A Sandgrouse Overview
The Sandgrouse is the common name for a family of 16 species of birds, found only in Africa and Eurasia. They are primarily ground-feeding birds of deserts, scrub, and grasslands. Sandgrouse usually range in size from 24 to 40 cm in length, and from 150 to 500 g in weight. They have small, Pigeon-like heads and necks, and sturdy compact bodies. They also share several attributes of pigeons, including their long wings, and the practice of making long flights daily between breeding or feeding grounds, and pools of water at which they drink.
Characteristics of Sandgrouse
Adult sandgrouse are sexually dimorphic, with males being slightly larger and more brightly colored than females. The plumage is cryptic, generally being in shades of sandy brown, grey and buff, and variously mottled and barred. The previous traits enable the birds to merge well into the dusty landscape, where they live. Sandgrouse have also rough skin and thick feathering which insulate them from extremes of heat and cold. A remarkable characteristic of the bird, is its feathers of the belly which are specially adapted for absorbing water and retaining it. Thus allow adult sandgrouse, particularly males, to carry water to chicks that may be many miles away from watering holes. Sandgrouse are principally seed eaters and their diet include green shoots and leaves, bulbs and berries. Insect food such as ants and termites may be eaten especially during the breeding season.
Reproduction of Sandgrouse
Sandgrouse are gregarious, feeding in flocks of up to 100 birds, but in the breeding season, the feeding flocks tend to break up into pairs. The nesting site is a slight depression in the ground, sometimes lined with a few pieces of dry foliage. Most typically, each sandgrouse pair produces 3 cryptic eggs, though occasionally there may produce 2 or 4. Incubation duties are shared and in most species, the males incubate at night, while the females sit on the eggs during the day. The eggs usually hatch after 20 – 25 days, and the hatchlings can leave the nest as soon as the last hatchling has dried out. Adult sandgrouse teach their chicks how to get food, rear them, and brood them at night. The chicks stay with their parents, as a family group, for several months as well.
Sandgrouse do not have many land predators. Although they are vulnerable to attack while watering, predators find it difficult to select an attack target with their large flocking numbers. Also, these birds tend to avoid sites with cover for mammalian predators, and their greatest risk comes usually from predatory birds. Sandgrouse have little interaction with people, primarily because most species live in arid unpopulated areas and at low densities. They are not generally sought after as game birds, as they are not especially palatable.