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Sandgrouse

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Black-Faced Sandgrouse - Pterocles decoratus

Black-Faced Sandgrouse - Pterocles decoratus

Photo © Physi28 / Dreamstime.
Sandgrouse (Pteroclidiformes) are a group of medium-sized terrestrial birds that inhabit parts of Africa, Madagascar, the Middle East, central Asia, India and the Iberian Peninsula. There are a total of 16 species of sandgrouse alive today including species such as Tibetan sandgrouse, pin-tailed sandgrouse, spotted sandgrouse, chestnut-bellied sandgrouse, Madagascar sandgrouse, four-banded sandgrouse and others.

Sandgrouse are about the size of a pigeon or partridge, groups of birds to which sandgrouse bear superficial resemblance. Yet despite similarities in their appearance, sandgrouse are not closely related to pigeons and partridges.

Sandgrouse have a small head, a short neck and a rotund body. Their tails and wings are long and pointed, making them well suited for lifting themselves into the air quickly to escape predators (since sandgrouse feed on the ground, they often need to make a quick escape into the air).

Sandgrouse have short legs that are covered with feathers all the way to their toes. They have a short, conical bill and their overall length varies between 9 and 16 inches.

Sandgrouse have cryptic plumage with colors and patterns that enable them to blend in with their surroundings. The feathers of sandgrouse that live in desert habitats often have a mottled pattern and are fawn, grey or brown in color. The feathers of sandgrouse that live in steppe habitats often have a striped pattern and are orange and brown.

Sandgrouse form monogamous pairs. They build nests in shallow holes in the ground in which the female normally lays three eggs. Both parents help to incubate the eggs. Chicks hatch after 20 to 25 days and are precocious. They are fast to learn how to eat on their own, but they remain with their parents for several months before fledging.

No sandgrouse species are classified as threatened or endangered. All species of sandgrouse are considered to be of "least concern" by the IUCN.

Classification:

Sandgrouse are one of the 30 basic bird groups. Over the years, sandgrouse have been placed within different groups of birds but now occupy their own order. Sandgrouse were once classified amongst the gamebirds due to their superficial resemblance to grouse and partridges. They were later reclassified as pigeons due to similarities in the way they drink, but when these similarities were disproved, the sandgrouse were placed in their own group. As a result, sandgrouse now occupy their own distinct order of birds, the Pteroclidiformes.

There are two basic groups of sandgrouse, the Syrrhaptes and the Syrrhaptes. The Syrrhaptes include two species, the Tibetan sandgrouse (Syrrhaptes tibetanus) and the Pallas's Sandgrouse (Syrrhaptes paradoxus). The Tibetan sandgrouse is a large species of sandgrouse that inhabits mountain ranges throughout Central Asia, Tibet, China and the Himalayas. The Pallas's Sandgrouse is a medium sized bird that inhabits the steppes of central Asia.

The other group of sandgrouse, the Syrrhaptes include fourteen species:

  • Pin-tailed sandgrouse (Pterocles alchata)
  • Namaqua sandgrouse (Pterocles namaqua)
  • Chestnut-bellied sandgrouse (Pterocles exustus)
  • Black-faced sandgrouse (Pterocles decoratus)
  • Spotted sandgrouse (Pterocles senegallus)
  • Crowned sandgrouse (Pterocles coronatus)
  • Yellow-throated sandgrouse (Pterocles gutturalis)
  • Burchell's sandgrouse (Pterocles burchelli)
  • Madagascar sandgrouse (Pterocles personatus)
  • Black-faced sandgrouse (Pterocles decoratus)
  • Lichtenstein's sandgrouse (Pterocles lichtensteinii)
  • Double-banded sandgrouse (Pterocles bicinctus)
  • Painted sandgrouse (Pterocles indicus)
  • Four-banded sandgrouse (Pterocles quadricinctus)

Diet:

Sandgrouse feed primarily on seeds. Some species having a specialized diet consisting of seeds from a few specific plant species. Others occasionally suplement their diet with insects or berries. Sandgrouse gather in flocks of as many as 100 birds to feed.

Since their diet consists of mainly seeds (which are very low in water content) they rely on frequent visits to water sources. When visiting watering holes, they form very large flocks, numbering in the thousands of birds.

The plumage of adult birds is particularly good at absorbing and holding water. This enables adults to transport the water that soaks into their belly feathers to the nest where they can provide water to their chicks.

Habitat:

Sandgrouse prefer open habitats and semi-arid areas such as deserts and steppes. Their range includes Africa, Madagascar, the Middle East, central Asia, India and the Iberian Peninsula.

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