Bustards, including floricans and korhaans, are large, terrestrial birds living mainly in dry grassland areas and on the steppes of the Old World. They range in length from 40 to 150 cm (16 to 59 in). They make up the family Otididae (/ˈtɪdɪd/, formerly known as Otidae). Bustards are omnivorous and opportunistic, eating leaves, buds, seeds, fruit, small vertebrates, and invertebrates.[1] There are 26 species currently recognised.

Temporal range:
MioceneHolocene, 13–0 Ma
Kori bustard (Ardeotis kori)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Clade: Otidimorphae
Order: Otidiformes
Wagler, 1830
Family: Otididae
Rafinesque, 1815
  • Gryzajidae Brodkorb 1967


Bustards are all fairly large with the two largest species, the kori bustard (Ardeotis kori) and the great bustard (Otis tarda), being frequently cited as the world's heaviest flying birds. In both the largest species, large males exceed a weight of 20 kg (44 lb), weigh around 13.5 kg (30 lb) on average and can attain a total length of 150 cm (59 in). The smallest species is the little brown bustard (Eupodotis humilis), which is around 40 cm (16 in) long and weighs around 600 g (1.3 lb) on average. In most bustards, males are substantially larger than females, often about 30% longer and sometimes more than twice the weight. They are among the most sexually dimorphic groups of birds. In only the floricans is the sexual dimorphism reverse, with the adult female being slightly larger and heavier than the male.

The wings have 10 primaries and 16–24 secondary feathers. There are 18–20 feathers in the tail. The plumage is predominantly cryptic.[1]

Behaviour and ecology

Bustards are omnivorous, feeding principally on seeds and invertebrates. They make their nests on the ground, making their eggs and offspring often very vulnerable to predation. They walk steadily on strong legs and big toes, pecking for food as they go. Most prefer to run or walk over flying. They have long broad wings with "fingered" wingtips, and striking patterns in flight. Many have interesting mating displays, such as inflating throat sacs or elevating elaborate feathered crests. The female lays three to five dark, speckled eggs in a scrape in the ground, and incubates them alone.[2]


Genetic dating indicates that bustards evolved c. 30 million years ago in either southern or eastern Africa from where they dispersed into Eurasia and Australia.[3]


The family Otididae was introduced (as Otidia) by the French polymath Constantine Samuel Rafinesque in 1815.[4][5][6]

Phylogeny of Otididae[7]

L. hartlaubii (Hartlaub's bustard)

L. melanogaster (Black-bellied bustard)


A. nuba (Nubian bustard)

A. ludwigii (Ludwig's bustard)

A. denhami (Denham's bustard)

A. heuglinii (Heuglin's bustard)

A. arabs (Arabian bustard)

A. kori (Kori bustard)

A. nigriceps (Great Indian bustard)

A. australis (Australian bustard)


Tetrax tetrax (Little bustard)

Otis tarda (Great bustard)


C. macqueenii (MacQueen's bustard)

C. undulata (Houbara bustard)

Sypheotides indicus (Lesser florican)

Houbaropsis bengalensis (Bengal florican)


L. ruficrista (Red-crested bustard)

L. savilei (Savile's bustard)

L. gindiana (Buff-crested Bustard)


H. humilis (Little brown bustard)

H. rueppellii (Rüppell's korhaan)

H. vigorsii (Karoo korhaan)


A. afra (Southern black korhaan)

A. afraoides (Northern black korhaan)


E. senegalensis (White-bellied bustard)

E. caerulescens (Blue korhaan)

Family Otididae[8]

  • Genus †Gryzaja Zubareva 1939
    • Gryzaja odessana Zubareva 1939
  • Genus †Ioriotis Burchak-Abramovich & Vekua 1981
    • Ioriotis gabunii Burchak-Abramovich & Vekua 1981
  • Genus †Miootis Umanskaya 1979
    • Miootis compactus Umanskaya 1979
  • Genus †Pleotis Hou 1982
    • Pleotis liui Hou 1982
  • Subfamily Lissotinae Verheyen 1957 non Benesh 1955
  • Subfamily Neotinae Verheyen 1957
    • Genus Neotis Sharpe 1893
    • Genus Ardeotis Le Maout 1853
      • Arabian bustard, Ardeotis arabs (Linnaeus 1758)
        • A. a. lynesi (Bannerman 1930) (Moroccan bustard)
        • A. a. stieberi (Neumann 1907) (great Arabian bustard)
        • A. a. arabs (Linnaeus 1758)
        • A. a. butleri (Bannerman 1930) (Sudan bustard)
      • Australian bustard, Ardeotis australis (Gray 1829)
      • Great Indian bustard, Ardeotis nigriceps (Vigors 1831)
      • Kori bustard, Ardeotis kori (Burchell 1822)
        • A. k. struthiunculus (Neumann 1907) (Northern Kori bustard)
        • A. k. kori (Burchell 1822) (Southern Kori bustard)
  • Subfamily Otidinae Gray 1841
    • Genus Tetrax Forster 1817
      • T. paratetrax (Bocheński & Kuročkin 1987)
      • Little bustard, Tetrax tetrax (Linnaeus 1758) Forster 1817
    • Genus Otis Linnaeus 1758
      • O. bessarabicus Kessler & Gal 1996
      • O. hellenica Boev, Lazaridis & Tsoukala 2014
      • Great bustard, Otis tarda Linnaeus 1758
        • O. t. tarda Linnaeus 1758 (Western great bustard)
        • O. t. dybowskii Taczanowski 1874 (Eastern great bustard)
    • Genus Chlamydotis Lesson 1839
      • C. affinis (Lydekker 1891a) Brodkorb 1967
      • C. mesetaria Sánchez Marco 1990
      • Macqueen's bustard, Chlamydotis macqueenii (Gray 1832)[9]
      • Houbara bustard, Chlamydotis undulata (Jacquin 1784)
        • C. u. fuertaventurae (Rothschild & Hartert 1894) (Canary Islands houbara bustard)
        • C. u. undulata (Jacquin 1784) (North African houbara bustard)
    • Genus Houbaropsis Sharpe 1893
      • Bengal florican, Houbaropsis bengalensis (Statius Müller 1776) Sharpe 1893
        • H. b. bengalensis (Statius Müller 1776) Sharpe 1893
        • H. b. blandini Delacour 1928
    • Genus Sypheotides Lesson 1839
    • Genus Lophotis Reichenbach 1848
    • Genus Eupodotis Lesson 1839
      • Little brown bustard, Eupodotis humilis (Blyth 1855)
      • Karoo korhaan, Eupodotis vigorsii (Smith 1831)
        • E. v. namaqua (Roberts 1932)
        • E. v. vigorsii (Smith 1831)
      • Rüppell's korhaan, Eupodotis rueppellii (Wahlberg 1856)
        • E. r. fitzsimonsi (Roberts 1937)
        • E. r. rueppellii (Wahlberg 1856)
      • Blue korhaan, Eupodotis caerulescens (Vieillot 1820)
      • White-bellied bustard, Eupodotis senegalensis (Vieillot 1821)
        • E. s. barrowii (Gray 1829) (Barrow's/southern white-bellied Bustard)
        • E. s. canicollis (Reichenow 1881) (Somali white-bellied knorhaan)
        • E. s. erlangeri (Reichenow 1905)
        • E. s. mackenziei White 1945
        • E. s. senegalensis (Vieillot 1821) (Senegal bustard)
    • Genus Afrotis Gray 1855

