Great bustards formed an integral part of the British fauna until their extinction 160 years ago. The UK’s Great Bustard Group has been working to bring this species back into the UK by releasing birds in Wiltshire. Ornithologists can pay a fee (about £10) to go and see the birds in their home range but in the winter they move away to new grounds before returning in the spring. They seem to move, on average, 80kms away to Dorset and Somerset but move back into groups on Salisbury plain in the spring. Males were first recorded displaying to the females in 2007, and in 2007 and 2008 females nested and laid eggs, although these proved to be infertile.
This was sooner than expected because males take 4-5 years to become sexually mature, so the signs were good for the project. As a quick side note, the Government classes Great Bustards as Alien species to the UK! But now, as paper readers and Springwatch viewers will already know, the first chicks have hatched! From two females come 3 chicks whose location is currently being kept a secret. This is obviously superb news!
As an interesting side note, I did get a text message this morning from a friend who told me that there are some Great bustards near Glastonbury in Somerset, about 15mins up the road from me. This could be very interesting and naturally, I will keep you updated.
As another side note, you can help the Great Bustard Group by buying beer. Stonehenge ales began producing Great Bustard, a 4.6% alcohol content, fruity ale first brewed to celebrate the release of the first wave of bustards into the UK in 2003. Buy a pint or a bottle and part of the profit is donated to the group to help them with their goal of continual re-introductions right up to 2013. If you are a southern wine-drinker you can donate, instead, at the GBG’s website.