Posted on Wednesday, April 12th, 2017
There has been a lot of social media interest in the female Great Bustard which has been visiting Stonehenge recently.
The bird, known to the project as T5, but christened by the Stonehenge staff as "Gertrude" was released in 2011. She is from an egg rescued from an destroyed or endangered nest in Saratov Oblast in 2011. The egg was then incubated and the chick reared in a joint operation run by the Great Bustard Group and the a N Severtsov Institute of Evolution and Ecology, Saratov Branch (Russian National Academy of Sciences). She was transported from Saratov to Wiltshire where she underwent 30 days of strict quarantine before being released in September of that year. She dispersed away from the release area in her first winter, as most of he birds did at that time (whether from Russia or Spain), and spent her first winter in France. Crossing the Channel is not a problem for a Great Bustard which fly very well.
Since then she spends most of her time with other other 50 or so Great Bustards living freely across south Wiltshire. In the spring this bird had developed a strange pattern of behaviour. She loosed any fear of humans and seems to even seek human company. For several years now she has frequented Stonehenge during April and May. She then moves away from the Stones to join the other females for the rest of the year. Why this bird should behave in this manner is rather mysterious. All the birds reared by the Great Bustard Group are kept apart from any positive human associations, and staff routinely wear a dehumanisation suit. Of all the birds reared by the Great Bustard Group and released in the UK or in Russia this is the only one to behave in this way. All the other birds would flush if humans approached them, sometimes a great ranges over over 300 metres.
The bird seems well able to look after herself as she is now 7 years old. She will have encountered numerous foxes, dogs and humans and has kept herself alive and well.
The Great Bustard Group is in contact with English Heritage staff at Stonehenge and are very grateful for the care they take in hosting this uniquely Wiltshire visitor.