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A photo of a Australian Bustard (Ardeotis australis)
Australian Bustard

Australian Bustard

Ardeotis australis

The Australian bustard, Ardeotis australis, is a majestic ground-dwelling bird, reminiscent of the American turkey in stature and gait. With a stately height of about one meter and a wingspan approximately twice that length, it is the largest extant flying land bird in Australia, though it is the smallest within its genus. The males, significantly larger than females, can reach up to 1.2 meters in height and boast a wingspan of 2.3 meters, with an average weight of 6.3 kilograms.

Identification Tips

This species exhibits sexual dimorphism, with females being smaller in both size and weight. The plumage is predominantly brown with black and white patterning on the wing coverts, visible both at rest and in flight. A distinctive black band separates the white abdomen from the pale grey neck. The long legs are yellow to cream, and the iris is notably white.

Habitat

The Australian bustard favors open grasslands, spinifex plains, and low shrublands. It is also known to venture into denser vegetation post-fire and can be observed in human-modified landscapes such as farmlands and golf courses.

Distribution

The bird's range spans across northern Australia and occasionally reaches southern Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. However, its presence has receded in the southeast of Australia.

Behaviour

The Australian bustard is a nomadic species, capable of long-distance flights to exploit areas of food abundance. It is generally solitary or seen in pairs, walking with a deliberate pace. When threatened, it may adopt a cryptic stance or take flight with heavy wingbeats. During the breeding season, males perform a flamboyant display, expanding a neck sac and emitting deep, booming calls.

Song & Calls

The male's courtship call is a deep, resonant "who-o-o-o," part of a display that includes an impressive visual performance.

Breeding

The species lays one, sometimes two, eggs directly on the ground without constructing a nest. The eggs are olive-brown with blotching, and incubation is solely the female's responsibility. Chicks are precocial and rely on their mottled down for camouflage.

Diet and Feeding

An omnivorous bird, the Australian bustard's diet includes seeds, fruits, insects like grasshoppers, as well as small vertebrates such as lizards, young birds, and rodents.

Conservation status

The IUCN lists the Australian bustard as Least Concern, with a declining population trend. It is sensitive to human and livestock disturbance at breeding sites and has seen a contraction in its southeastern range due to various threats.

Similar Species

There are no similar species within its range, making the Australian bustard quite distinctive in its native habitat.

Cultural references

The Australian bustard holds cultural significance for Aboriginal peoples, who refer to it as the bush turkey and use it as a food source and in ceremonial practices. It features in Dreaming stories and is represented in indigenous art.

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Australian Bustards on Birda

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