Houbara bustard

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Houbara bustard
CITES Appendix I (CITES)[1]
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Otidiformes
Family: Otididae
Genus: Chlamydotis
C. undulata
Binomial name
Chlamydotis undulata
(Jacquin, 1784)
Range of Ch. undulata

The houbara bustard (Chlamydotis undulata), also known as African houbara (houbara from Arabic: حُبَارَى, romanizedḥubārā for bustards in general), is a relatively small bustard native to North Africa, where it lives in arid habitats. The global population is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List since 2014.[1] There is a population in the Canary Islands which has been assessed as Near Threatened in 2015.[2]

It is dull brown with black markings on the wings, a greyish neck and a black ruff along the side of the neck. Males are larger and heavier than females.


The houbara bustard is a small to mid-sized bustard. It measures 55–75 cm (22–30 in) in length and spans 135–170 cm (53–67 in) across the wings. It is brown above and white below, with a black stripe down the sides of its neck. In flight, the long wings show large areas of black and brown on the flight feathers. The sexes are similar, but the female, between 55–65 cm (22–26 in) tall, is rather smaller and greyer above than the male, at 65–75 cm (26–30 in) tall.[3][4][verification needed] The body mass is 1.8–3.2 kg (4.0–7.1 lb) in males and 1.2–1.7 kg (2.6–3.7 lb) in females.[5][4][verification needed]


Psophia undulata was the scientific name proposed by Joseph Franz von Jacquin in 1784 who described a houbara brought from Tripoli to Vienna's Tiergarten Schönbrunn.[6] Otis macqueenii was proposed by John Edward Gray in 1832 for a bustard from India drawn by Thomas Hardwicke.[7] The African houbara was subordinated to the genus Chlamydotis by René Lesson in 1839.[8] Houbara fuertaventurae was proposed by Walter Rothschild and Ernst Hartert in 1894 for a houbara from Fuerteventura island.[9]

MacQueen's bustard was long regarded a subspecies of the African houbara.[10] It was proposed as a distinct species in 2003 because of differences in plumage, vocalizations and courtship behaviour.[11] The British Ornithologists' Union's Taxonomic Records Committee's decision to accept this split has been questioned on the grounds that the differences in the male courtship displays may be functionally trivial, and would not prevent interbreeding, whereas a difference in a pre-copulation display would indicate that the two are separate species.[12] The committee responded to this scepticism, by explaining that there are differences in both courtship and pre-copulation displays.[13]


Canarian houbara in Lanzarote, Canary Islands

Results of analysis of mitochondrial DNA sequences of 73 Chlamydotis samples indicates that the houbara bustard and MacQueen's bustard genetically diverged around 430,000 years ago from a common ancestor. The divergence between the African and Canarian houbara was estimated at 20,000 to 25,000 years ago.[14]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The houbara bustard is found in North Africa west of the Nile, mainly in the western part of the Sahara desert region in Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Pakistan and Egypt. Some old records exist from Sudan as well. A small population is found in the Canary Islands. The Asian houbara or MacQueen's bustard which was earlier included in this species occurs east of the Sinai Peninsula. The North African species is sedentary unlike the migratory northern populations of MacQueen's bustards.

The subspecies fuertaventurae of the Canary Islands is highly restricted and endangered. A 1997 survey found a total population of about 500 birds.[15]

Behaviour and ecology[edit]

Houbara bustard egg in the collection of the Museum Wiesbaden

The Houbara bustard has a flamboyant display raising the white feathers of the head and neck and withdrawing the head. Females lay two to four eggs on the ground.[16] It rarely vocalizes, but males make 3-5 low booming notes during breeding displays.[4]

It is omnivorous, eating seeds, insects and other small creatures.[17]


In North Africa, the houbara bustard is hunted by falconers and by hunters with guns. The populations declined in the two decades before 2004, but have been increasing since.[1]


