Sandgrouse drinking

We drove to a large pond in the desert close to the border with Pakistan. In the middle of a barren landscape broken only by acacia and small shrubs, the grass around the pond looked inviting. There was livestock grazing here: sheep, goats, cows and donkeys. We had a little breakfast and then hunkered down on the edge of the water to wait for chestnut bellied sandgrouse.

This bird can be found in a long arc of arid land from Senegal and Gambia in West Africa, through Saudi Arabia and Iran up to India. We sat near the easternmost range of this sandgrouse, Pterocles exustus. We did not have a long wait. Soon flocks of these birds showed up to drink water. We could hear their tritone calls as flocks of twenty to thirty birds wheeled around the pond and landed at the edge to drink. There was much movement, noise and fluttering of wings as each flock dropped to the pond, drank and took off. Soon after that, another flock would appear. I was busy trying to photograph them and did not keep count of the total number of birds, but over 20 flocks would have watered that day, meaning there must have been more than 500 sandgrouse. My count is so bad, that it could easily have been twice as many.

The birds feed on seeds, and so must drink water. At the time I watched the birds I was not aware of the spectacular way they carry water to their young. The male, which have yellow faces, sit in the water, and let their downy belly feathers soak up water. When they come to the nest, the young suck the water from the wet feathers. Since I did not know about this, I did not look for this behaviour. Nesting season starts by the end of winter in these parts. Even so, in my photos the males are generally in the water, whereas the females are at the edge of the pond.

The IUCN entry on the chestnut bellied sandgrouse says that the Egyptian subspecies, P.exustus floweri, is extinct. So I was happy to see a report about the rediscovery of the Egyptian sandgrouse population in 2011.

By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.


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