The Great Bustard

The Bird and it's Reintroduction to the UK

The Great Bustard and its Reintroduction to the UK

Bustard Appearance and Breeding Season Courtship

Food, Habitat and Range of the Bustard

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The name Bustard is derived from a corrupion of  the Latin Avis tarda, although the application of the adjective tarda is not fully comprehended.  It may even be open to doubt whether tarda is here an adjective - several of the mediaeval naturalists used it as a substantive.   The bustards form the family Otididae, which contains around 26 different species of Bustard.

The Great Bustard

One species in particular, the Great Bustard, being the Otis tarda of Linnaeus, was often found in much of the UK from Dorset to East Lothian prior to the 19th century.  The bird's presence in East Lothian is based upon information from Robert Sibbald in approximately the year 1684.  Although Hector Boethius expressed that the Great Bustard was resident at the Merse in 1526, there were no writers who had indicated that the bird was resident in Scotland any later than Sibbald.

The final native Great Bustards in the UK for nearly 170 years were probably 2 birds who were killed in 1838 close to Swaffham in Norfolk.  In this area a few female Great Bustards had clung on as residents, although it was thought that there were no male birds of this species around in the area for quite some while before this.

Prior to this, the Great Bustard ceased to exist is Suffolk in 1832.  The birds came to their end on the Yorkshire Wolds and also in Lincolnshire around 1826 or possibly 1827 .  In Wiltshire they seem to have disappeared much earlier  - Montagu, wrote in 1813 that none had been spotted at their usual locations on Salisbury Plain for 2 or 3 years prior to his year of writing.  Similarly in other areas of the UK the bird vanished from existence in the very early years of the 19th Century.

The exact reasons for the Great bustard's disappearance throughout the entire UK may only be deduced from what is known to have resulted in the bird's loss in Suffolk and Norfolk.  According to Mr Henry Stevenson in his 1866 book Birds of Norfolk , the growth of cultivated farmland in Suffolk caused the countryside to become unsuitable for the Great Bustard.  The shy nature of the bird meant that it was unable to endure the expansion of hiding places where enemies could conceal themselves.
In Norfolk where the bustard's favoured breeding places were in wide fields, the emergence of better farming equipment, partiularly the horse-hose and the corn-drill, resulted in the birds' nests being destroyed.

It is not known whether the original British Bustards were migratory or not, and this question will most probably always stay uncertain.  However, it is a fact that species in most areas of Europe are indeed migratory.

Reintroducton of the Great Bustard to Salisbury Plain in the UK

After 1832 the only bustards which were seen in the UK were a very few temporary visitors who flew to England from other countries, mainly during winter time.  However, a trial re-introduction scheme was approved in November 2003, and in the year 2004 twenty-seven young Great Bustards were brought to Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England, as part of a 10 year plan to reintroduce the bird to Great Britain.  The Great Bustard Consortium, which consists of the University of Stirling and the Great Bustard Group (a group of interested Great Bustard enthusiasts) sought permission to introduce up to forty Great Bustard chicks per year (for a period of 5 to 10 years) on to Salisbury Plain. The chicks will be raised, avoiding human imprinting, from eggs (collected from nests from cultivated farmland in Saratov in Russia) which would have otherwise been destroyed or abandoned.

On 9th September 2004, the Salisbuy Plain bustards were hosts to Ben Bradshaw, the Government Minister for Nature Conservation, who visited to view the progress of the Great Bustard chicks from a hide, which was set up near the bird's pen.  The Great Bustards were, at that time, starting their predator awareness training, and the Minister was shown first hand some of the methods of training which were used to develop natural responses from the bustards to predators, for example foxes which are likely to be the birds' greatest threat.
Next...Bustard Appearance and Courtship in the Breeding Season

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