The Pin-Tailed Sandgrouse: A Fleeting Spectacle of the Arid Plains

The deserts and semi-arid regions of the world, known for their harsh conditions and extreme weather, are also home to some of the most resilient and captivating creatures. The Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (Pterocles alchata) is one such spectacle of these barren landscapes. The bird, a sight to behold with its petite pigeon-like head and long, slender wings, is as enigmatic as its habitat. With a robust body and an impressive wingspan, the sandgrouse paints a picture of resilience, adaptability, and mesmerizing beauty in the vast expanses of the arid plains. An intricate blend of different shades – from olive green and brown to buff, yellow, grey and black – gives the bird its unique, cryptic appearance, allowing it to seamlessly blend into its surroundings.

Serial NumberCharacteristicsDescription
1Common namePin-tailed Sandgrouse
2Scientific namePterocles alchata
3ColourBarred and flecked olive green, brown, buff, yellow, grey and black
4Average length31-39 cm
5Average heightNA
6Type of birdDesert
7Found in India in statesWinter migrant in Northern India
8HabitatOpen areas of stony land, semi-arid areas at the edge of deserts, treeless plains
9IUCN StatusLeast Concern

Features of the Bird


The Pin-tailed Sandgrouse is a bird of medium size, measuring approximately 31 to 39 centimeters in length. Its coloration is a mixture of olive green, brown, buff, yellow, grey, and black, with a cryptic pattern of bars and flecks.The bird’s feathered legs and underparts are a soft white color, while its head and upperparts have a yellowish-green hue. Its underparts are also white, and a chestnut band on its chest separates its green neck from its belly.

The body of the sandgrouse is robust and compact, the perfect adaptation for a life in the arid and semi-arid habitats. The bird’s compact size aids in thermoregulation, a crucial aspect for survival in habitats where temperature fluctuations can be extreme. A small size also means a lower surface area to volume ratio, helping the bird minimize water loss.


Due to the ground-dwelling nature of the species, its height, in the traditional sense, doesn’t hold as much significance as it might for other birds. Hence, information regarding the bird’s standing height isn’t typically reported in literature. Instead, the bird’s length, wingspan, and tail length are the parameters of physical description that provide insights into the species.

Running Speed

While precise data on the running speed of the Pin-tailed Sandgrouse is not readily available, observations suggest that the species, like other sandgrouses, is more adapted for flight than for running. The bird’s long, pointed wings, which are white underneath, and a long tail, contribute to a fast and direct flight.

Other Features

The Pin-tailed Sandgrouse displays sexual dimorphism, meaning males and females have distinct physical characteristics. .Male birds of this species are characterized by being slightly larger and having more vivid colors. Specifically, their crown, most of their neck, back, and under-wing coverts exhibit a yellowish-green hue with dull yellow spots in the shoulder area. They also have a black patch on the throat immediately below the beak. The females, in contrast, are better camouflaged, with a shorter tail and colours that are duller.

The most striking feature of the Pin-tailed Sandgrouse is the pair of elongated central tail feathers in males from which the bird derives its common name. These “pin-tails”, absent in females, add to the bird’s length and provide a spectacular display during flight.

Habitat and Food of the Bird

  1. Habitat : The Pin-tailed Sandgrouse inhabits open areas of stony land, semi-arid areas at the edge of deserts, and treeless plains. It prefers sandy soils and is less reliant on vegetation cover than other sandgrouse species
  1. Watering Habits : Despite living in arid areas, the bird requires access to free-standing water, which it typically seeks at dawn. The sandgrouse has developed unique adaptations for water transport, including specialized feathers that absorb water and retain it, allowing adults to carry water back to their chicks.
  1. Feeding Areas : During the day, Pin-tailed Sandgrouses disperse to forage for seeds, their primary diet.These birds have a preference for leguminous seeds, but they also consume seeds from various plants such as knotweed, buckwheat, Salicornia, Artemisia, camelthorn, rock rose, and asphodel. In areas where crops are grown, they often feed on grain and leguminous crop seeds.. In cultivated areas, they take grain and the seeds of leguminous crops.
  1. Diet : Alongside seeds and grain, the sandgrouse also consume small invertebrates and grit. The consumption of grit helps in grinding the seeds, aiding in digestion.
  1. Roosting Sites : Roosting sites of the Pin-tailed Sandgrouse are typically in areas that provide some level of camouflage, aiding the bird’s cryptic nature. Such areas can be open stony grounds or low vegetation patches.

Nesting and Nurturing

The Pin-tailed Sandgrouse follows a ground-nesting strategy, a common feature among birds of arid and semi-arid regions. The nest is a simple scrape on the ground, often lined with plant material and small stones. Both males and females participate in nest construction.

The bird’s breeding season aligns with the availability of food resources, usually occurring after significant rainfall when seeds and grains are abundant. The female typically lays two to three cream-coloured eggs with cryptic markings, which are incubated by both parents. The incubation period lasts for about 20-25 days, after which the precocial chicks hatch.

Sandgrouse chicks are well-adapted to their harsh environment. They are born with a dense cover of downy feathers and are capable of running and foraging within a few hours of hatching. However, they rely on their parents for water, which is transported by the adult birds in the specialized belly feathers.


The Pin-tailed Sandgrouse faces several threats, mostly anthropogenic. Habitat degradation due to agriculture, livestock grazing, and urbanization is a major concern, leading to the loss of nesting and feeding grounds. The species is also vulnerable to hunting in certain parts of its range. Climate change and its effects, including increased frequency and intensity of droughts, can exacerbate these threats, impacting the bird’s food availability and breeding success.

Despite being well-adapted to their harsh habitats, Pin-tailed Sandgrouses have a relatively low reproductive rate, which makes population recovery from disturbances slow and challenging.

IUCN Status and Conservation

The Pin-tailed Sandgrouse is widely distributed and has a large population, earning it a “Least Concern” status on the IUCN Red List. However, declines in population have been noted in some parts of its range.

Conservation measures should include the protection of key habitats, particularly breeding and feeding areas, and regulation of hunting. Increasing public awareness about the species and its ecological importance can also contribute to its long-term survival.

The Pin-tailed Sandgrouse serves as an ambassador of the harsh yet diverse desert ecosystems, showcasing the remarkable resilience and adaptability of life. Understanding and conserving this fascinating species can therefore contribute significantly towards preserving our planet’s biodiversity heritage.

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