. A.; Alonso, J. C.; Morales, M. B.; Lane, S. J. 2001. Seasonal movements of male Great Bustards in central Spain. Journal of Field Ornithology 72: 504-508.

Morales, M. B., Alonso, J. C., Alonso, J. A. and Martín, E. 2000. Migration patterns in male great bustards (Otis tarda). Auk 117: 493-498.

Nagy, Szabolcs. 2009. International single species action plan for the Western Palearctic population of Great Bustard, Otis tarda tarda. BirdLife International on behlaf of the European Commission.

Palacín, C., Alonso, J. C., Alonso, J. A., Martín, C. A., Magaña, M. and Martín, B. 2009. Differential migration by sex in the great bustard: possible consequences of an extreme sexual size dimorphism. Ethology 115: 617-626.

Palacín, C., Alonso, J.C., Alonso, J.A., Martín, C.A. & Magaña, M. 2011. Cultural transmission and flexibility of partial migration patterns in a long-lived bird, the Great Bustard Otis tarda. Journal of Avian Biology 42: 301-308.

Palacín, C.; Alonson, J. C. 2008. An updated estimate of the world status and population trends of the Great Bustard Otis tarda. Ardeola 55(1): 13-25.

Pinto, M.; Rocha, P.; Moreira, F. 2005. Long-term trends in Great Bustard (Otis tarda) populations in Portugal suggest concentration in single high quality area. Biological Conservation 124: 415-423.

Further web sources of information
Action Plan for the Great Bustard in Europe

Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) Memorandum of Understanding and Conservation Plan

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

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).

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
Benstead, P., Capper, D., Derhé, M., Harding, M., Peet, N. & Symes, A.

Alonso, J. C., Andryucshenko, Y., Antonchikov, A., Goriup, P., Nagy, S. & Kessler, M.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Otis tarda. Downloaded from on 28/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 28/10/2016.

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.

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Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Great bustard (Otis tarda) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Vulnerable
Family Otididae (Bustards)
Species name author Linnaeus, 1758
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 440,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- 2015 European Red List assessment