Pteroclidae – Sandgrouses

Possess exceptional powers for sustained flight and are also quite good runners!

These birds are well-adapted to some of the harshest environments on Earth, including deserts, semi-deserts, and treeless open country lands across Africa and Asia.

Sandgrouse are medium-sized birds with small heads relative to their body, robust and compact builds, and cryptic plumage that blends seamlessly into their arid habitats. This camouflage is vital for survival in open landscapes where predators often look for an easy meal. Their plumage varies in color, usually matching the earthy tones of their surroundings, which allows them to remain inconspicuous while roosting or nesting on the ground.

Despite their ground-centric lifestyle, sandgrouse are renowned for their remarkable flying abilities. They possess long, pointed wings which are highly efficient and enable them to fly great distances. Their daily migrations to water sources can be quite astonishing; some species, such as the Pallas’s Sandgrouse, are known to travel up to 100 kilometers (62 miles) in search of water. This is a critical behavior as they live in areas where water can be scarce, and their dependence on it for drinking and for moistening the feathers that they use to transport water to their young is well documented.

Sandgrouse have evolved several unique adaptations for their arid environments. Their feathers are specially adapted to absorb and retain water, which is then carried back to their chicks. They are also seed eaters, feeding mainly on the ground, where they pick up a variety of plant seeds, which is their primary source of sustenance and water.

The social structure of sandgrouse varies from solitary or paired individuals to large flocks that gather at watering holes. These gatherings can be spectacular, with thousands of birds descending on a single water source.