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Providing evidence to improve practice

Action: Use captive breeding to increase or maintain populations of bustards Bird Conservation

Key messages

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  • We captured four studies of a houbara bustard, Chlamydotis undulata, macqueenii captive breeding programme in Saudi Arabia.
  • The project successfully raised chicks in captivity, with 285 chicks hatched in the 7th year of the project after 232 birds were used to start the captive population. Captive birds bred earlier and appeared to lay more eggs than wild birds. Forty-six percent of captive eggs hatched and 43% of chicks survived to ten years old, although no comparison was made with wild birds.


Supporting evidence from individual studies


A review of a houbara bustard, Chlamydotis undulata macqueenii, captive breeding programme in Saudi Arabia, starting in 1986 (Seddon et al. 1995) found that the captive population first bred in 1989, producing 17 chicks. In 1992, 138 chicks hatched, establishing a self-sustaining captive population. In 1993, 285 chicks hatched from 75 females. However, 18% of females never became accustomed to captivity and did not lay eggs. The captive population began as 103 chicks from Pakistan and 129 from the African subspecies C. u. undulata, all collected between 1986 and 1988. This study is also discussed in ‘Release captive-bred individuals’, ‘Use artificial insemination in captive breeding’ and ‘Artificially incubate and hand-rear birds in captivity’.



A review (Jamie et al. 1996) of the same project as in Seddon et al. 1995 found that captive houbara bustards, Chlamydotis undulata macqueenii, first reproduced at an earlier age than wild birds, with 2% of females laying at one year old; 23% at two years; 62% at three years and 82% (i.e. all birds that became accustomed to captivity and so would be expected to lay) at four years old. This study is also discussed in ‘Use artificial insemination in captive breeding’, ‘Release captive-bred individuals’, ‘Release birds in ‘coveys’, ‘Use holding pens at site of release’ and ‘Use holding pens at site of release and clip birds’ wings’.



Another review (van Heezik & Ostrowski 2001) of the same project found that, between 1992 and 1999, 46% of 2,917 captive-laid eggs successfully hatched. Survival of 1,135 hatchlings to six months old was 75%, to three years, 69% and to ten years, 43%. Hatching failures were mainly caused by infertility and death during incubation, whilst mortality was caused mainly by trauma and disease. This study also describes the impact of artificial insemination and incubation, discussed in ‘Artificially incubate and hand-rear birds in captivity’.



A review (van Heezik et al. 2002) of the same project found that the number of eggs laid by females ranged from approximately two (for five-year-old first-time breeders) to 8.5 (for four-year-old females that had bred before). The number of eggs laid increased with breeding experience and, although no comparisons were made to productivity in wild bustards in this study, other studies suggest that wild females normally lay between one and four eggs.


Referenced papers

Please cite as:

Williams, D.R., Child, M.F., Dicks, L.V., Ockendon, N., Pople, R.G., Showler, D.A., Walsh, J.C., zu Ermgassen, E.K.H.J. & Sutherland, W.J. (2019) Bird Conservation. Pages 141-290 in: W.J. Sutherland, L.V. Dicks, N. Ockendon, S.O. Petrovan & R.K. Smith (eds) What Works in Conservation 2019. Open Book Publishers, Cambridge, UK.