Justification of Red List Category
This species has an extremely large range, and a very large global population, however the population is suspected to be in decline owing to ongoing habitat destruction and hunting pressure. In Europe declines have been very rapid, however this only represents c.15 % of the global range and trends in Asia and north Africa are more difficult to determine. It remains classified as Least Concern because the overall rate of decline is not yet suspected to be moderately rapid, however better information from across the range could lead to its uplisting to a higher category of threat in the near future.
The European population is estimated at 10,400-19,100 pairs, which equates to 20,800-38,200 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015). Europe forms c.15% of the global range, so a very preliminary estimate of the global population size is 138,000-255,000 mature individuals, although further validation of this estimate is needed.
The population is suspected to be in decline owing to ongoing habitat destruction and hunting pressure. In Europe the population size is estimated to be decreasing by 50-79% in 16.8 years (three generations) (BirdLife International 2015). The global rate of decline is difficult to determine, but is not currently thought to be moderately rapid.
This species breeds in Iberia and NW Africa (including the Canary Islands), and from Turkey east through southern Central Asia to NW China, and south to Iran and Pakistan, with some birds wintering further south in the Middle East and NW India (de Juana & Boesman 2016).
The species inhabits semi-arid plains with steppe to semi-desert vegetation, including pastoral scrubland and dry cereal cultivation with associated fallow ground (de Juana and Boesman 2016). It lays between March and August with timing dependent on latitude, generally laying in April in the Canary Islands and mostly June in Spain and the former USSR with replacement clutches until September (de Juana and Boesman 2016). It normally lays three eggs. The nest is an uncovered, bare scrape in bare, stony areas such as those found on the edges of ploughed fields (Tucker and Heath 1994). It often feeds on small or very small seeds apparently preferring Leguminosae, as well as cereal grain and cultivated legumes. It is sedentary in Iberia and North Africa and nomadic or partially migratory in Turkey and the Middle East and largely migratory in Kazakhstan (de Juana and Boesman 2016).
Within Europe the main threat to this species is the intensification of agriculture. Ploughing of pasture and irrigation have reduced available habitat while the removal of marginal areas of semi-natural vegetation and the increased application of agro-chemicals has reduced food availability and these practices have probably been responsible for the extinctions in some areas. On the remaining grasslands, overgrazing affects the vegetation composition and structure, reducing both food availability and cover for nesting. Conversely, land abandonment is also a major threat, as the open, treeless steppe habitat is quickly lost when grazing is removed.
Hunting, which is legal in Turkey during the breeding season, may be a significant threat in parts of the range; the species's habit of concentrating in large numbers at traditional drinking sites throughout the year means that it forms an attractive and relatively easy target (Tucker and Heath 1994).In Morocco it remains by far the commonest sandgrouse but there are local declines owing to hunting pressure (I. Cherkaoui in litt. 2017). In Tunisia hunting remains legal during the breeding season, and loss of wetlands has led to birds becoming more concentrated where water remains and hence more vulnerable to hunting pressure (H. Azafzaf in litt. 2017).
Conservation Actions Underway
EU Birds Directive Annex I. Bern Convention Appendix II. Several EU LIFE programmes have focused on its steppe habitat and the species occurs in some SPAs in Spain. It is listed in the Spanish Red Book as 'vulnerable' (Madroño et al. 2004).
Conservation Actions Proposed
Within Europe suitable habitats should be maintained through the continuation of long-established, low-intensity farming systems. These can be maintained through agri-environment schemes. In addition restrictions on grazing rates and the use of herbicides should be implemented and the maintenance of fallow land should be encouraged (Tucker and Heath 1994).
Text account compilers
Butchart, S., Ashpole, J, Symes, A., Ekstrom, J.
Isfendiyaroglu, S., Cavalieri, R., Krishnan, A., Smart, M., Jayadevan, P., Cherkaoui, I., Ayé, R., Azafzaf, H., Kashkarov, R.
BirdLife International (2019) Species factsheet: Pterocles orientalis. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 13/11/2019. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2019) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 13/11/2019.