Australian Bustard Fact File
The Australian bustard is a tall bird with a similar appearance to a stork. Their long neck, head and underside feature white feathers. Both males and females have a crown of black feathers. They can be told apart as males have a black breast band which is missing in females.
During breeding season another prominent feature that differentiates the male is the white breast sac which may reach almost to the ground in some individuals.
Across the back they have chestnut colored feathers with some fine barring. The wing coverts feature a pattern of black and white feathers. Their wings are broad and in flight their legs trail past the end of the short tail.
Their coloration means they when they sit on the ground they blend in well with the soil.
Their long legs are yellow or cream in color. The bustard has three toes facing forward but lacks the back toe seen in many similar species.
They are one of the largest flying birds in Australia and stand between 0.8 and 1.3m (2.6-4.3ft) tall with a wingspan up to 2m (6.6ft) across. Males are significantly larger than females. Their average weigh is 6.2kg (13.7lbs) while females only reach 3.2kg (7lbs).
They have been known to follow smoke to fire affected areas and eat the animals which are escaping the flames. Large numbers will also gather in areas undergoing a mouse plague.
Australian bustards are native to Australia along with a population in the South of Papua both in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.
Their range covers Western Australia, the Northern Territory, South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. They are more abundant in the North of their range.
Naturally they make their home in grasslands, woodland and shrublands. Following bushfires they move in to more densely vegetated areas which have been opened up by the fire.
With the expansion of human habitations they can be found in man-made environments which are similar to grasslands including golf courses and cropping areas.
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Breeding occurs once a year from October to December and typically follows rains.
Males engage in an elaborate courtship display using the inflated, feathered breast sac. They will raise their tail and strut around while making a loud, booming noise.
A group of males will gather at a display site to perform their courtship displays to a number of females. In some drier portions of their range these animals may not use the lek system or may be monogamous.
The female deposits one or two eggs which is colored olive-green on to bare ground which may sheltered by a small bush. Typically they select a nest site which provides a good view of potential predators. She will carry out the 23 day incubation here.
At hatching the chicks are patterned with a mixture of light and dark stripes.
These animals are nomadic and move around throughout the year spurred by the availability of food.
Previously they are recorded to occur in groups of up to thirty but it is now uncommon for them to be seen in groups of more than two.
When threatened they will make a sharp barking noise.
Predators and Threats
Invasive species such as foxes will hunt the Australian bustard.
Humans have affected their population through hunting in large numbers and habitat destruction primarily from livestock such as cattle and sheep. Disturbances by these species and humans will cause them to abandon their nest.
When threatened they will walk slowly away unless the prey continues to chase them in which case they will take flight.
Another threat is secondary poisoning of rabbits which affects the bird when they eat this prey item.
In some small parts of their range they have benefited from areas being cleared and turned in to farmland.
Australian bustards are also known as plain turkeys or bush turkey though this name is also used for a number of other species.
They are the only member of the bustard family that lives in Australia. This is a wide spread group of birds found in Africa, Europe and Asia.
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By JJ Harrison (https://www.jjharrison.com.au/) – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=86319758
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