By Jo Gregson
First Published in The Avicultural Magazine Vol. 92 No. 2
Copyright © 1986 Avicultural Society, Published with Permission

The BreedingLITTLEBLACKBUSTARDLittle Black BustardEupodotis afraLittle Black, or LITTLEBLACKBUSTARDLittle Black BustardWhite-quilled Bustard, also known as the LITTLEBLACKBUSTARDLittle Black BustardBlack Korhaan, is found in open grassland and amongst scattered trees and bushes, throughout the central, southern and western regions of Southern Africa. Our pair of Little Black Bustards were acquired in February 1979 from a dealer and were adult on arrival. During the following three years, spent in the 'Square' aviaries, they failed to nest and at the end of 1983 it was decided to rehouse the birds in a planted aviary, approximately 13 m x 4 m x 3 m high, at the Tropical House.

On 13th April, 1984, one egg was laid in a shallow scrape, no nesting material had been used. This egg was removed to be artificially incubated but was soon found to be addled.

A second single egg was laid on the same scrape on 8th May and left for the female to incubate. The chick hatched on 28th May, but again, since there was a real risk that it might drown in a small pool in the aviary, the chick was taken for hand-rearing. Initially it was fed on crickets, small locusts, white mealworms, chopped lettuce, egg and grit; water was given in drops from a hypodermic syringe. Calcium/magnesium was given daily to prevent bone deficiencies. All food items had to be offered by means of tweezers as the chick made no effort to feed itself.

On the third day the chick became lethargic and failed to defecate, a problem not uncommon in hand-reared bustards. One ml. of liquid paraffin was administered and a day-old Lady Amherst's Pheasant Chrysolophus amherstiae was caged with the chick in order to improve its feeding and exercise. The Bustard improved over the ensuing 24 hours and soon began to feed from the dish. The pheasant chick was removed after a few days.

At six days the wing quills were growing fast and by the fifteenth day the chick was quite well covered. It was able to spend some time outside on warm days. Small pieces of cooked, minced chicken and liver heart, and lumps of mice were now added to the diet.

On the 19th day the chick began refusing food from the dish and would only take an occasional cricket from the tweezers. This continued for six days, after which it was completely independent of the tweezers and feeding well once again from the dish. The young bird became unexpectedly nervous and on day 59 was moved to a planted aviary at the Tropical House. At six months old it still bore immature plumage though it was 'barking' like a male.

A third egg was laid on 13th June in a scrape barely a metre from the original. This egg hatched on 2nd July, the chick was again removed for hand-rearing but died at 16 days. A post mortem examination revealed an acute enteritis.

A fourth egg was laid in the same scrape on 23rd July and hatched on 13th August. It was decided on this occasion to allow the adults an opportunity to rear their own young. The chick was brooded and fed by the female and appeared to be doing well until 12th September when it was found dead in its roosting place. The cause of death was inconclusive.

In each case the incubation period was 21 days. The first egg weighed 43g and measured 41 x 52 mm. All three chicks began developing a slipped wing at about six days but this corrected itself after approximately 14 days.

Subsequently, clutches have been hand-reared and parent-reared during 1985.

The down of the chicks is grey speckled with brown and black. The bill and feet are grey. The juvenile plumage in most respects is similar to that of the adult hen. It would appear that immature cocks begin to colour black on the neck at around seven months when they also develop the characteristic bark of the adult male. Interestingly, the first bird to be hatched in May 1984, though now in full male plumage, still retains the eye coloration of the hen. The last chick to be hatched, now five months old (January 1986) is showing pale dorsal streaks and we believe it to be a hen, with which it agrees in all other respects. This being so, it is the first of its sex thus far reared.

Two cock birds are now housed in an adjacent enclosure which is especially spacious and heated and planted. Though they do not actually come to blows, each remains constantly away from the other. The youngest bird is still with the adult pair while the remaining hand-reared offspring is caged elsewhere in the collection.

Other than the inclusion of many more insects (collected by means of a sweep net) and mealworms, crickets and small locusts, the diet remained unchanged during the breeding season. In order to 'protect' her young, the hen often feigns injury and on occasions even attacks! At such times, the cock runs off barking loudly and incessantly. The hen alone broods her young and initially feeds it while the cock stands guard, again barking if alarmed. As the chick grows it will follow the cock as often as the hen though this may represent greed since the male is often the first to the feed bowl! Nevertheless the chick always retreats to the company of its mother when alarmed.

Weight Chart Little Black Bustard
Weight Chart for the Little Black Bustard

As described above, the Little Black Bustard Eupodotis afra has been bred at Paignton Zoo and this is believed to be the first success in this country. Anyone knowing of a previous breeding in Great Britain or Northern Ireland, or of any other reason that would disqualify this claim, is asked to inform the Hon. Secretary.