The only very large bustard occurring across sub-Saharan Africa and into the Tihama region of south-west Arabia. Adult males weigh between 5-10kg, with females somewhat smaller. Plumage is similar in both sexes. Upper parts, including wings and tail, sandy brown vermiculated with black. Wing coverts tipped with white. Primaries blackish brown, with white. Outer tail feathers banded black and white. Crown of head greyish to golden white with fine black vermiculation, bordered on either side by two black bands which meet to form a small crest on the nape. The rest of the head is white. Neck and throat white, thinly banded with black. To distinguish Arabian bustards from the sympatric Nubian bustard, look for the generally larger size, greyer colour, and more heavily feathered grey neck with no black. The head is grey and more dagger-shaped. In flight, Arabians are mostly grey and spotted white. Nubians show a clearly panelled wing of black, white and rufous feathers. Nubian bustards look smaller and chubbier in size and appearance, with a more rufous coloration, thinner neck and dark, roundish head.
The breeding biology is poorly known, but is believed to be most similar to the Kori bustard Ardeotis kori. Clutch size is 1-2 eggs, laid in a shallow scrape. Males apparently play no role in incubation or chick rearing. Females have been observed carrying out diversionary behaviour (calling, refusing to flee) to draw potential predators away from chicks. Reported to consume locusts, grasshoppers, beetles, reptiles, small mammals, seeds and fruits of shrubs, like Cordia sinensis, Grewia villosa, Salvadora persica and wild melon Citrullus as well as Acacia gum. Juvenile dispersal may take birds considerable distances. Arabian bustards have been observed in small flocks migrating north into the Sahel zone, for the rainy season at breeding time, and then returning south with the onset of the dry season. However, in Morocco the population was considered sedentary, and this appears also to be true of birds in the Arabian Peninsula.
Arabian bustards inhabit the sparsely-wooded grasslands of the Sahel and semi-desert. Seasonal movements, dictated by rainfall and the presence of food, allow the bustard to penetrate more sandy sub-Saharan habitats during the summer months (July-September). During the hot, dry season (March-July) or as a result of drought, they can also be found in atypical sub-Sahelian dry savanna habitats.
The main threat to both African and Arabian populations of the Arabian bustard is uncontrolled and unsustainable off-take from hunting. Pesticides may have impact in some areas. In general, populations appear to be declining across most of the range.
BirdLife International 2009. Ardeotis arabs. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. www.iucnredlist.org. Downloaded on 06 June 2011.
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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