Little bustards displaying

Little bustard © Òscar Domínguez
Little bustard © Òscar Domínguez

With their cryptic plumage, male and female little bustards can struggle to find each other on the Spanish steppe.

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To counteract this, the males have evolved a stunning display. A male will inflate his black-and-white neck feathering into a cobra-like ruff, stomp his feet, throw back his head to give a call reminiscent of raspberry-blowing or a loud fart, and leap into the air to flash largely white wings.

“Males mainly dance in the first two hours after dawn,” says Òscar Domínguez, who has photographed these birds for the past four springs. “They always face the sun. It’s as if they’re welcoming each new morning.”

Little bustards display communally – a courtship system called lekking. However, their leks differ from the compact leks of black grouse, capercaillie and ruffs. They have what is known as an ‘exploded’ lek – the females move among the displaying males to select the best dancer.

Each female picks Mr Right, mates and promptly leaves to raise her young alone; males contribute only their genes. This may seem an easy game for males, but appearances are deceptive. Only 10 per cent of male little bustards ever mate. 

Watch Òscar’s lovely video of displaying little bustards and other steppe birds here:

[video:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_w8aptVvly4 width:623 height:360]
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See more of Oscar’s photography