Great Bustard is a large bird in the Bustard family, unrelated to other large bird species such as turkeys or geese. Great Bustards can fly, and are the heaviest flying animal alive today. Great Bustards can be found across Europe, as far south as Spain, Turkey and as far north as the Russian steppes. Most members of the Bustard family are smaller than the Great Bustard only the Kori Bustard and the Great Indian Bustard are of a similar size. Male Great Bustards grow about 30% larger than the females, reaching up to one metre tall and weighing up to 16kg. The heaviest recorded Great Bustard weighed in at 21kg. The conservation status of the Great Bustard is listed as vulnerable, with populations in many countries being in decline.

Great Bustards are most likely to have evolved in dry tropical grassland plains, but since man’s extensive forest clearances and cultivation of land, open habitat has increased. Great Bustards are now found across continental middle latitudes, especially the steppe zone, but penetrate into temperate, Mediter ranean, marginal boreal and oceanic climates. They favour lowlands, river valleys, and undulating open country, avoiding steep or rocky terrain, deserts, wetlands, forests, and savannas or parklands with more than isolated or small clumps of trees. Although traditionally a bird of expansive grass plains, they have adapted well to modern agricultural landscapes. Arable fields bearing crops such as oil seed rape and lucerne now appear to be more attractive than natural steppe, although farmland areas with high agricultural disturbance near human settlements are often avoided.

Females typically become sexually mature from two years of age and males typically from four years. Great Bustards have a mating system termed ‘lekking’. Males compete for females with an elaborate visual display. Females appear to visit several males before copulating and appear to be very selective in their choice of mate. Mating success is strongly skewed, with the majority of matings performed by a small proportion of males at a lek site. No pair bonds are formed and pairings may differ from year to year. During the display, males appear to grow in size and change colour from brown to white. This is done by ruffling the feathers and inflating a special balloon-like structure in the neck called the gular pouch. The wing feathers are twisted forward and fan out, and the tail is cocked right up and over onto the back. The head is drawn onto the back also, as the gular pouch is inflated, pushing the white whiskers upwards. The displaying male usually stands still or stomps his feet and swings his inflated neck.

Great Bustards nest on the ground, making a small depression and sometimes lining it with a few pieces of vegetation. Two eggs are normally laid, although occasionally one or three may be laid. Eggs weigh about 150g and average around 80mm tall by 57mm wide. They vary in colour from grey to green or brownish, with darker blotches. The eggs take around four weeks to hatch. Newly hatched chicks are about 20 cm long and weigh about 100g. They are a greyish colour with dark brown or black markings. The chicks are nidifugous, meaning they are able to leave the nest site soon after hatching. Although they can walk almost immediately, the chicks cannot feed themselves for the first few days so the mother feeds them insects bill to bill. As the chicks develop they gradually feed independently for a larger proportion of the time.

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