The importance of traditional farmland areas for steppe birds: a case study of migrant female Great Bustards Otis tarda in Spain

Oct 25, 2020

A detailed knowledge of the habitat requirements of steppe birds living in farmland habitats is necessary to identify agricultural practices compatible with their conservation. The globally threatened Great Bustard Otis tarda is a partial migrant in central Iberia, but factors affecting its winter habitat use have not been identified. We assessed habitat differences between breeding and wintering areas and winter habitat selection of radiotagged migrant female Great Bustards in central Spain. Of 68 tagged females, 35% moved to wintering areas located 64.3 ± 24.0 km south of their breeding areas, and 80% wintered in a single area of c. 236 km2. A census of the population in this area identified it as one of the most important wintering areas of this species in the world, holding c. 1500 individuals. There were significant differences between breeding and wintering habitats of individually marked migrant females. Compared with breeding areas, wintering areas of migrant females were located further from roads and urban nuclei, had lower human population densities and area of urban developments, and a higher diversity of land‐use types, with less cover of cereals and more vineyards and olive groves. Within this area, radiotracked migrant females preferred sites with more vineyards and a lower land‐use diversity. Our results highlight the importance of traditional Mediterranean dry farmland mosaics, and suggest that different conservation strategies are needed for migrant and resident populations in winter to secure the conservation of suitable wintering habitat for Great Bustards in the Iberian Peninsula.


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