Only have three toes, unlike the usual four of other birds

These birds have carved out a niche in Central Asia and Tibet’s expansive steppes and high-altitude arid regions, a testament to their resilience and evolutionary ingenuity. The very name Syrrhaptes, derived from the Greek ‘surrhaptos’ meaning “sewn together,” alludes to one of their most distinctive anatomical features: their fused toes.

Syrrhaptes species are medium to large birds with proportions that are finely tuned to their environment. They possess small heads and necks, which give way to robust bodies. The orange facial plumage that characterizes these birds is not just for show; it likely plays a role in mate selection or species recognition across the vast open landscapes they inhabit. The rest of their plumage is predominantly buff, blending seamlessly with the sandy and stony terrains.

The feet of Syrrhaptes species are a marvel of avian adaptation. Unlike many other birds, they lack a hind toe, and their front three toes are fused into a single unit, an adaptation that is believed to aid in walking on soft sand. This unique structure is further adapted to their environment through the presence of feathers, which likely serve as insulation against the extreme temperatures of their habitat.

Syrrhaptes species embody the quintessential traits of sandgrouse. They are gregarious by nature, forming flocks ranging from small family groups to large assemblies of individuals, particularly noticeable when congregating at watering holes. These gatherings are critical for social interaction and a key component of their survival, as water is scarce in their arid homes.

The diet of these sandgrouse is primarily composed of seeds and vegetation, which they forage from the ground. Their feeding strategy is a perfect match for the steppe ecosystem, where plant life is scarce and spread out over large areas.