Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles orientalis) – request for information from Central Asia

This discussion was first published as part of the 2015 Red List update. At the time a decision regarding its status was pended, but to enable potential reassessment of this species as part of the 2017 Red List update this post remains open and the date of posting has been updated.

Black-bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles orientalis breeds in Iberia and NW Africa (including the Canary Islands), and from Turkey east through southern Central Asia to NW China, and south to Iran and Pakistan, with some birds wintering further south in the Middle East and NW India (de Juana & Boesman 2013). It is currently listed as Least Concern, because when last assessed it was not thought to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under any of the IUCN Red List criteria.

Globally, it has an extremely large range in both the breeding season (>5 million km2) and in winter (>4 million km2), and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criteria (B and D2). Its population size is poorly known but probably very large, with 21,000–38,000 mature individuals in Europe alone (BirdLife International 2015) and several hundred thousand in Central Asia (E. Kreuzberg in litt. 2008), and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criteria (C and D1). Therefore, the only potentially relevant criterion is A, which relates to reductions in population size. Until recently, the population was thought to be declining slowly, but not sufficiently rapidly to approach the threshold for listing as Vulnerable under criterion A (at least a 30% decline over ten years or three generations, whichever is longer).

New data collated from across Europe for the European Red List of Birds (BirdLife International 2015) indicate that the species has declined significantly in recent years, and that this decline is ongoing. A combination of official data reported by 27 EU Member States to the European Commission under Article 12 of the EU Birds Directive and comparable data from other European countries, provided by BirdLife Partners and other leading national ornithologists, suggests that the European breeding population has declined overall by 55–75% over the last three generations (16.8 years, based on a generation length estimated by BirdLife to be 5.6 years), driven by steep declines in Spain and Turkey. Consequently, the species is now classified as Endangered at European level (BirdLife International 2015).

However, only around 15% of the species’ global breeding range occurs in Europe, so globally its status depends on trends in NW Africa, the Middle East and especially Central Asia.

Information from elsewhere in the global range:


The Thar Desert was formerly a very important wintering area, with thousands observed at waterholes during the 1980s and historical hunting records indicating its former abundance. Local people report that the species has now been absent for many years, and during an 18-day survey in 2014 the species was absent (A. Rahmani in litt. 2014).

Although the species may always have been somewhat irregular in its appearance in India, its non-appearance for many years suggests a major decline in the visiting population, or just possibly a change in winter distribution, has taken place.


A possible 1,000-1,500 pairs bred in the Negev in 1983-1986 (Shirihai 1996) but the four sandgrouse species breeding in the Negev have reportedly decreased by some 80-90% as a result of continuing land-use change, decreasing rainfall and increased poaching (Perlman 2013).


“Uncommon to locally common” (Thévenot et al. 2003). Not listed on the 2014 national Red List.

Further information is sought about its current population status and recent trends beyond Europe, along with any additional information about the threats affecting this species across its range.


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

de Juana, E. & Boesman, P. (2013). Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles orientalis). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2013). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

Perlman, Y. 2013. Sandgrouse monitoring. Israeli birder in Norfolk – Yoav Perlman’s blog

Shirihai, H. 1996. The birds of Israel. Academic Press, London.

Thévenot, M.; Vernon, R.; Bergier, P. 2003. The birds of Morocco: an annotated checklist. British Ornithologists’ Union, Tring, U.K.

EDIT 09/09/15:

The attached PDF shows the map from Kazakhstan referred to by Raffael Ayé in his post of 07 September – please see this for further details.

Pterocles orientalis Ayé 2015

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9 Responses to Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles orientalis) – request for information from Central Asia

  1. Anand Krishnan says:

    There have been recent records of this species, and the Spotted sandgrouse, from Rajasthan, India; look up the Oriental Bird Club Image database. My comment is more one of curiosity, though: why is this species up for consideration, but not the Spotted, Pin-tailed or Crowned Sandgrouse? Studies within the Negev desert (see this paper: suggest that the Pin-tailed sandgrouse is the least abundant of four sandgrouse species, and the link you cite above mentions that it is faring the worst of the four. I’m not aware (though I may be missing information) that it has been recorded recently in India…OBI doesn’t have any images of it from there. The Fauna of British India notes it as historically “occurring abundantly in winter in Western Punjab and Northern Sind, and has been found as far as Delhi…”. Also see this link: ( Sandgrouse are popular game birds, and with other species in the region threatened by hunting (bustards, for instance), would it not be prudent to review all four species (and perhaps others, such as Lichtenstein’s), particularly with the magnitude of the apparent decline in Israel? Certainly hunting pressure is likely to be higher in other range states.

  2. Praveen J says:

    I would request Harkirat Singh Sangha to comment on the decline of wintering Black-bellied Sandgrouse in Rajasthan, we have discussed this between us a number of times. While I agree with the above comment from Mr. Anand Krishnan that all Sandgrouses (infact most grassland dependent birds) must be undergoing a decline, I must point out that Pin-tailed Sandgrouse has been historically rare in India (< 10 records) while the last definite one was in 1902 (Nurse 1902).
    Nurse, C. G. 1902. Sandgrouse in northern Gujarat. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. XIV: (2) 387–388

    • Anand Krishnan says:

      To Mr. Praveen: You are, of course, right. I’m curious though, even if historically rare, wouldn’t a lack of records for over a century suggest a westward retreat in range? With regards to the Black-bellied sandgrouse, there are 30+ specimens in US museums from Sirsa and Hisar in Haryana, collected in the 1930s. Has it been recorded recently outside of Rajasthan? Also, historically the Spotted sandgrouse was reported in ‘thousands’ from Kutch (M. Vijayarajji, 1943, JBNHS). Is that still the case? I wonder if the decline of Black-bellied sandgrouse is part of a larger trend of decline. The four species mentioned above overlap in range across the Middle East and Northern Africa, so any threatening processes affecting the Black-bellied sandgrouse could be affecting the other three as well.

