The Great Bustard
Follow the Trail

The Great Bustard

  • QUIZ

Dear Explorers,

Perhaps you have heard of me before. I'm quite big, one of the heaviest birds on earth that can fly and I also live in Lower Austria and Burgenland. My name is Great Bustard and, despite my size, I am not so easy to spot. To make this a little easier for you, we have put together a lot of interesting and surprising facts about me. I hope you enjoy reading about me.

Many thanks to the experts at for providing images and information.

Picture credits: © Franz Josef Kovacs
Header picture credits: © Franz Josef Kovacs

  • Size: up to 1 m
  • Wingspan: up to 240 cm
  • Weight of cockerels: up to 15 kg
  • Weight of females: significantly smaller and lighter (up to 5.5 kg)
  • Nest: simple hollow in the ground
  • Eggs: mostly 2, rarely 3
  • Breeding period: 25 - 27 days, young birds are fledged after 5 weeks,
  • Age: 20 years and older; roosters reach sexual maturity at 5 - 6 years!

Bustards have a massive body and strong legs. The back and tail feathers of the cockerels are reddish-brown and black-banded, the breast is rusty-brown and the underside of the body is clearly white. The head and neck are blue-grey. Older cocks have a feather beard next to their lower beak.
Hens have a more delicate build and a slimmer neck in keeping with their lower weight. The plumage coloration is less intense, or tending towards grey.

Picture credits: © Franz Josef Kovacs

Picture credits: © Franz Josef Kovacs

Picture credits: © Franz Josef Kovacs

Great bustards eat plants such as herbs, seeds, grains, fruit and onions. Important foods in the cultivated landscape are the leaves of rape, alfalfa, clover, peas and various other arable herbs. Their diet also includes insects and small mammals. Animal food, especially grasshoppers, is particularly important for the chicks in the first two weeks of life. During this time, they are fed by their mother.
The animal proteins are particularly necessary and important for the rapid growth of the bustards. Bustards weigh approx. 90g when they hatch, by the fall they have almost reached full size.

Research results from Spain show that great bustards eat certain insects and wild plants to combat parasites and worms in their intestines. Oil beetles, for example, contain the highly toxic cantharidin, while corn poppies and viper's bugloss contain very effective alkaloids. The ingestion of these substances can prevent the transmission of diseases within bustard populations.

With the exception of the breeding season, the birds live all year round separated by sex in wide open spaces and their flight distance when disturbed is extraordinarily large. Great bustards are largely mute.

Picture credits: © Franz Josef Kovacs

Courtship usually takes place in spring in traditional areas that have often been used for decades. It is unusual. The rival cocks turn their brown wing feathers inside out and the white elbow feathers and undersides of the wings come up. In addition, the throat pouch is inflated and the feather beard is spread.

The cocks, which are normally well camouflaged, turn into bright white balls of feathers and are visible to the hens from afar. In polygamous great bustards, several young cocks, including "onlookers", are involved in the courtship display, and the hens mate with several cocks. The breeding sites of the hens are often used repeatedly throughout their lives. Hens are very susceptible to disturbance at the start of breeding.

Great bustards live in steppe and heathland areas from Western Europe and Northwest Africa to Central and East Asia. The world population comprises almost 36,000 individuals. The largest population with more than half of the birds is found in Spain and the population numbers are declining worldwide, the species is considered endangered worldwide. Great bustards have suffered a decline of around 30% in the last 11 years. In contrast, the Central European populations have increased by 11%. Thanks to extensive conservation management in the form of the "LIFE Great Bustard (LIFE NAT/AT/000834)" project( in Austria, Slovakia and Hungary, the West Pannonian bustard population living here has also recovered and has grown from under 300 to over 600 animals in the past 20 years (+ 7%). One reason for this pleasing development was, for example, the laying of approx. 150 km of high-voltage power lines under the ground in Lower Austria and Burgenland.

Great bustards are best observed during the mating season in spring in the Waasen, or Hansag, an eastern part of the national park Neusiedler See-Seewinkel. Special observation towers offer a good opportunity to look far into the landscape for great bustards. An area for good fall and winter observations is located on the Parndorfer Platte near Zurndorf. There are also observation towers there to see the bustards.

As the bustard breeding site is a little off the beaten track of the usual national park region, we have been conducting our own Great Bustard safaris in spring for many years. The focus of this tour is of course on this species, but with a bit of luck you can also observe white-tailed and imperial eagles, short-eared owls, Montagu's harriers, curlews and whinchats in this area.

Test your knowledge!

Discover a new species each month and, with a little luck, win a Seewinkel-Safari voucher for two.

Good luck with your participation and explorer greetings,
your nature experience team of the St. Martins Spa  &Lodge

Conditions of participation:
The current competition will run until April 30, 2024. The winner of a safari voucher for two will be chosen from all participants with the correct answer in camera. The winner will be notified via email . Cash redemption of the prize and legal recourse are excluded.

The largest population of Great Bustard is found in?*
How many eggs does a female Great Bustard normally lay?
How heavy are great bustards after hatching?


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