Action Synopsis: Bird Conservation About Actions

Use captive breeding to increase or maintain populations of bustards

How is the evidence assessed?
  • Effectiveness
  • Certainty
  • Harms

Study locations

Key messages

  • 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.


About key messages

Key messages provide a descriptive index to studies we have found that test this intervention.

Studies are not directly comparable or of equal value. When making decisions based on this evidence, you should consider factors such as study size, study design, reported metrics and relevance of the study to your situation, rather than simply counting the number of studies that support a particular interpretation.

Supporting evidence from individual studies

  1. 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’.

    Study and other actions tested
  2. 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’.

    Study and other actions tested
  3. 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’.

    Study and other actions tested
  4. 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.

    Study and other actions tested
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. (2020) Bird Conservation. Pages 137-281 in: W.J. Sutherland, L.V. Dicks, S.O. Petrovan & R.K. Smith (eds) What Works in Conservation 2020. Open Book Publishers, Cambridge, UK.


Where has this evidence come from?

List of journals searched by synopsis

All the journals searched for all synopses

Bird Conservation

This Action forms part of the Action Synopsis:

Bird Conservation
What Works 2021 cover

What Works in Conservation

What Works in Conservation provides expert assessments of the effectiveness of actions, based on summarised evidence, in synopses. Subjects covered so far include amphibians, birds, mammals, forests, peatland and control of freshwater invasive species. More are in progress.

More about What Works in Conservation

Download free PDF or purchase
The Conservation Evidence Journal

The Conservation Evidence Journal

An online, free to publish in, open-access journal publishing results from research and projects that test the effectiveness of conservation actions.

Read the latest volume: Volume 21

Go to the CE Journal

Discover more on our blog

Our blog contains the latest news and updates from the Conservation Evidence team, the Conservation Evidence Journal, and our global partners in evidence-based conservation.

Who uses Conservation Evidence?

Meet some of the evidence champions

Endangered Landscape ProgrammeRed List Champion - Arc Kent Wildlife Trust The Rufford Foundation Save the Frogs - Ghana Mauritian Wildlife Supporting Conservation Leaders
Sustainability Dashboard National Biodiversity Network Frog Life The international journey of Conservation - Oryx Cool Farm Alliance UNEP AWFA Bat Conservation InternationalPeople trust for endangered species Vincet Wildlife Trust