The Tibetan Sandgrouse: An Emblem of Resilience in the High Deserts

High in the altitudes of the Asian plateau, where the sky meets the barren expanse of the earth, an avian marvel thrives. An emblem of hardiness and resilience in an environment characterized by its starkness, the Tibetan Sandgrouse (Syrrhaptes tibetanus) scuttles across the sandy plains, a sight that captures the essence of survival in the face of adversity. It’s a large bird of the sandgrouse family, remarkable for its distinctive physical features and unique behavioural adaptations to its challenging habitat.

Serial NumberCharacteristicsDescription
1Common nameTibetan Sandgrouse
2Scientific nameSyrrhaptes tibetanus
3ColourOrange face, finely barred grey breast, neck and crown, white belly and black underwings
4Average length30 to 41 cm
5Average heightMedium-sized bird
6Type of birdPlains bird
7Found in India in statesJammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh
8HabitatBarren sandy plains
9IUCN StatusLeast Concern

Features of the Tibetan Sandgrouse


The Tibetan Sandgrouse is a robust bird, with a length that ranges from 30 to 41 cm. This size sets it apart as a large bird within the sandgrouse family, contributing to its distinctive profile. It possesses a small pigeon-like head and neck but boasts a sturdy, compact body, fitting for its habitat’s challenging conditions. Its size not only facilitates survival in a barren environment but also contributes to its effectiveness in foraging and flying.


The Tibetan Sandgrouse is a medium-sized bird, a description that extends to its height. The bird’s height, though not documented specifically, aligns with its body length, resulting in a well-balanced physical constitution. This height, coupled with its sturdy build, equips the sandgrouse for survival in its demanding habitat. It is perfectly suited for traversing the undulating plains while foraging for food.

Running Speed

Although the Tibetan Sandgrouse’s running speed hasn’t been precisely recorded, the bird’s overall behaviour provides some insights. Observations reveal that while foraging, their movements are fast and rapid, suggesting an impressive running speed that aids in their survival. Their unique feet, which lack a hind toe and have three front toes fused together, support these quick movements across the sandy plains.

Other Features

The Tibetan Sandgrouse is characterized by its long pointed wings and pin tail. It boasts an orange face, a finely barred grey breast, neck, and crown, and a white belly and black underwings. The male sandgrouse has an unspotted buff wing, while the female exhibits more barred wing coverts, upper parts, and upper belly than the male. The juvenile sandgrouse lacks the tail pin, has narrower barring, and has less orange on the face. The upper surface of their fused feet is feathered, and the underneath has a fleshy pad, resembling more of a paw than a bird’s foot.

Habitat and Food of the Tibetan Sandgrouse

  1. Geographical Spread: The Tibetan Sandgrouse is predominantly located in the high-altitude areas of Asia, particularly in Tibet, which is where its name comes from. It has also been sighted in various Indian states, including Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh.
  1. Habitat Preference: This bird species inhabits barren sandy plains, especially near water bodies. Their habitat choice facilitates their foraging and breeding behaviours and helps them evade potential predators.
  1. Diet: The Tibetan Sandgrouse feeds on seeds, grass, buds, and legumes. Their diet preference aligns with the vegetation found in their habitat, providing them with essential nutrients to survive the harsh environmental conditions.
  1. Foraging Behaviour: These birds forage in the morning and afternoon. While foraging, they move rapidly across the semi-desert plains. During mid-day, they rest by squatting in small depressions in the ground, basking in the sun.
  1. Seasonal Changes: Although no specific migratory patterns are known for this species, their activity levels might vary with the seasons, influenced by food availability and breeding periods.

Nesting and Nurturing

The Tibetan Sandgrouse’s nesting and nurturing behaviours align with its survival strategies in the arid habitat. From May to June, the sandgrouse breeds on the stony plateaus and ridges, often choosing a site near the ridge’s top on the leeward side. The nest is a simple ground scrape, where the female lays three pale brown elliptical eggs with cryptic markings.

The eggs are often exposed, though occasionally they may be shielded by a stone or grass. After hatching, the chicks are mobile and move around with the flock. When threatened, adult sandgrouse resort to distraction displays, while the chicks crouch and freeze, camouflaging themselves with the surrounding terrain.


The Tibetan Sandgrouse’s major threat is habitat degradation, driven by human activities such as construction, mining, and intensive agriculture. Engaging in these activities may result in the depletion of areas where animals search for food and build their homes.

Additionally, they might face predation from carnivorous species present in their habitat. As ground nesters, their eggs and chicks could be particularly vulnerable to predation.

More info about Tibetan Sandgrouse: Link

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