Bizarre bus­tards re­turn

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country - Thomas Twis­ton-davies

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

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.