bustard (bŭsˈtərd) [key], a heavy-bodied, ground-running bird of the family Otididae. Various species are found throughout the arid regions of Africa, Asia, Australia, and S Europe. Bustards range in length from 141/2 to 52 in. (37–132 cm) and include the heaviest birds capable of flight. The great bustard, Otis tarda, of Europe and central Asia, is the largest European land-bird; the adult male may be 4 ft (10.2 m) long with an 8-ft (20.3-m) wingspan and may weigh 30 lb (13.6 kg) or more. The kori bustard, Ardeotis kori, found in Africa, is slightly larger on average. The great Indian bustard, A. nigriceps, which is a little smaller, is now endangered.
Bustards are stocky birds with long necks and strong legs; their feet are built for running, with flat toes, broad soles, and no hind toe. The species vary in color from gray to brown, and many are spotted or barred above and white, buff, or black below. Bustards live mainly on grassy plains or in brushlands. Although they are strong fliers, they seldom leave the ground. They wander about in flocks of a dozen or more birds, feeding on leaves, seeds, and insects, especially beetles. The males are polygamous and fight fiercely during the breeding season. The female lays and incubates from one to five eggs, according to the species; the chicks are able to fly at the age of six weeks.
Bustards have been extensively hunted for food; they are extinct in Britain and are becoming scarce in the northern part of their range. The more than two dozen species are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Gruiformes, family Otididae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.