We studied variables affecting spatial and inter‐annual variations in presence/absence and abundance of little bustard (Tetrax tetrax) males in extensive cereal farmland in central Spain. Both variables were positively influenced by the percentage of arable surface and also by substrate heterogeneity. In addition, male abundance varied significantly between years and among sectors of the study area, even when taking into account variation in landscape variables. A significant interaction between year and sector showed that abundance variations did not follow a fixed pattern, meaning that interannual variation in male abundance among sectors cannot be predicted. We discuss potential alternatives to explain such variation, as well as the implications of our results for the species’ population estimates, status assessment and conservation.