African Houbara Chlamydotis undulata


Justification of Red List Category
This recently split species is listed as Vulnerable because it is suspected to be in rapid decline owing mainly to hunting pressure and habitat loss and degradation. Releases of captive-bred birds may buffer the overall population against these threats; however, further research is required into the demographic consequences of such releases, and surveys are needed to assess the population trend. If it can be demonstrated that these releases have bolstered the breeding population, without detrimental genetic effects, and slowed or halted declines, then the species may warrant downlisting in future.

Population justification
In the mid-1990s, this species's population was estimated to number at least 9,800 individuals (Goriup 1997). It had been roughly estimated that North Africa held around 30% of the total population of C. undulata and C. macqueenii when lumped, which has been estimated at c.106,000-110,000 individuals. On the basis of these estimates, the population of C. undulata (as split from C. macqueenii) is placed in the band for 20,000-49,999 individuals, assumed to equate to c.13,000-33,000 mature individuals.

Trend justification
The species had been in decline prior to 2004 (F. Launay pers. comm. 2004), but this rate may have now slowed or been reversed as a result of a captive breeding and release programme (O. Combreau in litt. 2012). The Canary Islands was reported to be fluctuating over the period 2001-2012 (BirdLife International 2015). Until evidence of the demographic impacts of these releases is available, the overall population is suspected to be in rapid decline owing to the on-going threats of hunting pressure and habitat loss and degradation.

Distribution and population

This species occurs across a wide range in North Africa. The nominate subspecies occurs in northernmost Mauritania, Western Sahara, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt west of the Nile, with old records from Sudan. Subspecies fuertaventurae is confined to the eastern Canary Islands, Spain, where its population in the mid-1990s was estimated at 527 birds, with 241 on Fuerteventura, 268 on Lanzarote and 18 on La Graciosa. More recent estimates place the population at 108-252 birds on Fuerteventura, 272-801 on Lanzarote and 3-10 on La Graciosa (Carrascal et al. 2006), whilst another census estimated the population at around 1,000 birds on the all the islands, with 384-459 on Fuerteventura, 383-806 on Lanzarote and 11-17 on La Graciosa (Lorenzo et al. 2007). The population of nominate undulata in the mid-1990s was estimated to be at least 9,800 individuals, of which over 50% were in Algeria, 30% in Morocco and 10% in Libya (Goriup 1997). In more recent discussions, however, a reliable estimate for the number of individuals in North Africa has not been considered achievable (without huge confidence limits).

Although this species showed a steady decline of c.25% in the 20 years preceding 2004 (F. Launay pers. comm. 2004), this trend may since have been reversed by a captive breeding and release programme in eastern Morocco and western Algeria, and the overall population of undulata is said to be increasing (O. Combreau in litt. 2012). However, research is required into the efficacy of such releases at improving the demographic trends of the entire population without compromising its genetic integrity. Furthermore, the species has become extremely rare in Tunisia, and declines are suspected in other range states (R. Ayé in litt. 2013). Until further information is available, the global population is suspected to be in rapid decline owing to continued hunting and pressures on its habitats.


It inhabits sandy and stony semi-desert and is specialised to arid conditions where trees are absent and both shrub cover and herb layer are sparse (Collar 1979, Goriup 1997, Snow and Perrins 1998, Martí and del Moral 2003), and appears to prefer remote areas away from human settlement (Chammem et al. 2012). It feeds on invertebrates, small vertebrates and green shoots, and typically lays 2-4 eggs in a scrape on the ground. Eggs and young are susceptible to ground predators. North African populations may be sedentary or partially migratory, moving relatively short distances to find recent plant growth (Snow and Perrins 1998).

Males attract their mates with an extravagant courtship display which they perform at the same site each year. The display begins with a period of strutting and culminates with the male retracting his head within an ornamental shield of erected neck feathers and then running at speed in either a straight or curved line. The display is often accompanied by a series of subsonic booming calls (Gaucher et al. 1996).


The principal threat is from hunting, which has worsened with the increased use of firearms, off-road vehicles and other technology (Azafzaf et al. 2005, Michler 2009). This threat is compounded by pressures on the species's habitats, from agricultural expansion, over-grazing of livestock, road construction, other infrastructure development and tourism developments (Azafzaf et al. 2005). Eggs are susceptible to trampling by livestock and collection by humans. Disturbance can be caused by oil exploration activities, along with disturbance associated with other threats. Locust control programmes can lead to direct and indirect poisoning of birds and a reduction in food supply. Floods and droughts cause additional pressures (Azafzaf et al. 2005).

Subspecies fuertaventurae is considered threatened by collisions with powerlines (Lowen 2007, C. González and J. A. Lorenzo in litt. 2007), as well as habitat degradation caused by tourist facilities, off-road vehicles, military exercises, overgrazing, sand extraction and road development, and possibly also nest predation by introduced mammals and illegal hunting (Martín. et al. 1997, Martín and Lorenzo 2001, Martí and del Moral 2003). Recent evidence suggests that the impact of military exercises and hunting have reduced considerably in recent years, but mortality from powerlines may still be significant (C. González and J. A. Lorenzo in litt. 2007).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway


Lewis, A., Hingrat, Y., González, C,, Combreau, O., Lorenzo, J., Islam, Z., Ayé, R., Collar, N., Launay, F., Iñigo, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Chlamydotis undulata. Downloaded from on 25/03/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 25/03/2023.