Thursday, June 4, 2009

Re-introducing grassland birds in England: the Great Bustard


Great Bustard image courtesy of www.greatbustard.com

There is a lot we can learn about our future by watching what is happening in European conservation circles. One of the world's largest and most endangered grassland birds is the Great Bustard (Otis tarda)of Europe (estimated global population is 35,000). It has declined and vanished from much of its range. While it survives in small populations in several European countries, this fifty pound bird--the heaviest flying bird on the planet--disappeared from the grassy plains of the British Isles in the mid-nineteenth century. The last wild Great Bustard chick to hatch in the UK was in 1832, when a female Great Bustard was seen with a single chick in Suffolk.

This week, however, a re-introduction project in England is reporting the first wild hatching of Great Bustards in England in 177 years. A female Great Bustard with two chicks was photographed and video-taped in an undisclosed location on the Salisbury Plain somewhere near Wiltshire. Here is the Great Bustard Group news release on the story. For more images and video, click here.

The bustards were released in a wildlife sanctuary that is part of a weapons resting ground for the British military (sound familiar? the last remnants of grassland get their best "protection" by being dangerous places for humans. Suffield in Alberta, for example.)

Like our Greater Sage-grouse, the bustard is a lekking species with an elaborate and beautiful courtship display. Here are two images provided by the Great Bustard Group website showing that display.


If we do not take action soon to protect Canada's remaining Greater Sage-grouse (somewhere under 200 birds remain), we will be following the more expensive and difficult path taken by the Great Bustard Group of slowly re-introducing a species to the wild. The most important step for now is to get the Federal government to follow its own species at risk legislation and put a total moratorium on any industrial (gas and oil exploration) disturbance in sage-grouse habitat.

Here is a Globe & Mail article on the first evidence produced in the suit brought by Nature Saskatchewan and a consortium of five other conservation groups, attempting to get the Federal government to finally apply its legislation and declare critical wildlife habitat for the Greater Sage-grouse.

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