Nobility on our Steppes

As I mentioned in a previous entry, imperialism is still alive in Spain. Today let´s discuss the nobility beneath that upper echelon. In my mind one of the most noble birds of the steppe has to be the Great Bustard. It´s always dressed like it´s going to an Indian dinner party during the days of the Raj. Of course those feathers were probably used in those times too. And spring is when the males do their prenuptial displays using their feathers to attract mates.


During the displays at their leks, the male Great Bustard puff out their throats and necks by inflating a special gular pouches. They then contort their bodies and “invert” their feathers so that their wing feathers face forwards and the tail is cocked up. The head is thrown back and their fine white whiskers point upwards. Observing these displays really is an experience that no birder should miss.


Great Bustards (Otis tarda)
Great Bustards (Otis tarda)
Spain has the largest population of these, the heaviest flying birds, in the world. And they are huge. All that were in this group of 22 were males. Well, being Spanish, it´s probably a bunch of the guys out for an evening stroll before playing some mus or a going for caña. However, they are listed as threatened and, as in the case of the Calatravan bustards, the reason is of course habitat loss. These birds are quite shy and really don´t like to be near people and require wide open steppe. In this region there was uproar over the new airport about 7km west of where these were. It was placed right in the middle of bustard country. Well I think the bustard is kind of having the last, or at least the latest laugh, since the airport is broke, and has closed down. The bustard may look like a big turkey, but the airport is the White Elephant.


There is, however, still plenty of steppe left around Ciudad Real where bustards can be seen. I took part in a census recently with our local SEO/Birdlife group and I think the regional count came to over 3000 birds although the final results have not yet been released. My own small patch produced 152 individuals. So there is still nobility on the steppe and always quite easy to find.


Contact us now at Oretani Wildlife to book your birding tour and visit a Great Bustard lek to watch their fantastic displays.
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