Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



Current Research

Breeding kori bustard

The National Zoo began a breeding program for kori bustards in 1997 with the birth of one chick. In 2008, the Zoo celebrating the hatching of its 40th chick.

Understanding the needs of kori bustards in captivity are important to zoos that are interested in improving husbandry standards for the species- improved husbandry practices yield increased breeding.


The National Zoo has led the field of kori bustard behavioral research for nearly a decade.

Since 1999, a behavior watch has collected data on how koris use space within their exhibit, their behavior, and visitor numbers. The behavior watch documented a previously undescribed breeding display in male kori bustards. Trained volunteers have collected nearly 3000 hours of data. Analysis of that data has resulted in several publications and has significantly added to the understanding of kori bustard behavior in captivity including how visitor numbers affect behavior and space usage.

In 2007, the Zoo initiated a software program that tracks behavior of kori bustards at other zoos. The program allows a watcher to use Palm® pilot to collect data, which is then pooled with other zoos. This sharing of data allows researchers to gain a comprehensive understanding of kori bustard behaviors. This program now tracks 28 koris at eight zoos.

In 2008, volunteers began collecting data on kori bustard chicks starting when the chicks were a week old, and following them for five months. This study will determine if certain behaviors are correlated with sex, future breeding success, as well as examine how behaviors develop following hatch.

Goals of the kori bustard behavior watch:

  • Determine what effect, if any, multiple males have on each other during the breeding season
  • Identify behaviors which indicate the eminence of egg laying in females
  • Develop an ethogram (activity budget) for the flock
  • Discover if certain activities vary with the time of day and season
  • Find out if certain activities vary between the sexes and between breeding and non-breeding birds
  • Understand how the birds make use of their exhibit
  • See if space utilization varies with the time of day and/or time of year
  • Watch how the birds interact with each other
  • Monitor social interactions to see if they change on a seasonal basis
  • Define what aspects about the enclosure at NZP are conducive to breeding so that they can be applied to non-breeding institutions
  • Calibrate the effect of crowd level on members of the flock

The watch begins every year on March 1 and ends on December 31. Data collection occurs every day of the week, for one hour at a time. Depending on the level of daylight, watches are conducted from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the summer and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the winter.

Field Research

In 2006, a pilot study at Mpala Research Center, Kenya led by the Zoo evaluated normal blood values and capture methods in wild kori bustards. The next phase of research (in October 2009) includes Zoo professionals from Animal Health, Animal Programs, Nutrition and Pathology, as well as scientists at Mpala Research Center and National Museums of Kenya.

Rhea Hanselmann, a Smithsonian Mpala Fellow will work at Mpala and Smithsonian for six months researching kori bustards. The study will expand on our existing basic knowledge of kori bustard health, physiology, nutritional requirements, and disease status in the wild.