Australian Bustard Click to enlarge image
Australian Bustard Image: Pete Richman
creative commons

Fast Facts

  • NSW Conservation Status
    Endangered species
  • Classification
  • Size Range
    80 cm to 120 cm
Ardeotis australis
male Australian Bustard, stretching 27.1 Image: PD Munchenberg
© Australian Museum

If there is a plague of mice or grasshoppers, Australian Bustards will gorge themselves on the plentiful food supply.


The Australian Bustard is one of Australia's largest birds. It is a mainly grey-brown bird, speckled with dark markings, with a pale neck and black crown, with a slight crest and a white eye-brow. There are bold black and white markings on the wing. The female is slightly smaller than the male. Newly hatched chicks are striped dark and light. The Bustard has a 'snooty' appearance as it walks sedately along, holding its head and neck high. When disturbed, it will walk away slowly, still watching. When it does fly, the flight is strong, with the ends of the wing feathers characteristically spread and up-curved. It may be found in small groups or singly.


Australian Bustards are found on dry plains, grasslands and in open woodland.


The Australian Bustard is a bird of the inland and tropical north of mainland Australia. It is also found in southern New Guinea.


They are nomadic, searching for food and numbers may sometimes irrupt (build up rapidly) and then disperse again. In some areas, such as the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland, there is regular seasonal movement.

Feeding and diet

Australian Bustards are omnivorous, eating leaves, buds, seeds, fruit, frogs, lizards, and invertebrates. They walk slowly, picking at food items as they wander, usually at twilight and after dark.


Loud, high-pitched whistle, with a rolling "carr-ack" call in flight.

Breeding behaviours

Australian Bustards breed once a year. When mating, the males clear a display area, then inflate a large throat sac, producing a loud, deep roaring noise, while they strut around with their tails cocked high. The large, olive-green egg may be laid on bare ground or in grass, but usually where the parent bird has a good view of approaching predators. The female sits low, well camouflaged, and she incubates and cares for the young.

  • Breeding seaon: October to December, or after rain.
  • Clutch size: One egg
  • Incubation: 23 days

Economic impacts

Australian Bustards were once extensively hunted and shot for food and with habitat changes made by introduced mammals such as rabbits, cattle and sheep, they are now limited to inland areas. This species is listed as endangered in New South Wales.


  • Marchant, S. and Higgins, P.J. (eds) 1993. Handbook of Australian New Zealand And Antartic Birds Vol. 2: (Raptors To Lapwings). Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
  • Olsen, P., Crome, F. and Olsen, J. 1993. The Birds of Prey and Ground Birds of Australia. Angus and Robertson, and the National Photographic Index of Australian Wildlife, Sydney.
  • Morcombe, M. 2000. Field guide to Australian Birds. Steve Parish Publishing.
  • Beruldsen, G 2003. Australian Birds: Their Nests and Eggs. Self-published, Queensland.