Flamboyant old bustards keep showing off | Science News

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Flamboyant old bustards keep showing off

But years of extreme flirtation come at a cost

10:30am, February 20, 2015
houbara bustard

PICK ME, BABE  With white feathers raised in display, a male houbara bustard throws back his head and runs for maximal allure.

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Nothing says romance like covering your face in white fluff and running like crazy through shrubbery.

That’s the courtship display North African birds called houbara bustards (Chlamydotis undulata) perform repeatedly. At the peak of the breeding season, males start at dusk, around 4 or 5 p.m., and keep going until about 9 the next morning, says Yves Hingrat of RENECO for Wildlife Preservation in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. When it’s showtime, feathers on their necks and heads rear up in a white froth. Whether or not a female is in sight, males run, sometimes round and round a bush. During befluffed sprinting, males breathe so loudly that a person 10 meters away can hear gasps.

The finale of the shrubbery rush can include calls pitched unusually low for a bird. When Hingrat worked at a captive breeding facility, staying late at his office meant “a concert of booms.”

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