Justification of Red List Category
This newly split species is subject to considerable over-exploitation and declines have been estimated in a large proportion of its total population, thus globally it is estimated and projected to be in rapid population decline over three generations, starting in the past and continuing into the future. However, rates of population decline may be very rapid, and if hunting pressure is not reduced the species could soon warrant uplisting to a higher threat category. Conversely, if on-going reintroduction and reinforcement strategies succeed in stabilising the population, future downlisting to a lower threat category may be justified.
The population has recently been estimated at between 78,960 and 97,000 individuals globally (O. Combreau in litt. 2014, BirdLife International 2014). It must be emphasised, however, that accurately establishing the global population is extremely challenging, and this figure should be treated as a tentative best estimate. The population is therefore expected to fall within the population band for 50,000-99,999 individuals, which is assumed to equate to c.33,000-67,000 mature individuals.
Since 1998, biannual surveys have been carried out in southern Kazakhstan (Tourenq et al. 2004, 2005, Riou et al. 2011), which holds over 50% of the global population. The initial published analysis of the first four years of data (1998-2002) suggested alarming declines across all regions surveyed (Tourenq et al. 2004, 2005). Subsequent assessment of 10 years of survey data from 2000 to 2009 by Riou et al. (2011) confirmed on-going declines in some regions, but also suggested stabilising and even increasing populations in others. Overall, the population in Kazakhstan is estimated to have declined by 26-36% between 2000 and 2009 (Riou et al. 2011). Anecdotal evidence indicates that there have been recent declines in Iran (R. Ayé in litt. 2013), and that hunting pressure has been very high in Iraq (R. Porter in litt. 2013) and Pakistan (S. Khan in litt. 2013) in recent years. Based on these data and observations, the population is estimated and projected to be declining by 30-49% over a three-generation (20-year) window, stretching from the past into the future.
This species extends from Egypt east of the Nile, through Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, U.A.E., Bahrain, Qatar, Iraq, Kuwait, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Mongolia to China. In addition, there may still be limited or sporadic occurrence of the species in Azerbaijan and Armenia, and perhaps also in southern Russia and Turkey (Goriup 1997). The population has recently been estimated at between 78,960 and 97,000 individuals globally (O. Combreau in litt. 2014). It must be emphasised, however, that accurately establishing the global population is extremely challenging, and this range of figures should be treated as a tentative best estimate. More generally, the population is expected to fall within the population band of 50,000-99,999 individuals. The breeding population in Kazakhstan has been estimated at c.49,000 individuals (Riou et al. 2011).
The most robust population trend data come from extensive studies coordinated by the National Avian Research Center (NARC; now part of the International Fund for Houbara Conservation, Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.). Since 1998, NARC has undertaken biannual surveys across the five principal population centres in southern Kazakhstan (Tourenq et al. 2004, 2005, Riou et al. 2011). Given that this country hosts a significant proportion (>50%) of the global population and is the source of most migrants to Arabia, Pakistan and Iran, where hunting pressures are most intense, information from here provides an indication of the status of the global population. The initial published analysis of the first four years of data (1998-2002) suggested alarming declines across all five regions, most severely in the vicinity of the Kyzylkum Desert (Tourenq et al. 2004, 2005). Subsequent assessment of 10 years of survey data from 2000 to 2009 by Riou et al. (2011) confirmed on-going declines in some regions, but also suggested stabilising and even increasing populations in others. Assessed collectively, the population in Kazakhstan declined by 26-36% between 2000 and 2009 (Riou et al. 2011). In the northern part of Bukhara Province, Uzbekistan, the number of males was estimated to be 1,645-2,030 (Koshkin et al. 2016a), with no sign of a prominent population decline within the last five years (M. Koshkin in litt. 2016). Anecdotal evidence from Iran suggests that between 2004 and 2012 the population there has declined, with apparently substantial declines noted in protected areas (R. Ayé in litt. 2013). In recent years the species has been heavily hunted in Iraq, as the country has opened up to visits by hunters from other countries (R. Porter in litt. 2013). Thousands of individuals of this species are hunted and trapped each year in Pakistan (S. Khan in litt. 2013).
This species inhabits open, arid and sparsely vegetated steppe and semi-desert (Launay et al. 1997, Osborne et al. 1997, Mian 2003, Yang et al. 2003). It favours scattered shrubby vegetation, typically comprising xerophytic or halophytic plants (Collar 1996). Those wintering in Iran have been shown to prefer more densely vegetated bush-steppe to sparser shrub-steppe; however, within those bush-steppe habitats they favour areas with reduced vegetation cover (Aghanajafizadeh et al. 2010). Bush-steppe is thought to contain a higher abundance of food sources such as Salsola spp. and arthropods (Yang et al. 2003, Aghanajafizadeh et al. 2010, 2011). Birds wintering in Iran also routinely visit neighbouring farmland where alfalfa and salad rocket is grown, but avoid pistachio crops (Aghanajafizadeh et al. 2010). Although dense vegetation may provide a sanctuary from danger, as well as thermal protection when overnight temperatures drop in winter (Aghanajafizadeh et al. 2010), more open, unvegetated areas are often favoured as night-time roosts in order to minimise the risk of ambush by nocturnal predators (Combreau and Smith 1997). On the breeding grounds, nesting females may also favour sites away from vegetation patches, which could provide cover for predators (Yang et al. 2003, Aghanajafizadeh et al. 2012). Abundance of breeding males has been found to be higher in flat areas with shorter shrub vegetation which is likely to be more suitable for displaying (Koshkin et al. 2016a).