The International Fund for Houbara Conservation developed and implemented a global conservation strategy over the past forty years with the objective of ensuring a sustainable future in the wild through conservation programmes and management plans. This strategy consists of an integrated approach combining ecology, protection measures in the wild, conservation breeding, and reinforcement programmes.[18]


  1. ^ a b c d BirdLife International (2016). "Chlamydotis undulata". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2016: e.T22728245A90341807. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22728245A90341807.en. Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  2. ^ BirdLife International (2015). "Chlamydotis undulata Europe". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2015: e.T22728245A90341807.
  3. ^ Ali, S. (1993). The Book of Indian Birds. Bombay: Bombay Natural History Society. ISBN 978-0-19-563731-1.
  4. ^ a b c Svensson, L.; Mullarney, K.; Zetterstrom, D. (2009). Collins Bird Guide (Second ed.). London, UK: HarperCollins.
  5. ^ CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses by John B. Dunning Jr. (Editor). CRC Press (1992), ISBN 978-0-8493-4258-5.
  6. ^ Jacquin, J. F. (1784). "Psophia undulata". Beyträge zur Geschichte der Vögel. Wien: C. F. Wappler. p. 24.
  7. ^ Gray, J. E. (1830–1832). "MacQueen's bustard Otis macqueenii. Gray". Illustrations of Indian Zoology; Chiefly Selected from the Collection of Major-General Hardwicke, F.R.S. Volume 2. London: Treuttel, Würtz, Treuttel, Jun. and Richter. p. Plate 47.
  8. ^ Lesson, R. (1839). "Oisseaux inédits". Revue Zoologique par la Société Cuvierienne. II (2): 43−47.
  9. ^ Rothschild, W. & Hartert, E. (1894). "On a new Bustard from the Palearctic Region". Novitates Zoologicae. 1 (5): 689.
  10. ^ Ali, S. & Ripley, S. D. (1983). "Chlamydotis undulata". A Pictorial Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent. Bombay: Bombay Natural History Society. p. 106, Plate 37.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ Knox, A. G.; Collinson, M.; Helbig, A. J.; Parkin, D. T. & Sangster, G. (2002). "Taxonomic recommendations for British birds". Ibis. 144 (4): 707–710. doi:10.1046/j.1474-919X.2002.00110.x. S2CID 82531549.
  12. ^ Cowan, P. J. (2004). "Are there really two species of houbara?". British Birds. 97 (7): 346–347.
  13. ^ Collinson, M. (2004). "Are there really two species of houbara? A response from the TSC". British Birds. 97 (7): 348.
  14. ^ Idaghdour, Y.; Broderick, D.; Korrida, A.; Chbel, F. (2004). "Mitochondrial control region diversity of the houbara bustard Chlamydotis undulata complex and genetic structure along the Atlantic seaboard of North Africa". Molecular Ecology. 13 (1): 43–54. doi:10.1046/j.1365-294X.2003.02039.x. PMID 14653787. S2CID 25591653.
  15. ^ Aurelio Martin; Juan Antonio Lorenzo; Miguel Angel Hernandez; Manuel Nogales; Félix Manuel Medina; Juan Domingo Delgado; José Julián Naranjo; Vicente Quilis; Guillermo Delgado (1997). "Distribution, status and conservation of the houbara bustard Chlamydotis undulata fuertaventurae Rothschild & Hartert, 1894, in the Canary Islands, November–December 1994" (PDF). Ardeola. 44 (1): 61–69.
  16. ^ Gaucher, P. (1995). "Breeding biology of the Houbara Bustard Chlamydotis undulate undulata in Algeria". Alauda. 64 (4): 291–298.
  17. ^ Bourass, K.; Leger, J.-F.; Zaime, A.; Qninba, A.; Rguibi, H.; El Agbani, M. A.; Benhoussa, A.; Hingrat, Y. (2012). "Observations on the diet of the North African houbara bustard during the non-breeding season". Journal of Arid Environments. 82: 53–59.
  18. ^ "Fifty Houbara birds released into the UAE desert - in pictures". The National. 2019. Retrieved 2019-02-28.

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