Pallas’s Sandgrouse

Pallas’s Sandgrouse Syrrhaptes paradoxus ranges from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan across Xinjiang, Qinghai, Gansu, and Inner Mongolia to Heilongjiang. Northeastern breeders winter south to Bohai Gulf. HABITAT & BEHAVIOR Arid, sparsely vegetated steppe and semi-deserts; cultivated land in winter. Prone to irregular irruptions, when can appear far outside normal range. Walks quickly, nibbling at ground like a dove. Large, noisy flocks appear at dawn and dusk at watering holes. ID & COMPARISON Small-headed, stocky, pigeon-sized bird with short, feathered legs, a pintail, and elongated outer primaries, shorter in female. Male has orange throat and patch on head sides, yellowish-orange in female, divided by narrow grey area from rear ear coverts, and connected via orange forecrown and supercilium. Hindcrown and nape grey, rest of upperparts sandy-buff with black barring or flecking. Underwing largely white with thin, black line around flight feathers, above broader along secondaries and pronounced by rufous-brown greater coverts; white trailing edge also present; primaries grey above. Male has upper breast pale grey and white pectoral band with black barring. Female has neck sides buff with black spotting, lacks pectoral band, and has narrow black necklace below orange throat patch. Both sexes have buff lower breast, conspicuous black belly patch, and white ventral area and tail tip. Juvenile like female but lacks pintail and elongated primaries and head pattern less distinct. Black-bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles orientalis has larger black belly patch, strongly contrasting black and white underwing (black remiges, white coverts), a thin, well-defined black-and-white pectoral band (present in both sexes, unlike in Pallas’s), wedge-shaped rather than elongated central tail feathers, and unfeathered feet. Black-bellied is also more robust and has broader wings than Pallas’s. BARE PARTS Short grey bill, feet grey (under buffish-white feathering), orbital ring blue-grey. VOICE Frantic, high-pitched, rolling cluck; flies with whistling wingbeats. — Craig Brelsford

THE SANDGROUSE OF CHINA covers all three members of the family Pteroclidae in China. Click any link:

Tibetan Sandgrouse Syrrhaptes tibetanus
Pallas’s Sandgrouse S. paradoxus
Black-bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles orientalis


Daniel Bengtsson served as chief ornithological consultant for Craig Brelsford’s Photographic Field Guide to the Birds of China, from which this species description is drawn.

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