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In November last year Black 17, a two year old female bustard, became the first adult bustard from the project to migrate to France. She wintered with a flock of several hundred cranes on the west coast of France, near La Rochelle, and had not been reported since 27th February. Not surprisingly, we were very excited to discover her with the flock of bustards at our release site on Salisbury Plain yesterday. It seems that she has returned with breeding on her mind, as she has been paying a lot of attention to the most impressive male in the lek, Purple 5. We can’t wait to find out what she does next!
Black 17 in flight on Salisbury Plain, photo © David Kjaer
Several displaying male bustards are currently a daily sight at our release site. The most impressive of these is Purple 5, the oldest male great bustard living in the wild in the UK. Dave Kjaer has recently taken this superb series of photographs of P5 looking his absolute best. Visits to the project through March and April are likely to be rewarded with similar sightings.
Two juvenile female great bustards in the snow. Photo © David Kjaer.
As birds which live and feed on the ground, deep snow can be a serious problem for great bustards. We are lucky that in southern England, cold snaps tend to be short and far apart. In countries like Germany, Hungary and Austria, bustards often make cold weather movements, escaping from particularly severe winter weather. This exposes them to dangers such as power lines and wind turbines, and not all the birds which leave will come back. Bustard projects in those countries are therefore keen to prevent their birds from moving. They clear snow from fields of oil seed rape, the favourite winter food of the bustards, effectively creating a huge bustard bird table!
Snow blower attached to our tractor and ready to be deployed
Even in our relatively mild climate, we have work to do to help our bustards when the weather is like it has been over the last week. We prepared for the major snowfall on 18th January by covering small areas of oil seed rape within our release area with tarpaulins, and attaching a snow blower to our tractor. Then, once the snow had stopped, we could remove the tarpaulins and clear more snow from the surrounding oil seed rape. This ensured that the eleven birds at the site would feel no need to move away in search of food.