Archived 2015 topics: Little Bustard (Tetrax tetrax) – uplist from Near Threatened to Vulnerable?

Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax breeds from Morocco and Iberia to France and Italy, and from Ukraine and SW Russia through Kazakhstan to NW China and N Iran, and winters from the Mediterranean zone through Turkey and Transcaucasia to Iran, and erratically elsewhere in S Asia (Collar et al. 2014). It is currently listed as Near Threatened, because when last assessed it was thought to be undergoing a moderately rapid population decline.

Globally, it has an extremely large range in the breeding season (>5 million km2) and a large range in winter (c. 1 million km2), and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criteria (B and D2). Its population size is also very large (with 122,000–240,000 mature individuals in Europe alone; BirdLife International 2015), and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criteria (C and D1). Therefore, the only potentially relevant criterion is A, which relates to reductions in population size. Until recently, the population was thought to be declining moderately rapidly, at a rate approaching the threshold for listing as Vulnerable under criterion A (at least a 30% decline over ten years or three generations, whichever is longer), based largely on trend data collated from across its European range for the period 1990–2000 (BirdLife International 2004).

New data collated from across Europe for the European Red List of Birds (BirdLife International 2015) indicate that the species has continued to decline significantly in recent years, and that this decline is ongoing. A combination of official data reported by 27 EU Member States to the European Commission under Article 12 of the EU Birds Directive and comparable data from other European countries, provided by BirdLife Partners and other leading national ornithologists, suggests that the European breeding population has declined overall by 35–40% over the last three generations (30.9 years, based on a generation length estimated by BirdLife to be 10.3 years), especially in Spain, which holds c. 70% of the European population. Consequently, the species is now classified as Vulnerable at European level (BirdLife International 2015).

Based on its distribution, Europe holds around 40% of the global breeding range, with most of the remainder in Kazakhstan. Based on its abundance, however, Europe probably holds around 80-90% of the global population (with only c. 20,000 individuals in Kazakhstan; N. Petkov in litt. 2012), so the decline in Europe is of global significance. It is possible that the numbers breeding in SW Russia and Kazakhstan have been underestimated, as large wintering flocks (some comprising tens of thousands of birds) have been recorded in Azerbaijan (Gauger & Heiß 2010), and 5,000-10,000 birds are estimated to winter in Iran (Sehhatisabet et al. 2012). However, it is also possible that the Central Asian population is declining, owing to the threats posed by factors like agricultural change (e.g. Kamp et al. 2011) and power lines (e.g. Voronova et al. 2012), which have already contributed to the declines observed in western Europe.

Given the information that is available, and the strong decline in its core European range, the species appears to qualify to uplisting to Vulnerable under criterion A.

Comments on this proposal are welcome, along with any data regarding the recent trend of its breeding and wintering populations in Central Asia, Transcaucasia and the Middle East, along with any additional information about the threats currently affecting this species across its range.


BirdLife International (2004) Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status. Cambridge, UK: BirdLife International (Conservation Series No. 12).

BirdLife International (2015) European Red List of Birds. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.

Collar, N., Garcia, E.F.J. & de Juana, E. (2014). Little Bustard (Tetrax tetrax). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2014). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

Gauger, K., and Heiß, M. 2010. Winter trip 2010: Birdwatching news and bird photography from Transcaucasia.

Kamp, J., Urazaliev, R., Donald, P. F., & Hölzel, N. (2011). Post-Soviet agricultural change predicts future declines after recent recovery in Eurasian steppe bird populations. Biological Conservation, 144(11), 2607-2614.

Sehhatisabet, M. E., Abdi, F., Ashoori, A., Khaleghizadeh, A., Khani, A., Rabiei, K., & Shakiba, M. (2012). Preliminary assessment of distribution and population size of wintering Little Bustards Tetrax tetrax in Iran. Bird Conservation International, 22(03), 279-287.

