Mongolia is approximately the size of Western Europe. Yet due to a lack of funding, poor infrastructure hindering travel, and the small number of professional ornithologists, only a few short-term automobile surveys had investigated populations of the Great Bustard in Mongolia before our research began.

Though scientific capacity in Kazakhstan is better-developed, reports of Great Bustard observations have been few in number. This is probably due to the extreme rarity of this species in Kazakhstan, its wariness, and its preference for human-modified habitats which are less frequently targeted by biologists.

In order to detect remnant populations of this bird, our regional teams interview local people as to its historic and current distribution. In the field, we work with local experts, including biologists, members of the hunting community, or observant herders. Travel through the remote areas in which these remnant populations are found is painstakingly slow. The team carries out frequent observations through spotting scope (telescope), since Great Bustards in this region typically move away from humans before they can be spotted by the naked eye. When combing territories for previously unreported populations of Great Bustards, it is typical for us to locate new birds only once every two weeks.

Our team requests protection for areas of critical habitat, such as breeding sites and migration stopovers. We incorporate data concerning bustard locations into studies of bustard habitat use patterns and population genetics.

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

 

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 ornithologists 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

 

Greater international protection for Great Bustards

The Convention on Migratory unanimously approved our proposal to increase international protections for Great Bustards, globally. Particularly of concern are the increasingly fragmented and isolated populations in we work with in Asia, as well as populations in North Africa and the Middle East. November 2014

 

Participation in Great Bustard Conservation Meeting

A. Kessler presented our group's findings on the population 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

 

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

 

Two empty leks

Leks are traditional areas Great Bustards visit each spring to display, mate, and nest. This summer we were unable to locate lekking bustards at 2 of our 6 study locations. We are unsure whether bustards did not arrive to those sites this spring due to inclement weather, or whether those small populations have permanently disappeared. We have found high rates of mortality due to poaching among our tagged bustards. July 2011

 

Wet summer dampens nesting efforts

This summer was extremely wet in northern Mongolia - indeed, our team was unable to travel in mid-June as bridges collapsed and roads were wiped out by floodwaters. We believe that flooded fields may be one of the reasons we were able to locate only four nesting females this summer. June 2011

 

Bustard lek confirmed

On the road to our field site this summer, we were able to confirm the existence of a bustard lek (breeding site) we had long suspected to exist. We were elated to observe displaying males and three nesting females. However, two weeks later we were dismayed to hear that pesticides had been sprayed in the fields preferred by the bustards. Pesticides decrease the protein-rich insect food base essential to rapid growth of chicks, and trucks spraying pesticides sometimes crush eggs and flush mothers, making eggs and young vulerable to predators. May 2011

 

Fall Surveys Indicate Poor Nesting Success

Great Bustard chicks remain with their mothers for approximately a year. In the fall, they move with their mothers to spots where Great Bustards gather for migration. This autumn, as in previous autumns, our surveys revealed single adult females, but few females accompanied by large chicks. Reproductive rates for these Central Asian Great Bustard populations appear to be low. October 2010

 

New Mongolian Bustard Population Centers Identified

This fall the research team toured new areas of Northern Mongolia in search of new Great Bustard population centers. We identified previously uncatalogued Great Bustard migration gathering points. Detailed interviews with local residents lead us to believe that two of these are also "leks," or traditional bustard breeding display arenas. If this is confirmed in the spring, these sites will be listed with the Mongolian government for greater protection. September 2008