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Dancing feet

Israeli population of endangered dancing bird seen leveling off

Rangers count 400 nationwide, 246 of them in Negev Desert, but dangers still threaten rare fowl known for distinctive mating jig

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

A houbara bustard in flight. (Shmulik Ya'ari, Israel Nature and Parks Authority)
A houbara bustard in flight. (Shmulik Ya'ari, Israel Nature and Parks Authority)

Amid fears for the bird’s extinction, Asian houbara bustards have seen their population in Israel stabilize in recent years, according to the latest annual count by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

Rangers recorded 225 birds within the boundaries of the Hatzerim air force base and adjacent nature reserve near the city of Beersheba, where they enjoy relative quiet, and a further 21 in Nitzana and Ezuz, an area to the southeast, on the Egyptian border.

Last year, 193 individual birds were counted in both locations combined.

The INPA said that numbers have been rising and falling around the 200 mark over the past decade, indicating that the species is stable.

Classed as vulnerable internationally, the houbara bustard is in danger of extinction in Israel because of illegal hunting and a drastic reduction in habitat, as building, agriculture, and pastureland have taken over and human sports, such as jeep-riding, have disturbed them.

Each male houbara needs to control a territory of many square kilometers.

Until the 1970s, the species nested in many areas of the country.

Today, around 400 individual birds are estimated to remain in total.

The houbara is considered to be one of the rarest, largest, and most impressive of birds in Israel, with a wingspan of around 1.4 meters (4.5 feet).

Houbara bustard in courtship dance

Spring is the season of love for the houbara bustard, a sand-colored goose-sized bird that nests in open desert and dry steppe. See how male houbara bustards advertise themselves to win the girls! #CCTV

Posted by CCTV on Friday, March 30, 2018

In spring, the males perform a distinct mating dance to attract females, running hundreds of meters with their feet making drumming sounds, their heads thrown back and their chest feathers sticking out, making them look like huge black and white balls.

The birds’ excellent camouflage colors have made them hard for researchers to spot outside of the mating season.

But when they take off, their black and white wings make them highly visible.

Around a year ago, the INPA signed a Memorandum of Understanding for joint research with the International Fund for Houbara Conservation, based in Abu Dhabi.

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