The great bustard is found scattered across the temperate latitudes of Europe, northern Africa and Asia, breeding in Morocco, Portugal, Spain, Austria, Germany, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Turkey, Iran, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Mongolia and China.
The males of this species are the heaviest flying animals currently in existence, being 90-110 cm long, having a wingspan of 2,1-2,5 m and weighing up to 16 kg. Females are smaller with a length of 80 cm, a wingspan of 1,8 m and a weight of 3,5-5,3 kg.
The great bustard occurs in open, flat or somewhat rolling landscapes, usually with a mixture of steppic grassland, crops (cereals, oilseeds, fodder plants) and bare ground. Areas with little to no disturbance and an abundant supply of insects are required for successful breeding.
These birds are omnivorous eating both green plants, seeds, fruits and invertebrates. Among their invertebrate prey are mollusks, oligochaetes, spiders, crickets, beetles, ants and caterpillars.
Great bustards start breeding in March-April. The males form leks, where they attempt to impress females with their displays. After the female has chosen a male and mated with him, she digs a shallow pit on the ground, where she lays 1-3 eggs. The female incubates the eggs alone for 25-28 days. The female will rear the chicks alone, but the chicks can stand soon after hatching and will forage alone after 10 days. The chicks fledge 30-35 days after hatching but stay with the mother for several months.
IUCN status – VU (Vulnerable)
Although this species has a very large breeding range, it is mostly found in small scattered pockets of favourable habitat. The current population size is estimated at 45.000 individuals and, although populations in its Iberian stronghold have stabilised and possibly increased, future land-use changes in eastern Europe, Russia and central Asia may have a significant impact on this species’s population and the extent of its remaining habitat, such that it is likely to undergo a rapid population reduction over the next three generations. The main threats to this species include habitat fragmentation and habitat loss due to agricultural intensification, increased chick mortality caused by mechanized agriculture, hunting and collision with power lines.