Using dietary analysis and habitat selection to inform conservation management of reintroduced Great Bustards Otis tarda in an agricultural landscape

Scott Gooch, Kate Ashbrook, Andrew Taylor, Tamás Székely

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (SciVal)


Capsule Reintroduced Great Bustards achieve dietary and habitat diversity despite living in an intensive agricultural setting. Aims To investigate dietary composition and habitat use of reintroduced Great Bustards Otis tarda released in southwest England and the impact of supplemental feed on autumn dietary selection. Methods Faecal samples were collected from a mixed group of free-ranging bustards without (July 2012, May, September, and November 2013) and with (October and December 2012) access to supplemental feeds. Concurrently, diurnal land use observations were recorded for all months but September and December. Composite monthly faecal samples were micro-histologically analysed to assess dietary composition. Year-round landscape-level habitat use was determined using re-sightings and satellite telemetry data for birds surviving more than 182 days post-release. Generalized linear models were used to test for differences in habitat selection across the year, by sex and within and outside release areas for each habitat type, and habitat diversity was quantified using the Shannon–Weaver Index. Results Dietary composition varied depending on plant availability and phenological stage, and invertebrates were rarely selected. Agricultural crops – primarily oil-seed rape, mustard, barley grass, lucerne, and barley seed – comprised the bulk of the diet, but grassland and weedy forbs were always important secondary foods (>25%), except when provided extruded pellets. Monthly changes in habitat use suggest sex-based habitat segregation, with females living in higher habitat diversity settings. Grasslands were used across the year. When supplemental food was provided, it came to dominate dietary intake. Conclusion Great Bustards can adapt to an intensive agricultural setting, but require unrestricted access to adjacent grasslands. They would be best served with small-scale habitat mosaics. If supplemental foods are to be provided to juvenile birds, quantities must be limited and the birds weaned off before dispersal to maximize reintroduction success.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)289-302
Number of pages14
JournalBird Study
Issue number3
Early online date15 Jun 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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