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sandgrouse

sandgrouse, common name for pigeon-sized, seed-eating, terrestrial birds of the genera Pteroclida (approximately 14 species) and Syrrhaptes (2 species). They are birds of the Old World deserts and steppes, and are protectively colored and mottled to blend in with their backgrounds. Colors are typically fawn and gray in the desert-dwelling species and striped or mottled orange and brown in those of the steppe. Sandgrouse are structurally similar to pigeons, but have thicker skin. They have long, pointed wings and tails, and feathers all the way down their short legs. They range in length from 9 to 16 in. (22.5–40 cm). Sandgrouse are especially remarkable for their drinking habits, descending upon water in flocks of as many as 80,000 birds. With their beaks continuously in the water, they can swallow until full without pausing. They must have water daily, and desert species may make a round trip journey as great as 75 mi (121 km) a day just to reach water. They are strong flyers and can reach speeds up to 40 mi (64 km) per hr. Aground, sandgrouse are not very graceful, progressing with a rapid waddle on their short, feathered legs. Lacking a first toe, they do not perch. They forage on berries and seeds and sometimes on insects. They lay their round, spotted eggs, usually three, in ground nests or shallow depressions. The precocious young leave the nest soon after hatching, incubation taking 23 to 28 days, and being shared by the male and female. The newly hatched young are fed by regurgitation of the parents. Several species of sandgrouse are known to be migratory. Sandgrouse are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Columbiformes, family Pteroclidae.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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