Way back in 2005 The Ranger blogged about an unexpected sighting of a flying Great Bustard (Otis tarda)seen over the Channel. It was one of what was then a few reintroduced birds which were at a secret location on Salisbury Plain.
Since then the Great Bustards have been doing pretty well – with quite a bit of help. In 2007 wild Great Bustards bred in England for the first time since 1832. Now they have a great website, too, to explain a bit more about the world’s largest flying birds and the ongoing project to reintroduce them to Salisbury Plain. So, just how big is a Great Bustard?
Absolutely massive, apparently. The male Bustard can weigh up over 20kg, and have a wingspan of some 250cm. Interestingly, the female is a great deal smaller – weighing only a maximum of 5kg. The Great Bustard Group website crows:
There is a marked difference in size between male and females, termed sexual size dimorphism. Great Bustards actually exhibit the largest sexual size dimorphism of any bird species and even most other vertebrates! Female Great Bustards can be as much as 50% smaller than males.
Bustards live naturally in various locations across temperate Europe and Asia, and the introduced bustards in England come from a stable population in the Trans-Volga region of southern Russia. The area is largely arable, and the bustards like to build their nests on fields which are ready for ploughing – leading to a good supply of abandoned bustard eggs in Russia. The eggs are hatched and the young birds raised in a field station in Russia before being shipped to the UK. Between six and 32 birds from this source have been introduced in England between late August and mid October every year since 2004. Project staff wear special dehumanisation suits to avoid the chicks imprinting on humans and associating them with food. No, seriously, they do. Look.
Anyway, Great Bustards, as the name suggests, are great, and they’ve also got a first class website – even, appropriately enough, a twitter account. Go and check it out, and enjoy learning about the work of the Great Bustard group and all the partners working for this impressive animal’s future.