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A photo of a Denham's Bustard (Neotis denhami), male
Denham's Bustard, Male

Denham's Bustard

Neotis denhami

The Denham's bustard, also known as Stanley bustard or Stanley's bustard, is a majestic bird of the bustard family, notable for its size and striking plumage. Males are considerably larger than females, weighing between 9 to 10 kg (20 to 22 lb) and measuring 100–116 cm (39–46 in) in length, while females tip the scales at 3 to 4 kg (6.6 to 8.8 lb) and span 80–87 cm (31–34 in). The species exhibits sexual dimorphism, with males boasting a darker, plainer back and a more pronounced display of white feathers during courtship. Both sexes have a pale grey neck with an orange nape, a grey crown edged with black, and a distinctive black line through the eye, offset by a white eyebrow. Their long legs are a pale yellow, and the wings are intricately patterned with brown, white, and black, with males displaying more white during flight.

Identification Tips

To identify the Denham's bustard, look for the large size, brown back, white underparts, and pale grey neck with an orange nape. The head features a grey crown bordered with black, and the face has a black line running through the eye with a white line above it. The wings are patterned with brown, white, and black, and the long legs are yellowish. The male can be distinguished by the white balloon of feathers he displays on his throat during courtship.

Habitat

Denham's bustard is found in a variety of open ground habitats, including grasslands, agricultural lands, flood-plains, and burnt fynbos. They are adaptable birds that can also inhabit secondary habitats such as dense shrubland, light woodland, farmland, dried marshes, and arid plains.

Distribution

This species is widespread across Sub-Saharan Africa, with three subspecies occupying distinct ranges. N. d. denhami is found from southwestern Mauritania and Senegal to Uganda and Ethiopia. N. d. jacksoni ranges from Kenya and Tanzania to Zambia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe, with populations also in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. N. d. stanleyi is present in South Africa and Eswatini.

Behaviour

Outside the breeding season, Denham's bustards are often solitary, though they may gather at abundant food sources or for migratory movements. They are omnivorous and opportunistic feeders, consuming insects, small snakes, rodents, bird nestlings, and various plants. They are known to follow ungulates to feed on dung beetles found in their droppings. Males perform a flamboyant courtship display on a lek to attract females, inflating their throats and strutting with puffed-up plumage.

Song & Calls

Typically silent, the Denham's bustard is not known for a distinctive song or call, especially outside of the breeding season.

Breeding

Breeding times vary, with East Africa showing less defined seasons, often triggered by rainfall. The female lays one or two eggs in a shallow scrape on the ground and raises the chicks alone, should they survive.

Similar Species

The Denham's bustard can be confused with other bustard species, but its size, habitat, and the male's distinctive throat display during courtship help differentiate it.

Diet and Feeding

An omnivorous bird, the Denham's bustard's diet includes insects, small vertebrates, bird nestlings, and green plant matter. They are known to follow herds of ungulates to feed on insects disturbed by their movement.

Conservation Status

The Denham's bustard is classified as Near Threatened due to population declines across its range. In West Africa and the Sahel, hunting is the primary threat, while habitat conversion to agriculture poses a significant risk in eastern and southern Africa. In some regions, the transformation of grasslands into commercially logged forests has emerged as a new threat to their survival.

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