The Great Bustard, MacQueen’s Bustard (Asian Houbara), and Little Bustard are iconic species of the Eurasian steppes. The long-distance migrations and rapid growth of these birds in Eurasia are adaptations to harsh continental weather. Their predilection for walking and simple nests on the ground are fitting for the region's treeless grassland and desert expanses.

Though they may live close to human settlements and in agricultural fields, where they consume insect pests, many residents are unaware of their presence. This is due to the cryptic coloration and wary nature of these birds, which is a matter of survival for species which have been hunted for millennia.

These heavy-bodied birds also perform spectacular breeding displays, and exhibit extreme sexual dimorphisms. These stem from the ‘lek’ breeding system of these species, in which males compete for female attention at traditional gathering sites each spring.

Eurasian bustards face a variety of threats, including poaching, poisoning, collisions with overhead cabling, and incompatible agricultural practices. The fact that they roam over large territories annually is challenging for their conservation, but makes them excellent ambassadors for landscape-level conservation and sustainable agriculture.

Our group, the Eurasian Bustard Alliance (formerly Central Asian Great Bustard Project), brings together researchers from across northern Eurasia and the USA to work towards the conservation of bustard species. We aim to expand scientific knowledge of poorly understood populations of these birds with an emphasis on gathering information with conservation implications and engaging local people in the research process. We also promote awareness of these species and advance conservation policy.

Great Bustard Sites Identified in Western Mongolia

This fall, Eurasian Bustard Alliance surveyed Mongolian territory of the Uvs Lake Basin for Great and MacQueen's bustards, while biologists at Tuva Republic's Ubsunur Protected Area surveyed the Russian territory. Our team located only twenty Great Bustards gathering for migration on the Mongolian side of the border. According to local people, Great Bustards were once common breeders in this region, and there is even a saying comparing the breeding dance of the Great Bustard to traditional dances of western Mongolians. Today, however, it appears that less than ten Great Bustards breed in this region. Approximately half of the people we interviewed who were familiar with Great Bustards had either hunted the species themselves, or observed hunting by other people. If these highly threatened and isolated populations of Great Bustarddisappear, it is unlikely that breeding sites will be recolonized. October 2016

 

Celestron Sponsors Summer Surveys

Celestron, Inc. has pledged optical equipment to support surveys of Great Bustard populations in Mongolia threatened by development. Celestron's spotting scopes and binoculars have served our team well over the past ten years in a difficult task: observing notoriously wary Great Bustards. We appreciate Celestron's long-term support of our research! June 2016

 

TMU Donates Funding for Conservation Conference

Trust for Mutual Understanding has donated funding to bring together researchers, ministry representatives, and conservation organizations from across Central Asia and the United States to coordinate the conservation of the Great Bustard in Asia under the authority of the Convention on Migratory Species. Trust for Mutual Understanding supports exchanges involving institutions in Eurasia for environmental conservation. June 2016

 

Cover Story on Conservation of Great Bustards

The May issue of Steppe Bulletin, a Russian-language periodical on conservation issues affecting Eurasian Grasslands, features our summary of conservation action for the Great Bustard in Asia as cover story. Fantastic line drawings by P. Dugalis accompany the article. May 2016

 

Ministries Pledge to Support Conference

After success in increasing international protection for the Great Bustard under the Convention on Migratory Species, the Mongolian Ministry of Nature, Green Development, and Tourism plans to continue to play a leading role in conservation of the species by hosting a conference to bring together scientists, conservation organizations and government representatives from across the Asian range of the Great Bustard. German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety, long a supporter of conservation in Central Asia, has also pledged generously to the planned conference. November 2015

 

Conference: Cranes of the Palearctic

While the most recent genetic studies separate bustards from cranes, the two groups of birds have much in common in terms of their ecology and conservation. We were invited to the Fourth International Scientific Conference on Cranes of the Palearctic, at Daursky Biosphere Reserve in Zabaikal'ya, Russia, where we met ornithologistis from across northern Eurasia to learn about remnant Great Bustard populations in this vast region. September 2015

 

GIS-Remote Sensing Course

M. Kessler and B. Nyambayar co-taught a course in GIS-Remote Sensing for conservation professionals in Mongolia, with J. Burnham of the International Crane Foundation. At WSCC's field base in eastern Mongolia, we carried out lessons in habitat classification, ArcGIS analysis, and data assessment. Fortuitously, bustards were in residence near the site of the training, which allowed us to give course participants their first sighting of the species! August 2015

 

