Bizarre bustards return
The world’s heaviest flying bird was once a familiar sight in the grassy plains of Norfolk, Yorkshire and Wiltshire, but, sadly, the easy target offered to hunters meant that the last British great bustards were shot to extinction by 1832. however, thanks to the pioneering efforts of the Great Bustard Group (GBG), a 50-strong population on the Salisbury Plains is on the brink of self-sustainability.
Since David Waters first brought several chicks over from Saratov in southern Russia 13 years ago, the great bustard, which stands at 3ft tall with a wingspan of 8ft and can weigh up to 45lb, has been carefully nurtured and reintroduced into the British countryside.
The first natural wild-breeding programme started last year, with a potential for 21 nests this year. Mr Waters plans to stop bringing in eggs from Spain and Russia once the population is truly sustainable, which would save staff at the GBG from having to use puppets and dress up in special suits to bring up the notoriously difficult birds.
What is perhaps most interesting about these Southern european birds is their peculiar mating behaviour, which not only involves violently ramming at one another, but what is known as a lek: male bustards compete for attention by strutting around and puffing out their throats to the size of a football, while effectively turning their feathers and plumage inside out, to reveal ‘a foam bath’.
The great bustard was shot to extinction in the UK in 1832, but the bird has slowly been reintroduced