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Does agonistic behaviour of Lesser Short-toed Larks Calandrella rufescens against Houbara Bustard Chlamydotis undulata in Fuerteventura Island reflect nest predation?

  • Grupo de Ornitología e Historia Natural de las islas Canarias
VIERAEA Vol. 38 155-157 Santa Cruz de Tenerife, septiembre 2010 ISSN 0210-945X
Does agonistic behaviour of Lesser Short-toed Larks
Calandrella rufescens against Houbara Bustard
Chlamydotis undulata in Fuerteventura Island
reflect nest predation?
RODRÍGUEZ, B. & M. CABRERA (2010). ¿Revela el comportamiento agresivo de la terrera maris-
meña Calandrella rufescens hacia la avutarda hubara Chlamydotis undulata la predación de
nidos en la isla de Fuerteventura? VIERAEA 38: 155-157.
Diet of Houbara Bustard Chlamydotis undulata is omnivorous, including fruit, seeds,
shoots, leaves, flowers, locust grasshoppers, mole-crickets, beetles and small vertebrates,
such as lizards and snakes (Del Hoyo et al., 1996 [Handbook of the Bird of the World Vol.
3]). According to the available published information for the Canarian endemic C.u.fuer-
taventurae, it feeds mainly upon plants and insects, but also on fruits, flowers and snails
(Collins, 1993 [Bol. Mus. Mun. Funchal Sup. Nº2: 57-67]; Medina, 1999 [Bird Conserv.
Intern. 9: 373-386]; Martín & Lorenzo, 2001 [Aves del archipiélago canario]). However,
although some vertebrates such as lizards or ground nesting birds (eggs or chicks) are
potential preys, any of these items have ever been recording in the Canaries according to
the literature.
During the afternoon of 2 April 2009 we were birding in the Triquivijate plains
(Fuerteventura) using binoculars (10x) and a spotting scope (60x). This area holds impor-
tant steppe bird populations within Fuerteventura Island, especially of Houbara Bustard
and Lesser Short-toed Lark Calandrella rufescens (Lorenzo, 2007 [Atlas de las aves repro-
ductoras en el Archipiélago Canario]; pers. obs.). At 19:45 p.m. we detected an adult male
Houbara Bustard foraging, that suddenly was furiously attacked by a pair of Lesser Short-
toed Lark when it crossed a particular site (Fig. 1). The Houbara stood a moment and after
a few steps he picked something presenting pale colour in the floor that held in its bill an
instance before swallowed it very fast. During this, the pair of larks did not stop of mak-
ing aggressive displays and flights upon the male, and in some occasions they directly
perched on the Houbara back (Fig. 1). The Houbara started to forage again and after some
minutes, it was harassed again by another pair of larks 100 m away from the first site.
We did not identify this item with certainty, but it was relatively pale and small.
Although we do not discard a snail, it is possible that it was an egg. Anyway, eggs or
chicks of ground-nesting birds must be consumed regularly by Houbaras, since in many
areas they coexist (Del Hoyo et al., 1996 [Handbook of the Bird of the World Vol. 3]).
Although to this, only anecdotic information has been published on the predation on
ground-nesting birds by Houbaras (Tourenq et al., 2003 [J. Arid Environ. 55: 581-582]).
Semi-captive Houbaras of the subspecies C. u. macqueenii released in a fence area of
Saudi Arabia regularly predate upon chicks of Chesnut-bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles exus-
Figure 1.- Lesser short-toed Lark Calandrella rufescens defending nest site against Houbara
Bustard Chlamydotis undulata fuertaventurae, Triquivijate plains, Fuerteventura, Canary Islands,
April 2009.
Fecha de recepción: 19 febrero 2010 Fecha de aceptación: 8 marzo 2010
tus nesting there, but they do not show interest in motionless eggs (Tourenq et al., 2003 [J.
Arid Environ. 55: 581-582]). Two successful predation attempts upon lark chicks
(Eremophila alpestris and Calandrella brachydactyla) by Houbara have been document-
ed in Xinjiang Province of China (Tourenq et al., 2003 [J. Arid Environ. 55: 581-582]).
Especially during chick rearing, high nest predation rates occurs in nesting ground
passerines, and particularly in larks (Yanes, 1999 [La depredación en nido de aláudidos
almerienses]). In this framework, it is possible that Lesser Short-toed Larks have devel-
oped this interspecific agonistic behaviour to defend their nests against potential predators
such as for examples Hoopoe Upupa epops or Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis,
both of them relatively common and widespread on Fuerteventura. Finally, it would be
interesting to study the role of the other nesting ground species present in the Canaries,
such as Stone Curlew Burhinus oedicnemus, Cream-coloured Courser Cursorius cursor,
Black-bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles orientalis or Berthelot’s Pipit Anthus berthelotii, since
some of them could be predators of Lesser Short-toed Lark nests or could be nest predat-
ed by Houbara Bustard.
We wish to thank Juan Antonio Lorenzo and Rubén Barone for a critical reading of
the initial manuscript.
1Calle La Malecita s/n, Buenavista del Norte, E-38480, Tenerife, Canary Islands
2Carretera del Aceitún, nº 2 Tuineje, E-35620, Fuerteventura, Canary Islands
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