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Nubian Bustard

Neotis nuba (Cretzschmar, 1826)
Outarde de Nubie

The Nubian bustard is one of the larger and most characteristic of the Sahelo-Saharan bustard species. Adult males weigh in at over 5 kg and females a little less. The species shows sexual dimorphism. In males the forehead, crown and upperparts are tawny-buff marked with black. A broad black band extends over the eyes. The rest of the face is white except for the chin and throat which are black. The upperparts are pale tawny buff, lightly vermiculated with black. Tail is similar but more grey. The lower hindneck and sides of breast are bordered by a black line. In adult females plumage is similar but colors generally less intense and mantle faintly streaked. Black on throat confined to the center. To distinguish Nubian bustards from the sympatric Arabian or Sudan bustard, look for the smaller but chubbier size and appearance, the more rufous coloration, thinner neck and dark, roundish head. Arabian bustards are generally larger, greyer in color and have a more heavily feathered grey neck with no black. The head is grey and more dagger-shaped. In flight, Nubians show a clearly paneled wing of black, white and rufous feathers. The Arabian in flight is mostly grey and white.

species biology
The mating system is mostly unknown although strong sexual dimorphism would suggest polygyny. Breeding observations from July to October have been reported across the species’ range. Males undertake elaborate displays on selected high points or dune ridges during the breeding season. Display entails throwing out the breast, pulling the head back, raising the tail and lowering the wings to display a contrasting white and dark pattern, while strutting repeatedly back and forth along the skyline. Clutch size is 2-3 eggs laid in a simple scrape on the ground under or near low shrubs or tussocks of grass. Adult birds will engage in active diversionary tactics to draw would be predators away from eggs and chicks. Immature birds may be ‘parked’ whilst adults forage for food. Mixed groups of adult and immature birds, up to a dozen or more in number, have been observed following the breeding season. The species is believed to be generally sedentary but does undertakes seasonal, nomadic movements in response to the presence of food. Nubian bustards are thought to mostly feed on insects, as well as grass seeds, leaves, fruits and Acacia tree gum. Natural predators include the larger eagles, including short-toed and golden.
species habitat

The Nubian bustard occupies the sparsely vegetated interface between the southern margins of the Sahara desert and the northern part of the Sahel, ranging from Mauritania in the west to Sudan in the east, including Mali, southern Algeria, Niger and Chad.

species distribution

Occupies desert scrub and ephemeral grassland fringes, semi-arid Acacia scrub across the Sahelo-Saharan region of North Africa. Will penetrate Saharan mountain ranges where suitable sandy wadi habitat occurs.

species conservation

Suffers from widespread hunting (mostly related to falconry activities), civil wars, intensification of land use, disturbance by off-road vehicles, overgrazing, disturbance by livestock, firewood collection and commercial wood collection all of which may now be causing substantial declines in parts of its range.

species protection

CITES Appendix II. IUCN Red Data List (2010): Near Threatened. Suspected to be undergoing a moderately rapid population decline owing to intense hunting in parts of its range, in combination with other factors. However, if further information shows that the decline is rapid, the species would warrant uplisting to Vulnerable.

species priorities
  1. Fieldwork and surveys on biology and ecology
  2. Strictly enforced hunting legislation
  3. Protection of bustard habitat
species references
  • BirdLife International 2008. Neotis nuba. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. Downloaded on 31 March 2011.
  • Del Hoyo, J., Elliot,A. & Sargatal, J. eds 1996. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 3. Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  • Jensen, F., Christensen, K. and Petersen, B. 2008. The avifauna of southeast Niger. Malimbus 30 (1): 30-54.
  • Johnsgard, Paul A. 1991. Bustards, Hemipodes, and Sandgrouse, Birds of Dry Places. Oxford University Press.
  • Thiollay, Jean-Marc. 2006. Severe Decline of large birds in the Northern Sahel of West Africa: a long term assessment. Bird Conservation International 16: 353-365.
  • Urban, E.K., Fry, C.H. & Keith, S. 1986. The birds of Africa, Vol. 2. London: Academic Press.

This article was kindly contributed by Sara Hallager of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo with input from members of the IUCN Bustard Specialist Group.

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