Ludwig’s Bustards are notoriously shy. And with good reason – they need every strategy possible for the species to survive. Their status has recently been upgraded from ‘Vulnerable’ to ‘Endangered’ on the Red Data List of endangered species and it’s thought that their numbers have declined by more than half over the last three generations of birds, mostly due to power-line collisions.
Over the years in Smithfield I’ve seen a couple in the distance, but they are so wary that they fly away if they so much as sense someone walking in the veld.
So it was a tragedy, but one you could easily miss, when I found a Ludwig’s Bustard – Ludwigse Pou – lying dead in the veld recently.
This one must have died the day before and predators had already begun eating it. It lay, surrounded by loose feathers, in the camp off the N6 belonging to local farmer and attorney, Piet Potgieter, next to the electric fence around his land. When I found the corpse the fence was operating and so I couldn’t get near enough for a closer look.
Because the Ludwig’s Bustard is such a heavy bird it has a whole performance to get airborne: Rather like a Secretary Bird, it starts running with its head down and its wings raised. Then it starts to flap and take off and it’s this habit, forced by its physical structure, that might ultimately prove its nemesis.
I’ve sent my photographs to researchers who are investigating the role of electric fences and power lines in killing off birds – you may have seen giant overhead cables with discs and other objects attached to them to warn birds so that they don’t collide with the wires – and I hope this information will help with their work.
It’s the saddest thing: for so long I’ve wanted to see a Ludwig’s Bustard close up; now, in the most unfortunate way, I’ve got my wish.