Little Bustard (Tetrax tetrax)

Little Bustard

[order] OTIDIFORMES | [family] Otididae | [latin] Tetrax tetrax | [UK] Little Bustard | [FR] Outarde canepetiere | [DE] Zwergtrappe | [ES] Sison Menor | [NL] Kleine Trap


Genus Species subspecies Breeding Range Breeding Range 2 Non Breeding Range
Mesitornis tetrax
Tetrax tetrax
Tetrax tetrax
Tetrax tetrax EU w, c n AF

Physical charateristics

Male has streaked brown crown, blue-grey face shading to black on neck and breast, with broad white V across foreneck and broad white band across breast.
Upperparts buffy frown, lightly vermiculated with black, flight-feathers and greater wing coverts white, tail white mottled brown with three bars, undersides white, legs greyish yellow, bill slate.

Listen to the sound of Little Bustard

[audio: Bustard.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 83 cm wingspan max.: 91 cm
size min.: 40 cm size max.: 45 cm
incubation min.: 20 days incubation max.: 22 days
fledging min.: 25 days fledging max.: 22 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 2  
      eggs max.: 5  


Eurasia : West, Central


In western Europe, breeding habitat includes various types of pseudo-steppic habitats, such as extensive cereal crops and pasturelands.

In the Iberian Peninsula the Little Bustard is well adapted to the arable areas, where its distribution is largely determined by the diversity of ground cover, especially selecting long-rotation fallows and legume crops. On the other hand, it prefers areas such as pasture with high floristic and arthropod diverstiy (Martinez and de Juana, 1993). Vegetation height is also a very important, displaying males usually selecting an average height not exceeding 20 cm. The species shows some tolerance to the proximity of buildings, villages and roads (Martinez, 1994).

It is therefore essentially a bird of the wider countryside, although in general ideal habitat has shrunk into discrete areas now identified as Important Bird Areas. Some of these are very large, and whilst their recognition (ie designation) as protected areas is necessary, their management is realistically best undertaken through maintaining appropriate agricultural methods.


Female Little Bustards nest on the ground among low vegetation, often in fallow or arable fields, generally in the vicinity of the males’ displaying sites. The clutch is laid from February to June, usually of 3-4 eggs which are incubated for 20-22 days. Chicks are fed and cared for by the female, becoming fully grown at 50-55 days. The young possibly remain with female during the first winter. Sexual maturity is reached in the first or second year for females and the second year for males.

Feeding habits

The adults eat mainly plants, taking young shoots, leaves, flowers, grasses and cereal grains. When breeding on cultivated land, Leguminosae and Cruciferae are frequently consumed. Invertebrates are also taken, chiefly beetles and grasshoppers especially in summer. The chicks feed mainly on insects during the first days of life, especially grasshoppers .


This species is listed as Near Threatened because it is probably experiencing a moderately rapid overall population decline, driven by rapid declines in the west of its range, owing mainly to habitat loss and degradation, as well as low-level hunting pressure. Recent increases in the east of its range are so far unquantified, and require further study. Such data may have implications for the overall population trend and listing of the species.
The range of the Little Bustard originally covered a wide area in the southwestern Palearctic, from Morocco and the Iberian Peninsula to Kyrgyzstan and extreme northwest China. After large population declines in late 19th and 20th centuries, it became extinct as a breeding species in many countries, including Algeria, Tunisia, Germany in 1907, Poland in 1909, Slovakia, Austria in 1921, Hungary in 1952, Serbia in 1948, and in the mid 20th century Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldavia and probably, Turkey and Azerbaijan. Today two distinct nuclei remain: a western one centred in Spain and Portugal, reaching parts of Morocco (where no recent breeding records are known), France, Sardinia and extreme southeast Italy; and an eastern one, centred in southeastern European Russia and Kazakhstan. It winters from the Mediterranean through Turkey and the Caucasus to Iran, and erratically elsewhere in South Asia.
Estimated total world population is 84,000-120,000 individuals, with over 50% in Iberia, 20% in Russia and an additional 20,000 in Kazakhstan. Recent information (de Juana and Martnez, 1996, and present document based on Trujillo meeting) substantially modifies these figures, and the European population alone (excl. Kazakhstan) would appear to be between 120,000 and 230,000, of which over 80% are in Iberia.
The population of the European Union is estimated at 220000-240000 breeding pairs, more than 90% of which are in Spain. Notwithstanding these large numbers, the species is decreasing everywhere because of intensification of agriculture.
Little Bustard status Near Threatened


Migratory in northern parts of breeding range; partially migratory to resident further south. Migratory in most of French breeding range, dispersive or resident in Iberia, Italy, and Maghreb. In southern France winters in some numbers, often on airfields. Likely, though unconfirmed, that some French migrants winter in Iberia. Moroccan population basically resident, wandering in winter but not penetrating south towards desert. In France, flocking and dispersal begin August, with main southward movements September and October. Return to breeding areas mid-March to April.
Eastern population (breeding FSU and possibly Turkey) dispersive or resident in southern parts of breeding range, largely migratory further north. In less severe winters some remain as far north as Volga steppes, but main winter quarters for migrants now Transcaucasia, central Asia (especially Tadzhikistan), Iran, and Pakistan. Autumn movements in FSU protracted and in many parts have character of gradual southward withdrawal. Flocking and wandering begin August; main southward movements from mid-September, at height in first half October, dwindling in November. Spring return begins early March, and proceeds more quickly than autumn exodus. Return to breeding grounds late March to 3rd week April in Ukraine (depending on latitude), late April to early May in north Kazakhstan.
Both populations subject to vagrancy, though eastern birds appear to wander most and furthest. In Britain, concentration of records East Anglia suggests arrivals from east rather than south; majority of British specimens attributed to eastern population as also those obtained Fenno-Scandia and northern Russia.

Distribution map

Little Bustard distribution range map

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