Surveys in Eastern Mongolia

This summer we ventured further into eastern Mongolia to search for remnant populations of Great Bustard. We are now fundraising to carry out telemetry studies on these populations, which likely exhibit different migratory pathways, wintering grounds, and habitat use patterns than those we have studied in north-central Mongolia. August 2015

 

New Publications on Great Bustards in Asia

We proudly present a paper (.pdf) summarizing the historical and present status of Great Bustards in Central Asia, and the threats they face today. Also: M. Kessler's doctoral dissertation (.pdf) on the eastern subspecies of Great Bustard. June 2015

 

Tagged Bustards Die on Migratory Pathway

We are sad to report that tagged bustards Sachokchin and Mendee died on the migratory pathway. Mendee, whom we tagged in 2011, died in Inner Mongolia in China. Sachokchin, whom we tagged in 2010, died in Omnogovi Aimag of Southern Mongolia. We investigate the site of last transmission of all of our tagged bustards in order to study causes of adult mortality in Asian Great Bustards. All deaths of tagged bustards we have recorded have occurred on migratory stopovers or the wintering grounds. May 2015

 

Countries Commit to Greater Protection for Great Bustards!

Signatory countries of the Convention on Migratory Species unanimously voted to increase the level of protection afforded to Great Bustard populations worldwide! The Conference of Parties approved the proposal developed by our team and advanced by Mongolian CMS Focal Point D. Batbold. Read our statements of support. November 2014

 

Bustards on the move

Our tagged female bustards Sachokchin and Mendee have begun their journey south as the harsh Mongolian winter begins. Snow first fell in September! October 2014

 

Upcoming Vote at CMS Conference of Parties

The proposal developed by our team to increase protection for Great Bustards under the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) will be voted on by signatories to the Convention at the November Conference of Parties in Quito. We need unanimous support! September 2014

 

Sachokchin incubating a second clutch

Through satellite telemetry, we have observed that after just a week's rest, Sachokchin laid a second clutch of eggs! She has now incubated them to term. Bustard chicks are precocial - they are able to walk alongside their mother (albeit slowly and with a bit of stumbling, as in this video from Britain!) shortly after hatching. We hope that Sachokchin's chicks will soon be accompanying her to forage on grasshoppers and beetles (agricultural pests!) in the wheat field in which they were hatched. July 2014

 

Presentations at SCB-Asia

Our team will make two symposium presentations at the Society for Conservation Biology - Asia conference this August. The first presentation, "Mongolia or Bustard!" will highlight our findings on the migratory habits of Asian Great Bustards. In the second presentation, "Steppe by Steppe," we will discuss our perspectives on the importance of community engagement and long-term research for the conservation of both Great Bustards and Taimen. Colleagues attending the meeting are invited to stop by our presentations, and get in touch! August 2014

 

Sachokchin and Mendee lose their clutches

Sachokchin and Mendee, two of the female great bustards we're monitoring with satellite transmitter backpacks, are trying their best to raise a family at their breeding grounds in northern Mongolia. Satellite transmissions reveal that both birds incubated nests for about two weeks in early June - only to abandon them. This often happens when the nest is predated (by crows or foxes), or eggs are crushed by livestock or farm machinery. June 2014

 

Developing Careers of Bustard Team Members

All three master's students who have worked with our team are now employed in positions where their experience with bustards is relevant and influential! Dashnyam is working in the Environmental Department of Oyu Tolgoi, while Natsag and Tuvshin are working in National Protected Areas offices. June 2014

 

Proposal to Conserve Great Bustards Is "Key"

The proposal to increase protection for Great Bustards under the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS)has been listed as one of the "Key" proposals for consideration at the upcoming CMS Conference of Parties. The proposal has also been endorsed by the IUCN Bustard Species Specialist Group. June 2014

 

Proposal to Convention on Migratory Species

A proposal advanced by our team, urging greater protection for global populations of Great Bustard, has been submitted by the Government of Mongolia to the Convention on Migratory Species! It will be voted on by the 120 Parties to the Convention in November. Read the text of the proposal here. June 2014

 

Sachokchin and Mendee return to breeding grounds

Sachokchin, a Great Bustard tagged by our team in 2010, and Mendee, tagged in 2011, have successfully completed round-trip migrations to return to their breeding grounds in northern Mongolia! This is cause for celebration, as our research has found particularly high mortality for Asian Great Bustards during migration, when they face threats as diverse as hunting, collisions with power lines, and poisoning. May 2014

 

Share Your photographs and Observations!

Have you observed Great Bustards while working or vacationing in Asia? Your sightings and photographs can help to improve our understanding of populations of Great Bustards in these areas. and let us know about your sighting!

 


[+/-]

Notes from Previous Field Seasons: