Artificial lighting is widely used to synchronize breeding in domestic bird species. Conservation programs can benefit from the breeding synchronization of captive flocks outside of the natural breeding season. In our houbara bustard program, it is believed that achieving production of chicks prior to the natural breeding season would enhance re-introduction success.
Environmentally controlled buildings are used at the National Avian Research Centre (NARC) to breed Asian houbara bustards (Chlamydotis macqueenii). Eighteen males and 51 females were randomly selected for a 15 mo experiment encompassing three successive short seasons of 3 mo each alternating with two resting seasons of 3 mo each. A control group of houbara comprising of 217 females and 216 males was bred during the natural breeding season (January to June). By artificially managing day length and temperature, we hoped to desynchronize the birds from the natural breeding season, trigger breeding outside of the normal breeding season and test the breeding performance of houbara subjected to accelerated breeding and molting seasons.
Results showed that breeding in houbara bustards can be triggered by controlling light and temperature parameters and can be desynchronized from the natural breeding period. The annual number of eggs and chicks per layer and the average number of sperm per ejaculate were not statistically different between groups. However, the persistence of breeding activity through the three successive short seasons differed for males and females. Whereas males showed good sexual performance in the three short seasons, females (notably 2-yr-old females) showed inconsistent breeding performance.