Sandgrouse

     The Sandgrouse is the common name for a family of sixteen 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 centimetres in length and from 150 to 500 grams 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.

     The adults are sexually dimorphic with the males being slightly larger and more brightly coloured than the females. The plumage is cryptic, generally being in shades of sandy brown, grey and buff, variously mottled and barred, enabling the birds to merge into the dusty landscape. Sandgrouse have also rough skin and thick feathering which insulate the bird from extremes of heat and cold. The feathers of the belly are specially adapted for absorbing water and retaining it, allowing adults, 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.

     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, three cryptic eggs are laid, though occasionally there may be two or four. 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. The parents teach the chicks how to get food and they brood them at night. The chicks stay with their parents, as a family group, for several months as well.

     Sandgrouse don’t have many land predators, and though they are vulnerable to attack while watering, predators find it difficult to select a target bird with their large flocking numbers. The birds tend also to avoid sites with cover for mammalian predators and their greatest risk is 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.   

Double-Banded Sandgrouse
Double-Banded Sandgrouse by Tony Goosen
Crowned Sandgrouse
Crowned Sandgrouse by vil.sandi
Namaqua Sandgrouse and a chick
Namaqua Sandgrouse and a chick by Francesco Veronesi
Pin-Tailed Sandgrouse
Pin-Tailed Sandgrouse by Donald Macauley

 

 

Breeds