      Vijayarajji, M., 1942: Early arrival of the spotted sand-grouse in Kutch. Jour Bombay Nat Hist Soc: 660

  3. Sureyya Isfendiyaroglu says:

    The former large flocks accounting from several hundred up to thousand individuals in Central and East Anatolia are visually absent in the last decade.

  4. Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

    Preliminary proposals

    Based on available information, our preliminary proposal for the 2015 Red List would be to pend the decision on Black-bellied Sandgrouse and keep this discussion open until 2016, while leaving the current Red List category unchanged in the 2015 update.

    Further information from North Africa and Central Asia is needed before the global status can be resolved.

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline of 31 August, after which recommended categorisations will be put forward to IUCN.

    The final Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife website in late October and on the IUCN website in November, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

  5. Raffael Ayé says:

    Tobias Roth, Manuel Schweizer, Roman Kashkarov, Oleg Mitropolskiy and myself have built up a database of bird records from Central Asia (AFG, KAZ, KGZ, TJK, TKM, UZB). While the below considerations heavily rely on their work and specifically on Tobias’s calculations, my four colleagues may or may not agree with the interpretations and conclusions.

    We have taken all observations (n=10’326) from the last ten years (1st Jan 2006 up to today) and then defined the previous period with the same number (10’326) of observations. That period is 1962 to 2005 (with a bias towards recent years).

    For each period, Tobias plotted all 10’326 observations on a map and added the observations of the target species in red. Plotting all 10’326 observations gives an idea, where ornithologists who provided data for our database were active. And the red crosses give an idea of the distribution of the target species. The comparison of the two maps might give hints to changes in the distribution.

    We did this for Black-bellied Sandgrouse, European Turtle-Dove and European Roller.

    The maps need to be interpreted with a lot of caution. There are numerous data sources included in the database and there may be numerous unknown factors that influence the probability of encountering the three species. To give just one example, we do not know, whether all observers diligently recorded observations of these relatively common species.

    For both Black-bellied Sandgrouse and European Roller, there are changes in the “apparent distribution” between the two periods. Most changes look like they could be caused by data availability (no or very limited data from a specific region, not only target species missing). If anything, these four maps rather look like these two species had a wider distribution in the last ten years than in the previous period. However, this cannot be concluded with any certainty.

    For the European Turtle-Dove, the two maps might be consistent with a range loss or with a lower encounter probability in the second period. Notably, extensive areas within the breeding range of the species in Kazakhstan were visited by ornithologists, but yielded only very few data points in the last ten years.

    Additionally, we calculated the number of records (observations) and the mean number of individuals per record (“flock size”) of each of the three species for each of the two periods. Given that the total number of records is the same for both periods (10’326), a naive assumption and my null hypothesis is that the number of records and the “flock size” should be similar in both periods.

    B-b Sandgrouse: 29 and 57 records; 30.5 and 42.6 ind/record.
    European Roller: 73 and 69 records; 7.0 and 6.2 ind/record.
    Eur. Turtle-Dove: 34 and 18 records; 5.4 and 4.2 ind/record.

    Again, these numbers should be interpreted with caution. The same factors as mentioned above, could also play a role here. Moreover, some observers just indicate a species as “present”, which is translated as “minimum of 1 ind.” in our database and will be calculated as one individual.

    The numbers look like they might suggest an increase in numbers of Black-bellied Sandgrouse and rather constant numbers of European Rollers. And the numbers look suggestive of a decrease of European Turtle-Dove.

    Taken together, the maps and the numbers fail to show evidence of a decline for Black-bellied Sandgrouse and European Roller. I think that, a strong or moderate decline of these two species is unlikely, while a weaker decline cannot be excluded due to limitations in our data and the simplistic approach. However, our limited data is suggestive of a decline of European Turtle-Dove in Central Asia over the last 2 to 4 decades. And this decline could possibly be moderate or even strong according to the data available.
    This is not rocket science. Given the heterogeneous data sources, we cannot be certain about these conclusions and I would be very happy to hear from ornithologists in the region whether their personal observations agree with these thoughts or not.

    Best regards,


  6. Ian Burfield (BirdLife) says:

    Roman Kashkarov (Executive Director, Uzbekistan Society for the Protection of Birds) has provided the following information, which Raffael Ayé has kindly translated from Russian into English:

    Reducing (harvesting?) the number of Bb Sandgrouse were significant when this species was very numerous, and it was easy and profitable to catch it. Now it is not. The relatively low number and remote desert habitat made this type of hunting unprofitable. Therefore, I believe that the number of Bb Sandgrouse in Uzbekistan is now low but stable.

  7. Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

    Recommended categorisation to be put forward to IUCN

    Following further review, there have been no changes to our preliminary proposal for the 2015 Red List status of this species.

    Further information from North Africa and Asia is needed before the global status can be resolved.

    The discussion will be kept open to enable further feedback ahead of the 2016 update, while leaving the current Red List category unchanged in the 2015 update.

  8. James Westrip (BirdLife) says:

    Based on available information, our proposal for the 2016 Red List would be to pend the decision on this species and keep this discussion open until 2017, while leaving the current Red List category unchanged in the 2016 update.

    Final 2016 Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in early December, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

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