Bustards: 27 species of these heavy-bodied birds are found on four continents - Africa, Asia, Australia, and Europe. Though their appearance may be compared to cranes or ostriches, recent genetic evidence suggests that the bustard family is most closely related to turacos and cuckoos. Bustards are omnivorous - preferring insect or small vertebrate food when it is available.
Though they are typically seen striding across dry, open landscapes, bustards are also strong fliers. In fact, the bustard family includes the two heaviest species capable of flight - the Great Bustard and Kori Bustard.
Bustards perform some of the most unusual and spectacular breeding displays in the animal kingdom. Most bustard species participate in a "lek" breeding system, in which males gather to perform displays that involve contortion of the body, inflation of air sacs, twirling, jumping, or running. Females observe the males and choose with which to mate. Females then go on to incubate eggs and raise their chicks singly, while males continue to display. This mating system has resulted in high levels of sexual dimorphism - differences in size and coloration between the sexes - in many bustard species.
Bustards have three short, frontward facing toes that are incapable of clutching a branch - meaning that these birds must nest on the ground. Their eggs and chicks are frequently destroyed by predators or human activities, including livestock herding and mechanized agriculture.
The populations of most bustard species are declining, due to low rates of reproduction combined with high rates of adult mortality. Adults die due to hunting, trapping, poisoning, and collisions with power lines. Many species range long distances over the course of a year, meaning that they are susceptible to dangers across a wide swatch of territory.