Large to medium sized birds found in dry, arid habitats.

Bustards and Korhaans.

Bustards and Coursers are mainly birds of Africa probably because their ancestors evolved in a specific part of Gondwanaland before the land mass broke up. Their reluctance to fly may be the reason why they don’t seem to have developed more widely. Fossil evidence relates the Bustards to ancestors such as the Diatryma, Gastornis and Phorusrhacos which may have been early members of the Galliformes order to which many of the Game Birds belong.


Bustards (family Otidae) are limited to Africa, Asia, India and Europe plus one species in Australia which might have been an introduction. They walk in a deliberate and purposeful manner. In my early days of birding I managed to get a rather indistinct photograph of a Southern Black Korhaan (right) in South Africa. This led me to think about Bustards and I was always hoping to see one on my various birding trips.

I managed a distant shot of a Great Bustard in Spain and although I saw them in Hungary they were too far away.


Everything comes to he who waits. In 2009 a birding trip to Kenya produced many good sightings, some by the side of the road, or what passes for a road in Kenya:-

The White-bellied Bustard (left) likes open grassland up to 2000 m so long as there is some bush and tree cover. I photographed one as we were crossing the Masai Mara to Keekorok. Then, when we were en route from Keekorok to Nairobi, I was able to photograph the Kori Bustard (below, right).


This bird favours open grassland at altitudes between 700 and 2000 metres.

Clearly, if you want to see Bustards, Kenya is the place to go. It's very good for many other birds as well - for me it ranks with the top places in the world to see birds!

Later in the day I managed to photograph the Black-bellied Bustard (below, left).


This species favours wetter, open bushed and wooded grassland up to 2300 m.

But we still had not finished - A few days later, while were staying at Tsavo West the Buff-crested Bustard (below, right) was sighted. This species likes arid and semi-arid bush up to about 1800 m.


It is worth noting that the Great Indian Bustard used to thrive in a dry, arid, scrubby habitat. It is now rarely seen by birders and is probably heading for extinction with the introduction of irrigation canals which are reducing their preferred habitat dramatically.

This comment adds support to the view that Bustards, without doubt, favour arid habitats.


Thick-knees or Stone Curlews also tend to favour semi-arid areas.


They have large eyes and are partly nocturnal preferring to freeze rather than run or fly when disturbed. They eat plant materials but most species have become omnivorous.

Nine species, in family Burhinidae and order Charadriiformes, are often called Waders or Shore Birds but their short, stout beaks set them apart from these birds.


They are found in Africa, Australasia, Europe and the Americas where they actually favour dry, arid areas. Only two species are found close to water:-

The Spotted Thick-knee (left) is also called the Cape Dikkop. I photographed it on the shore at Cape Agulhas, South Africa.
I was standing two feet away from it but it took me a few minutes to see it. The camouflage is so good.

Tom G photographed the Water Thick-knee (right) during our birding trip to Kenya.


The Bush Stone-Curlew (left) was photographed in Cairns, Australia.

One might expect open, dry, arid habitats, favoured by the Bustards and Thick-knees, to be readily available in the New World region as well. In fact Bustards are completely absent from the New World and only two species of Thick-knee are present.


I was able to photograph the Double-striped Thick-knee (right) during a birding trip to Costa Rica.

South America is home to the one other species which is known as the Peruvian Thick-knee.

Actually, looking at world land cover (excluding the polar regions), the dry, arid, sparsely vegetated land favoured by the birds discussed here is almost entirely in the Eastern Hemisphere apart from a very small area in Northern Chile and coastal Peru.

Coursers and Sandgrouse.

Coursers and Sandgrouse definitely favour the more arid, open areas. Both rely heavily on camouflage to avoid potential predators.

Coursers in family Glareolidae (tend to be called Waders) occupy a very similar, mainly arid habitat to the Bustards and Thick-knees. They are found in Africa, Asia and India where they forage for insects and invertebrates on the ground:-

The Cream-coloured Courser (below, left) was seen in Morocco but this one was photographed by Robert D in Israel. It is partly nocturnal but has an upright stance and prefers to run rather than fly.


The Three-banded Courser (right), also known as Heuglin's Courser, was photographed in Kenya. It is common in semi-arid bush and wooded country from sea level to 2200m.


Sandgrouse (family Pteroclididae) favour open, treeless areas in the OW region. They are found in Africa and Eurasia.

The Four-banded Sandgrouse (below, left) was photographed during a birding trip in The Gambia.

I particularly highlight the similarity in terms general appearance, behaviour and habitat between this bird and the Three-banded Courser.


Concluding Remarks.

These large to medium sized birds interest me for a number of reasons:-

They are terrestrial birds as are the Early Birds and Game Birds. Where they differ is that they tend to favour dry, even arid habitats. Suitable habitats are readily available in the Old World regions but in the New World region suitable habitats only seem to be available in Northern Chile and Peru.

However their distribution is probably mainly due to the Gondwanaland origins of their ancestors.

Thick-knees and Coursers are listed in families which are regarded as Waders but they are rarely found near water. Clearly classification based on habitats and behaviour, rather than anatomical details, would place them differently.

Note - These birds are listed in 4 families Otidae, Burhinidae, Glareolidae and Pteroclididae and account for 0.6% of the world's species.