Tracking houbara bustards in the Canary Islands


Since 2017, researchers from the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (Natural History Museum, Madrid) investigate the behaviour of Canarian houbara bustards (Chlamydotis undulata) in Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and La Graciosa, the eastern islands of the Canary archipelago, where less than 600 individuals of this globally endangered subspecies still survive. The results should help managers develop conservation measures to save this subspecies from extinction.

Over 40 houbaras have been fitted with backpack-mounted GSM/GPRS e-obs loggers (Bird Solar UMTS 42g in males, 25g model in females). Tracking marked birds has revealed that houbaras migrate between breeding and non-breeding areas, crossing roads and powerlines. Assessing the risks that these infrastructures represent for houbaras is indeed one of the main objectives of the study.

While frequent GPS locations every 5 minutes provide a detailed picture of the birds’ movements and habitat use, an intensive programming of the accelerometer (ACC) allows identification of the most important behaviors. The ACC is set at 16.7 Hz at 900 seconds interval during most of the year, sufficient to establish time budget and quantify most activities. During the mating season, however, we increase the ACC settings to 16.7 Hz at 10 seconds interval to get all details of the male display and the mating system of the species.

A census of Lanzarote showed lower numbers than previously estimated in the species’ main stronghold, urging for conservation measures to stop further declines  ( 

The smaller populations of Fuerteventura and La Graciosa will be surveyed in January 2020.

ACC (right): On the top right graph, the ACC image shows a series of 8 circular display runs, characteristic of this species.  Bottom right: ACC graph of two days showing the bimodal pattern of activity in the morning and evening, with a midday resting period. GPS (left): Typical seasonal movement  between breeding and non-breeding areas (top left).  Bottom left: The highest houbara densities occur in sandy semi-desert areas (called jable). Another typical houbara habitat is the xerophytic shrubland of Launaea arborescens, Salsola vermiculata, and Lycium intricatum. Photos: Juan C. Alonso.



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