Voronova, V. V., Pulikova, G. I., Kim, K. K., Andreeva, E. V., Bekker, V. R., & Aitbaev, T. (2012). The Impact of Power Lines on Bird Mortality in Central Kazakhstan. Raptors Conservation 24: 52-60

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5 Responses to Archived 2015 topics: Little Bustard (Tetrax tetrax) – uplist from Near Threatened to Vulnerable?

  1. Dear Andy,
    I agree with your proposal. Even after the recent updates of the status of Spanish populations, the species trends seem to be worst than suspected. I have been talking with several Spanish Regional Environmental Agencies about little bustards in the last weeks (Extremadura, Castilla-La Mancha, Aragón, La Rioja…) and all of them are very worried about regional population trends.

    We have recently published an article regarding migratory patterns of iberian little bustards (García de la Morena et al., 2015) and we have found that the species have extensive seasonal movements (instead of been mainly sedentary) and regional populations are very related, at least in terms of sharing wintering and summering grounds (probably in an metapopulation scheme). That have obvious conservation implications, specially if we take into account the great decline of the species at its best wintering grounds that reflect the overall negative trend. Moreover, my colleagues of the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid (M. Morales et al.) were reviewing several of these wintering grounds in the last winter (were we have been performing monitoring in previous years) and the results have been very negative, with very few wintering flocks, all of them of small size (comprising some hundreds of birds, as much). We think that a flock of a thousand of little bustards is almost something of the past in Spain.
    I don’t have recent information regarding Western populations (Central Asia, Transcaucasia and the Middle East) but I agree that it should be very important to uplist the species to Vulnerable. In this sense, information regarding wintering grounds should be the most usefull, as they gather the mayority of the population of that area.


    García de la Morena, E. L.; Morales, M.B.; Gerard, G.; Silva, J.P.; Ponjoan, A.; Suárez, F.; Mañosa, S.; y de Juana, E. 2015. Migration patterns of Iberian little bustards. Ardeola, 62 (1): 95-112. DOI:

  2. Praveen J says:

    Incidence of vagrancy in India has greatly reduced, since 1910 – there has been only a single record (in 1964) of this species suggesting declines elsewhere.

  3. Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

    Preliminary proposals

    Based on available information, our preliminary proposal for the 2015 Red List would be to treat:

    Little Bustard as Vulnerable under criterion A2+3+4.

    However, further information from Central Asia would be very helpful.

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline of 31 August, after which the recommended categorisation will be put forward to IUCN.

    The final Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife website in late October and on the IUCN website in November, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

  4. There is no quantitative trend information available from Kazakhstan, and very limited count data from Russia (see the discussions on the Birdlife forums from earlier years). I personally feel that NT is an appropriate category for the species:
    – There is little evidence that the species declined due to agricultural expansion in Kazakhstan as postulated earlier, as i) expansion is currently not as rapid as predicted, ii) the availability of natural steppe habitat is not a limiting factor. We have been surveying large areas of Kostanai province in Kazakhstan in May 2015 (togehter with the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan, ACBK), and the species is basically using every type of habitat there incl. some arable fields. Compared to our 2008 and 2009 surveys, densities have obviously not decreased in N and Central Kazakhstan.
    – I have not heard of any decrease in numbers of the very large wintering flocks in Azerbaidzhan (for details, better ask Kai Gauger and Michael Heiss)
    – given that >150,000 birds winter in Azerbaidzhan alone, the eastern populations have been massively underestimated (or increased since the early 1990s). The current estimates of 9,000 males for Russia and 20,000 males for Kazakhstan seem to be far too low. Based on observed densities in Kazakhstan and the winter counts in Azerbaidzhan, I guess that the eastern population must number at least as many individuals as the Iberian population.

    Best wishes,
    Johannes Kamp

  5. Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

    Recommended categorisation to be put forward to IUCN

    Based on further information received, we have been able to change the preliminary proposal and revise the recommended classification on the 2015 Red List to Near Threatened (criterion A) .

    The final categorisation will be published on the BirdLife website in late October and on the IUCN website in November, following further checking of information relevant to the assessment by BirdLife and IUCN.

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