Status and conservation

Flying bustards – Apajpuszta, Hungary

Bustards are gregarious outside the breeding season, but are very wary and difficult to approach in the open habitats they prefer.[10] Most species are declining or endangered through habitat loss and hunting, even where they are nominally protected.

United Kingdom

The birds were once common and abounded on the Salisbury Plain. They had become rare by 1819 when a large male, surprised by a dog on Newmarket Heath, sold in Leadenhall Market for five guineas.[11] The last bustard in Britain died in approximately 1832, but the bird is being reintroduced through batches of chicks imported from Russia.[10] In 2009, two great bustard chicks were hatched in Britain for the first time in more than 170 years.[12] Reintroduced bustards also hatched chicks in 2010.[13]


Some Indian bustards are also called Floricans. The origin of the name is unclear. Thomas C. Jerdon writes in The Birds of India (1862)

I have not been able to trace the origin of the Anglo-Indian word Florikin, but was once informed that the Little Bustard in Europe was sometimes called Flanderkin. Latham gives the word Flercher as an English name, and this, apparently, has the same origin as Florikin.

Jerdon's Birds of India, 2nd ed. ii. 625.

The Hobson-Jobson dictionary however casts doubt on this theory stating that

We doubt if Jerdon has here understood Latham correctly. What Latham writes is, in describing the Passarage Bustard, which, he says, is the size of the Little Bustard: Inhabits India. Called Passarage Plover. … I find that it is known in India by the name of Oorail; by some of the English called Flercher. (Suppt. to Gen. Synopsis of Birds, 1787, 229. Here we understand the English to be the English in India, and Flercher to be a clerical error for some form of floriken.


  1. del Hoyo, J. Elliott, A. & Sargatal, J. (editors). (1996) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions. ISBN 84-87334-20-2
  2. Archibald, George W. (1991). Forshaw, Joseph (ed.). Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds. London: Merehurst Press. pp. 98–99. ISBN 978-1-85391-186-6.
  3. Pitra, C.; Lieckfeldt, D.; Frahnert, S.; Fickel, J. (2002). "Phylogenetic relationships and ancestral areas of the bustards (Gruiformes: Otididae), inferred from mitochondrial DNA and nuclear intron sequences". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 23 (1): 63–74. doi:10.1006/mpev.2001.1078. PMID 12182403.
  4. Rafinesque, Constantine Samuel (1815). Analyse de la nature ou, Tableau de l'univers et des corps organisés (in French). 1815. Palermo: Self-published. p. 70.
  5. Bock, Walter J. (1994). History and Nomenclature of Avian Family-Group Names. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History. Number 222. New York: American Museum of Natural History. pp. 137, 252. hdl:2246/830.
  6. "Taxonomic lists- Aves". Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  7. Boyd, John (2007). "Otididae" (PDF). John Boyd's website. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  8. "Comparison of IOC 7.3 with other world lists". IOC World Bird List. v7.3. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  9. Macqueen's bustard has recently been split from the Houbara bustard as a full species.
  10. Bota, G., J. Camprodon, S. Mañosa & M.B. Morales (Editores). (2005). Ecology and Conservation of steppe-land birds. Lynx Editions. Barcelona ISBN 84-87334-99-7; 978-84-87334-99-3.
  11. The National Cyclopaedia of Useful Knowledge, Vol.III, London, (1847) Charles Knight, p.963
  12. Wildlife Extra 2009. The First Great Bustard chicks hatch in the UK for 177 years Wildlife Extra, June 2009.
  13. Biodiversity Lab 2010. Reintroduced Great Bustards Breed Again The Biodiversity Lab, University of Bath.


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