North African

The North African houbara bustard is found throughout most of North Africa, from Western Sahara up to the Nile valley in Egypt. Eighty per cent of wild populations are located in Morocco and Algeria. Unlike the Asian houbara, its North African counterpart does not migrate over great distances to breed, so populations are relatively localised.

The foreneck of the North African houbara is peppered. The crest feathers on its crown are completely white, but its ornamental neck plumes lack white. The plumage colours of the females are slightly different and wavier than the males’. The feathers of chicks look speckled and sinuous with orange, brown and sandy coloured spots.

Asian

The Asian houbara bustard has a wide distribution ranging from Western Asia and the Arabian Peninsula, to Pakistan and India in the south, and all the way through Central Asia, reaching Mongolia in the east. Kazakhstan is home to over 50 per cent of the global population of Asian houbara and a critical breeding area. Small resident populations of the Asian houbara can be found in the Sinai, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Northern Saudi Arabia, as well as Yemen, Jordan and the UAE.

The head of the Asian houbara bustard is sandy grey in colour, with a tuft of hair at the centre of the crown and long plumes of feathers drooping over the neck. The uppermost feathers are black while the lower ones are white, with black tips. The foreneck and breast are almost blue grey. This elegant headdress with what looks like a black and white cravat makes the bird appear almost regal!

Migration

The biggest breeding ground in northern Central Asia from where Asian houbara begin their southward migration is in Kazakhstan. This takes place in September, once spring ends marking the conclusion of the breeding season in Central Asia. These houbara migrate to spend the winter in the warmer areas of the Arabian Peninsula and Southern Asia (such as Iran and Pakistan). At the end of the winter and with the onset of the spring season, they fly back to the breeding areas in the north. The average distance the Asian houbara covers during its migration is 6,000 km (although this can reach 12,000 km).

Research by the IFHC has identified three distinct migration routes of the Asian houbara: Birds moving from west Kazakhstan to spend the winter in the Gulf states migrate through western Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan and Saudi Arabia; those starting their journey in east Kazakhstan follow a different migration route that crosses Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Iran to overwinter in the UAE; the third path runs from Central Asia across the south and southeast of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.