The species feeds throughout the day, but is most active at dawn and dusk (Combreau and Launay 1996). It has an eclectic diet, mainly comprising plants and invertebrates (especially ants Formicidae and beetles Tenebrionidae: Tigar and Osborne 2000), but also including vertebrates such as rodents, lizards, small snakes and even young birds (Collar 1996, Tourenq et al. 2003).
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). Males play no part in rearing the young, and a brood may contain young sired by several different individuals (Lesobre et al. 2010). Females create a shallow scrape in the ground in which they typically lay 3-4 eggs, and occasionally up to six eggs in long-distance migrants (Collar 1996, Combreau et al. 2002). The incubation period is typically 24 days, whilst fledging takes around 35 days.
The principal threat is from hunting (primarily using falconry), largely but not exclusively on the species's wintering grounds (Judas et al. 2009). Large numbers are also trapped, mainly in Pakistan and Iran, and shipped to Arabia for use in the training of falcons (Combreau 2007). In 2014 an illegal shipment of 240 birds was intercepted en route from Pakistan to Bahrain (Shafaeipour et al. 2015). In parts of the region, fast-paced development related to the growth of the petroleum industry has reduced the availability of undisturbed habitats and further exacerbated the species's decline. Oil exploration, road building, oil and water pipelines, mining and quarrying activities, powerlines and the general disturbance caused by four-wheel drive vehicles have all been identified as significant auxiliary threats. Powerlines in particular may be a significant threat (M. Koshkin in litt. 2016). Preliminary data from Uzbekistan suggests that powerlines may contribute to species mortality (Burnside et al. 2015).
Livestock grazing is reported to have a negative impact on the species, both indirectly, by degrading the desert vegetation on which birds rely for food and concealment, and directly, through the trampling of nests and disturbance of nesting females (Lavee 1988). Recent research on the effects of pastoralism on this species in the Kyzylkum Desert in Uzbekistan, however, has found that low intensity livestock grazing may not widely degrade rangelands at a landscape scale (Koshkin et al. 2014) and has no effect on male abundance and female nesting success (Koshkin et al. 2016a,b). In Iran, loss of habitat to croplands, mainly through the planting of pistachio, has been judged to be a significant threat (Mansoori 2006); however, it has also been found that the species exploits other crops such as alfalfa and salad rocket (Aghanajafizadeh et al. 2010). In Saudi Arabia, eggs and nests are predated by a range of mammalian predators (M. Zafar-ul Islam in litt. 2016).
Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I. CMS Appendix II. The species is considered Critically Endangered on the European Red List of Birds (BirdLife International 2015). Studies have been conducted into the status, ecology and migration of the species in various parts of its range, most notably Kazakhstan (Combreau et al. 2001, 2002, Tourenq et al. 2004, O. Combreau and M. Lawrence in litt. 2004, F. Launay pers. comm. 2004, Riou et al. 2011) and Uzbekistan (Koshkin et al. 2014, 2016a,b). Through its network of breeding facilities in the U.A.E., Morocco and Kazakhstan, the International Fund for Houbara Conservation (IFHC) has a long-term goal to produce 35,000 Asian Houbaras each year for reintroduction into the wild (IFHC 2014). The first releases were made in Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area in central Saudi Arabia in 1991. This population is currently estimated to number 250–300 individuals. Further releases have taken place elsewhere in Saudi Arabia (including at Saja Umm ar Rimth with c.50 individuals [M. Zafar-ul Islam in litt. 2016]) and also in U.A.E., Qatar, Kuwait, Yemen, Jordan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. It is not yet clear what impact the releases of captive-reared birds have on the demographics and genetic integrity of the overall population, however according to Burnside et al. (2016), in order to compensate for the loss of wild adults to hunting, the number of released birds may need to be as much as 10 times higher than hunting quotas. At least three birds have been satellite tracked from Saudi Arabia to the breeding grounds in Kazakhstan (Zafar-ul Islam et al. 2014).
c. 65-75 cm. A striking pale sandy bustard with black-tipped white crest and black neck stripe, blue-grey foreneck and breast, and white underparts. In display the male erects the long feathers of the crest and neck and withdraws his head into his chest while performing a blind run in various directions. Similar spp. The present species was previously included within C. undulata, which has a completely white crest and lacks any white in the ornamental neck plumes, and has the neck finely peppered black and white rather than smoothly blue-grey. Voice. Mostly silent, but the males display ends in a series of high-pitched notes.
Text account compilers
Wheatley, H., Khwaja, N., Ashpole, J, Allinson, T, Martin, R., Collar, N., Derhé, M., Butchart, S., Symes, A., Taylor, J., Gilroy, J.
Ayé, R., Collar, N., Combreau, O., Hingrat, Y., Islam, Z., Khan, S., Launay, F., Lewis, A., Nyamsuren, B., Pilgrim, J., Porter, R., Vyas, V. & Koshkin, M.
BirdLife International (2021) Species factsheet: Chlamydotis macqueenii. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 25/02/2021. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2021) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 25/02/2021.