Little Bustard: The Bird "Almost Threatened" with Extinction

Little bustard chicks are quite precocious. At 20 days after hatching, they can already fly, although they fledge up to 40 to 45 days after hatching. Find out more about this species here.
Little Bustard: The Bird "Almost Threatened" with Extinction
Georgelin Espinoza Medina

Written and verified by the biologist Georgelin Espinoza Medina.

Last update: 22 May, 2023

There are so many different species of birds on our planet. Around 10,600 to be exact, with a great variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and lifestyles. Among them, we have a specimen that’s almost threatened with extinction and was named Bird of the Year in 2017. We’re talking about the little bustard, have you heard of it?

Its scientific name is Tetrax tetrax and it’s the only specimen of its genus. It belongs to the family Otididae and to the order Otidiformes, and so it’s related to the Great Bustard. If you want to learn about it, in this article we’ll tell you all about it. Keep reading!

Where does the little bustard live?

This species inhabits open areas of dry grasslands, although it can adapt to cultivated and grazing areas. It has a preference for large areas that offer plant diversity for the supply of insects.

Geographically, the western populations are located in Russia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, China, Iran, and Turkey. The eastern populations are located in Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, and Morocco. The Iberian Peninsula is home to a large number of these birds, as it’s the most important wintering site for western specimens.

Physical characteristics of the little bustard

The little bustard.
The wings of the Little Bustard are distinguished by a white band, with dark tips, which is best seen during flight. Credit: Mike Watson/BirdQuest.

Male and female little bustards are similar in coloration, but only outside the breeding season. They have brownish plumage with fine black line patterns. The belly parts are white, while the bill and legs are usually light brown. The wings are white, but the tips are black.

The appearance of the young is similar to that of the adults. The male changes its colors for breeding. The neck becomes black, with a white collar (a line at the base and another in the shape of a “v”) that makes it look very elegant. The bluish-gray face and throat also stand out.


The Animal Diversity Web tells us that these birds measure 40 to 45 centimeters (16 to 18 inches) in length and have a wingspan of 105 to 115 centimeters (41 to 45 inches). Their body weight ranges between 700 and 950 grams (25 to 33 oz).


They’re social and migratory birds, especially during the winter season, as they form flocks. These groupings can be mixed, with specimens of Iberian or common sandpipers (Pterocles alchata).

This is detailed in an article in the journal Animal Conservation, published in 2010, which explains that this behavior is more frequent during the winter (up to 65% of interaction).

Bustards perform rapid flights, which resemble in some ways those of ducks. The movements create a characteristic hissing sound, which is the reason for the popular name of these birds. This sound is produced by the difference in length of one of the primary wing feathers.

Regarding their vocalizations, this species is rather silent, especially the female. The male emits a typical mating sound. Likewise, the young generate a soft whistling call.

What does the little bustard eat?

Little bustard.
The little bustard is threatened by the destruction of its habitat. Credit: Pierre Dalous/Wikimedia Commons.

As for its diet, the little bustard is an omnivorous bird, with a varied diet that includes plants, seeds, and some invertebrates, such as insects. The latter are very important during the breeding and rearing season.

A study published in the journal Bird Study in 2002, indicates that adults consume more plant material, while chicks prefer arthropods. Among these, beetles are the most commonly ingested.

Another study in the journal Avian Conservation, from 2017, evaluated the winter diet of this species in Spain. It specifies that the most consumed plants during that time are cultivated legumes and weeds. It also establishes that the diet can be variable, based on whether a rainfed or irrigated system is used. For example, in the latter case, the preferred specimen is alfalfa.


Reproduction occurs once a year, in the spring period. Male bustards create a display in an attempt to attract females, which includes behavior such as particular vocalizations, kicking, wing flapping and even hopping, all masters of showmanship.

The nest is built in depressions in the ground, which are usually covered with plant material. Generally, the clutch consists of 3 to 4 eggs (with a maximum of 6) and incubation lasts approximately 3 weeks. All care is carried out by the females.

Conservation status of Tetrax tetrax

This species is almost threatened with extinction, according to the classification of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which has been maintained since 2004. However, in Europe, the outlook is even more worrying, as it’s included in the species is in danger of disappearing.

The population numbers around 194,000 to 280,000 breeding individuals in Europe and is estimated to be greatly reduced in size, despite its wide distribution on this continent. The main threat is habitat loss and degradation, due to the conversion of grasslands into low-intensity croplands.

The little bustard is a social and migratory bird, with a wide distribution. However, human practices are altering its habitat and, as a result, its survival is threatened. Especially in Europe. Let us remember that we all play an important part in maintaining a correct ecological balance; we can help this and other species to win the battle.

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The great bustard family of birds consists of different species of flying birds that look particularly robust, and abound in the Iberian peninsula.

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