Although nearly 500 bird species occur regularly in this hotspot, none are endemic to the region. Many species belong to genera typical of the high ranges of Asia, such as redstarts (Phoenicurus), accentors (Prunella) and rosefinches (Carpodacus). Coniferous forests on the northern side of the Tien Shan form the southern limits of several boreal species, including the black grouse (Lyrurus tetrix) and northern hawk owl (Surnia ulula), while desert birds, including the great bustard (Otis tarda, VU) and houbara bustard (Chlamydotis undulate, VU) occur in the low-altitude zones. [Source: Conservation International, Critical Ecosysten Partnership Fund, CEPF,net]

The Mountains of Central Asia are an important stronghold for birds of prey, with important breeding populations of several species, including the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), the imperial eagle (A. heliaca, VU), steppe eagle (A. rapax), booted eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus), lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus), black vulture (Aegypius monachus), Eurasian griffon (Gyps fulvus), Himalayan griffon (G. himalayensis), peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) and saker falcon (F. cherrug, EN).

Birds of prey do well in Central Asia. They feed on rodents on other small mammals that thrive in the tussocky grass of the steppe. In Tashkent you can see magpies and swifts.

Demoiselle cranes are known as the lovely birds by the people of Mongolia. They are smaller than most crane species and are among the most widespread, nesting across a wide swath of the Eurasian steppe. Demoiselle cranes reach altitudes of 24,000 feet when they cross the Hindu Kush mountains during their fall and spring migrations between nesting grounds in Central Asia and warmer, wintering areas in India. Demoiselle cranes winter in western Rajasthan.

Imperial Eagle

Central Asia is home for imperial eagle The Eastern Imperial eagle is 68 to 74 centimeters long and has a wingspan of 190 to 215 centimeters. It weighs 2.5 to 4.5 kilograms. Its habitat embraces open plains, wooded steppes, semi-desert and foothills in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Estimated surviving number: 2,000 pairs.

The Eastern Imperial eagle feeds on ground mammals such as sousliks (ground squirrels), hamsters and hares. After four yearly moults, young eagles attain the dark brown adult plumage with a pale crown and neck and white scapulars. The numbers Eastern Imperial eagles declining due to loss of habitat, shooting and trapping and disturbance of breeding areas.

Houbara Bustard

The Houbara bustard is a large bird that is found in semi-deserts and steppes in North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. They have black patches on their necks and wings and reach 65 to 78 centimeters in length and have a wingspan of up to five feet. Males weigh 1.8 to 3.2 kilograms. Females weigh 1.2 to 1.7 kilograms. [Source: Philip Seldon, Natural History, June 2001]

Houbara bustards are well suited for their environment. They are well camouflaged and do not need to drink (they get all the water they need from their food). Their diet is extremely varied. They eat lizards, insects, berries and green shoots and are preyed upon by foxes. Although they have strong wings and are capable fliers they prefer to walk partly, it seems, because they’re are so hard to see when they are on the ground.

Bustards are long-legged, short-toed, broad-wing birds that live in the desert, grasslands of brushy plains of the Old World. Most of the 22 species are native to Africa. They usually are brown in color and duck when alarmed and are difficult to see. Males are generally much larger than females and they are famous for their bizarre courtship displays which often involve inflating sacs and elongating their neck feathers.

Male Houbara bustard are solitary during the nesting season. Females incubate the eggs and raise the young. Male Houbara bustard defend a large territory during the breeding season. They perform dramatic courtship displays with their crown feathers ruffled and white breast plumes sticking out and dances around doing a high-stepped trot. A mother usually raises two or three chicks, which stay with the mother for about three months even though they can fly short distances after a month. The mother teaches the chicks how to recognize dangers such as foxes.

Saving Endangered Houbara Bustard

There are an estimated 100,000 Houbara bustard. Their numbers have been reduced by loss of habitat and hunting. Many Arabs love the taste of their meat and enjoy hunting them with falcons. Their fighting spirit and strong flight of the Houbara bustard makes them attractive targets for falconers. They are generally much larger than the falcons that attack them.

In 1986, Saudi Arabia began a conservation program to save Houbara bustards. Large protected areas were established. Houbara bustards are captively bred at the National Wildlife Research Center in Taif, Saudi Arabia. Female bustards are artificially inseminated and the chicks are hand-raised and then released. The goal is to reestablish a healthy population in the wild. The main problems are preparing them to find food and escape predators.

After they are 30 to 45 days old, Houbara bustards are released into a special predator-free enclosure where they learn to find food. Once they are ready they can simply fly out of the enclosure into the desert. Many of the captively-raised birds have been killed by foxes. An effort has been made to trap the foxes and move them away but this did not decrease the death rate of the birds. Conservationists have more success with three-minute training sessions in which young caged bustards are exposed to a trained fox outside the cage. These birds had a higher survival rate than non-trained birds.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

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