The Great Bustard, Asian Houbara Bustard, 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.

Proposal to Coordinate Conservation for Great Bustards in Asia Advances to CMS COP

A proposal to coordinate conservation action for Great Bustards among Asian governments was approved by the Scientific Council of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), a key hurdle. The proposal, developed by Eurasian Bustard Alliance, Wildlife Science and Conservation Center of Mongolia, and participants of the conference "Advancing Conservation of Great Bustards in Asia," will advance to the CMS Conference of Parties in October, where it will be voted on by signatory states to the Convention. It must receive unanimous support to come into effect. July 2017

 

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!

 

Mongolia submits Proposal for Concerted Action to CMS

The Government of Mongolia, together with the Eurasian Bustard Alliance and the Wildlife Science and Conservation Center of Mongolia, has officially submitted a Proposal for a Concerted Action for the Great Bustard in Asia to the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS). This measure, if adopted at the October Conference of Parties to CMS, will result in coordinated conservation action across range states which are signatory to the Convention or choose to participate. June 2017

 

Conference "Advancing Conservation of Great Bustards in Asia" Concludes

Experts from nine countries gathered in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, to share information on the status and threats to the Great Bustard in Asia and make recommendations for conservation of the species. This information will be incorporated into a Proposal for Concerted Action on the Great Bustard in Asia, and the revision of the Action Plan for the bird's conservation in Asia. Major threats in Asia include illegal hunting, poisoning, failed reproduction due to incompatible agricultural methods, and loss of key wintering habitat. This conference was supported by the Mongolian Government, organized by the Eurasian Bustard Alliance and Wildlife Science and Conservation Center of Mongolia, and funded by Trust for Mutual Understanding. May 2017

 

Surveys in Kazakhstan Reveal Isolated Great Bustard Leks

Eurasian Bustard Alliance carried out collaborative research in West, South, and East Kazakhstan to search for breeding populations of Great Bustards. This work has identified isolated and critically small breeding populations, which are threatened by illegal hunting. The Ornithological Society of the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia supported this work. April 2017

 

Little Bustards Lekking in South Kazakhstan

A team of Eurasian Bustard Alliance collaborators including staff of the conservation non-profit Dikaya Priroda have spotted Little Bustards lekking in far southern regions of South Kazakhstan and Zhambyl Provinces. Breeding of Little Bustards has not previously been documented in this region. This work was funded by the Ornithological Society of the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia. March 2017

 

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 ornithologists 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

 


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Notes from Previous Field Seasons: