The Great Bustard is classified as globally Vulnerable by IUCN due to observed and projected population declines, particularly in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where Great Bustards have disappeared from large portions of their former range.

Our team works to expand knowledge about poorly understood populations of this species in Mongolia and Kazakhstan, where the species is included on Red Lists (endangered species lists). Local ornithologists estimate that Central Asian Great Bustards number 1600 in Mongolia and 300 in Kazakhstan - low numbers considering the size of these two countries, their low human population density, and the extent of potentially suitable habitat.

There is urgency for research on these Asian populations of Great Bustards, which differ substantially in aspects of their natural history from better-known European populations. Great Bustards are at risk during the rapid changes taking place in the countries of Central Asia, which are transitioning from communism to a free-market economy.

Our team is making important progress on the path to understanding the natural history and risks to these populations of Great Bustards. Learn more about our research activities, including population surveys, satellite tracking, and population genetic analyses.

We work closely with local non-governmental organizations and biologists, with whom we collaborate to develop conservation recommendations and take conservation actions. Our preliminary recommendations have already been incorporated into project and policy documents, and important territories for these birds have been listed with the government for protection. A sensitive and wary animal, the Great Bustard serves as an indicator species for healthy steppe ecosystems and a flagship species for steppe conservation projects, and our project provides baseline information about its populations in the region.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Research paper selected as "Editor's Choice"

Our team's article on the migratory routes of Mongolian Great Bustards was recognized for outstanding merit by the editor of the Journal of Avian Biology. Download it, or contact us for a copy, to learn more about the migratory routes of Nergui, Ulaana and Songuul'! August 2013

 

Nergui, Sachokchin, and Mendee Safely home!

We've been monitoring the movements of our tagged bustards with baited breath as they've migrated 2000 km (1200 miles) homeward from their wintering grounds in China. As we've posted before, we are finding that mortality on the migratory route - due in large part to hunting - is a problem for these populations of Great Bustard. We are happy to report that this spring our tagged birds have all arrived safely home to northern Mongolia, where we wish them success in nesting and raising chicks this summer! May 2013

 

Participation in Great Bustard Conservation Meeting

A. Kessler presented our group's findings on the conservation status and threats to Central Asian populations of Great Bustard at the recent scientific and diplomatic meeting on Conservation and Management of Middle-European Populations of Great Bustards. The group agreed to propose stronger protection across the range of the Great Bustard at the upcoming Convention on Migratory Species Conference of the Parties. April 2013

 

Research published in Journal of Avian Biology

Our team's satellite telemetry research has revealed that Mongolian Great Bustards make long-distance migrations, twice as far as has been identified in any other population of Great Bustard. We are happy to announce the publication of that finding in the scientific journal, Journal of Avian Biology. Contact us if you are interested in obtaining a copy of the publication. March 2013

 

Nergui Begins Spring Migration

Our team's longest-tagged bustard, Nergui, has begun her northward, spring migration from her wintering grounds in Shaanxi Province, China! March 2013

 

Watch "Mongolian Myth Bustards!"

Check out the 5-minute video collaborator V. Cox has put together to acquaint English-speaking audiences with our conservation research and outreach program. Watch our project team at work and see footage of bustards we monitor using satellite transmitters! January 2013

 

Speedy Migrator!

Sachokchin has arrived at her wintering site in Shaanxi Province of China, after a journey lasting less than a week! Through our satellite tracking program, we have found that this journey is usually accomplished over a two-month timeframe, with multiple stopovers. Mendee, in the meantime, is on stopover at the Bayanur Oasis in Inner Mongolia, China. November 2012

 

Fall Migration Begins

Mendee is the first of the bustards we monitor to make a southward movement this fall - she's moved about 100 km southeast from her main breeding valley. October 2012

 

Share your observations!

Have you been on vacation or worked in Central Asia and observed Great Bustards? Perhaps you have even seen one of our Great Bustards marked with a numeric wing tag? Your sightings can help to improve our knowledge of populations of Great Bustards in these areas. with the dates, numbers observed, and location (closest town, or GPS coordinates).

 

Public outrage over poaching of migratory birds

Last April, we reported our finding that one of our tracked bustards, Songuul', had been poisoned as part of the trade in illegal wild meats in China. We are happy to learn that the issue of poaching of migratory birds in China, which affects many species, is receiving attention, and has even been the subject of a documentary. October 2012

 

Spreading News of Bustards

We've continued to spread news about our research findings through academic presentations at the Human Dimensions of Fish and Wildlife Management and Society for Conservation Biology meetings as well as presentations for public groups including Audubon and P.E.O. Listen to audio from SCB here. October 2012

 

What our Bustards Did This Summer

Each of our tagged female bustards spent the summer in her own way. Mendee spent her summer months extensively exploring mountainous areas and clearings adjacent to her main breeding valley. Sachokchin incubated a clutch of eggs, but appears to have lost her chicks shortly after hatching. And after losing a clutch of eggs, Nergui went to the mountains for a period as well. Low rates of reproduction due to loss of eggs and chicks to predators (crows, foxes and wolves) and crushing by livestock and agricultural machinery is a major cause for concern across the Great Bustard's range. August 2012

 

Half-way home

The bustards we are monitoring have made it to the Bayanur oasis in Inner Mongolia - half-way from their wintering site in China to their breeding grounds in northern Mongolia April 2012

 

Sharing Research Findings

Over the winter months we have been sharing our research findings with the conservation community, at such venues as The Wildlife Society annual meeting, Student Conference on Conservation Science, MTI's Avian and Marine Tracking Conference, and Rutgers' Mongolian Ecological Research Symposium. March 2012

 

Bustards in Winter

Master's student U. Tovshin is embarking on an adventure to determine how many Great Bustards tough out the Mongolian winter - where average low temperatures are -30C (-22F), sometimes reaching -50C (-58F). Wishing him safe travels! February 2012

 

Bosoo Bustard Poached near Mining Site

Bosoo, one of the bustards whome we monitor via satellite telemetry, died on her migration south towards her wintering grounds. An investigation revealed that she had been poached near a mining site in south Gobi desert. Her transmitter was discarded not far from a road. January 2012

 


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Notes from Previous Field Seasons: