The Great Bustard (Otis tarda) is one of the largest flying birds on the planet, topped only by the Kori Bustard (Ardeotis kori) and, possibly in some cases, by the Mute Swan (Cygnus olor). But what is even more spectacular than the sheer size of this bird, is its absolutely crazy lekking display.

This last weekend I was in eastern Austria in the state of Burgenland – just a mile from the Hungarian border – where a small population of Great Bustards persists. Despite its small size of the population, the sheer wierdness of seeing 6 Great Bustard males all doing their crazy snowball lekking dance at the same time was more than just a little cool.

Getting to the lek in the right season (late April), the first thing you see is the males strutting up and down, puffing out their chests and generally just trying to look impressive. Think of the cool muscle boys with gold chains and a baseball cap. And after a bit of wassuping, the real action starts…

Somehow they manage to puff themselves up completely, twist their flight feathers forward (aw), lifts up the tail and duck their head in to a massively fluffy mane. And then they do their jig. Think: breakdance dance-off.

Youtube obviously has something against me so here is a video from the UK

The world population of Great Bustards is estimated at about 34,000 individuals, with 2/3 calling the vast steppes of Spain their home (thanks Wikipedia). Wow, how I love the Spanish steppes. Actually, I just love steppes. One of the many reasons I really like Burgenland and her Bustards.

A couple of years ago, I made another little video on the Great Bustards with Andreas Kieling, a German documentary videographer and fascinating nature lover:

All images taken with a Swarovski Optik STM80 HD spotting scope, TLS800 and Canon 7D. Copyright me.


happy digiscoping,

Dale Forbes

A fish may love a bird, but where would they live?

-Drew Barrymore

Bird Love Week is seven days of exploration of avian amore here on 10,000 Birds from April 22-28. We love birds, and the topic of birds loving other birds and in the process making more birds is a fascinating one we know you will enjoy. Mike, Corey, and a bevy of Beat Writers have been working on this one for awhile as the perfect expression of our love of all things avian. To see all of our Bird Love Week posts, just click here. But be warned – Bird Love Week is neither for the faint of heart nor for the permanently prudish – you may end up with images that you never imagined seared onto your brain.


Written by Dale Forbes
Dale grew up in the forests and savannas of South Africa, developing a love for nature from a young age. After studying Zoology and Wildlife Science, he moved to Central America to continue his work in conservation biology. He is a member of BirdLife International’s Advisory Board and is Swarovski Optik’s Head of Strategic Business Development.