Houbara bustard

The houbara bustard (Chlamydotis undulata), also known as African houbara, is a large bustard native to North Africa, Canary Islands and southwestern Asia, where it lives in arid habitats.[1] 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.

Houbara bustard
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Otidiformes
Family: Otididae
Genus: Chlamydotis
C. undulata
Binomial name
Chlamydotis undulata
(Jacquin, 1784)
Range of Ch. undulata      Resident

The houbara bustard formerly included MacQueen's bustard, which is native to Asia.


The houbara bustard is a small to mid-sized bustard. It measures 55–65 cm (22–26 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. It is slightly smaller and darker than MacQueen's bustard. The sexes are similar, but the female, at 66 cm (26 in) tall, is rather smaller and greyer above than the male, at 73 cm (29 in) tall.[2] The body mass is 1.15–2.4 kg (2.5–5.3 lb) in males and 1–1.7 kg (2.2–3.7 lb) in females.[3]


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.[4] Otis macqueenii was proposed by John Edward Gray in 1832 for a bustard from India drawn by Thomas Hardwicke.[5]

The African houbara was subordinated to the genus Chlamydotis by René Lesson in 1839.[6] MacQueen's bustard was long regarded a subspecies of the African houbara.[7] It was classified as a distinct species in 2003.[8]

The Canarian houbara is the subspecies Chlamydotis undulata fuertaventurae. The dividing line between the two Chlamydotis species is the Sinai peninsula. Based on the rates of divergence of mitochondrial DNA sequences, the two subspecies are thought to have separated from a common ancestor around 20 to 25 thousand years ago. The separation from MacQueen's bustard is older at 430,000 years.[9]

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.[10] The committee responded to this scepticism, by explaining that there are differences in both courtship and pre-copulation displays.[11]

Distribution and habitat

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 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.[12]

Behaviour and ecology


Like other bustards, this species has a flamboyant display raising the white feathers of the head and neck and withdrawing the head. Two to four eggs are laid on the ground. It hardly ever uses its voice.


This species is omnivorous, taking seeds, insects and other small creatures.


Threats to Houbara bustards include hunting it for food.[13] The North African houbara bustard populations declined in the two decades before 2004, but unlike its near relative, the MacQueen's bustard, has been increasing since. Although hunted both by falconers and by hunters with guns, the extent is much less than that faced by MacQueen's bustard in the Middle East.[1]

In 2014, a Saudi prince created an international uproar after shooting more than 2,000 houbaras while only having a permit to kill 100.[14]


The International Foundation for Conservation and Development of Wildlife (IFCDW) is a major conservation and breeding project established with funds from Prince Sultan Bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud and based near Agadir, Morocco. The centre releases captive bred populations to boost wild populations. Similar projects breeding MacQueen's bustards are also carried out in the United Arab Emirates.[15]


  1. BirdLife International (2016). "Chlamydotis undulata". The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN. 2016: e.T22728245A90341807. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22728245A90341807.en.
  2. Ali, S. (1993). The Book of Indian Birds. Bombay: Bombay Natural History Society. ISBN 978-0-19-563731-1.
  3. CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses by John B. Dunning Jr. (Editor). CRC Press (1992), ISBN 978-0-8493-4258-5.
  4. Jacquin, J. F. (1784). "Psophia undulata". Beyträge zur Geschichte der Vögel. Wien: C. F. Wappler. p. 24.
  5. 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.
  6. Lesson, R. (1839). "Oisseaux inédits". Revue Zoologique par la Société Cuvierienne. II (2): 43−47.
  7. 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.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Cowan, P. J. (2004). "Are there really two species of houbara?". British Birds. 97 (7): 346–347.
  11. Collinson, M. (2004). "Are there really two species of houbara? - a response from the TSC". British Birds. 97 (7): 348.
  12. 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.
  13. Jacobs, D. (2009). The Rough Guide to Tunisia. Rough Guides. pp. 436–. ISBN 978-1-4053-8455-1.
  14. Constable, P. (2019). "A U.S. trophy hunter paid $110,000 to kill a rare mountain goat in Pakistan". Washington Post. Retrieved 12 February 2019.
  15. "Fifty Houbara birds released into the UAE desert - in pictures". The National. 2019-02-23. Retrieved 2019-02-28.

Further reading

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