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Otis rhaad (1 Viewer)


laurent raty
The Key:
Arabic name Rhaad for the Arabian Bustard, in allusion to its cry when taking flight; ex “Rhaad” of Shaw 1738, de Buffon 1770-1783, and Latham 1783 (?syn. Ardeotis arabs, ?syn. Eupodotis senegalensis).

Otis rhaad Gmelin 1789 [OD].
Rhaad. 7. O. occipitis crista (mari) ex atro caerulea, capite nigro, corpore supra alisque flavis, fusco-maculatis, abdomine albo, cauda fuscescente: striis transversis nigris.
Rhaad, Shaw it. p. 255. t. opp. f. 2. Buff. hist. nat. des ois. 2. p. 61. Lath. syn. II. 2. p. 805. n. 7.
Habitat in Arabia, gregaria et granivora, rostro pedibusque robustis.
This translates roughly into:
Rhaad. 7. Bustard with a blue-black occipital crest (in the male), a black head, the body above and the wings yellow, dark-spotted, the belly white, the tail dark brownish: with black trasveral stripes.
Rhaad, Shaw, Travels, p. 255 and opposite plate, figure 2. [Here] Buffon, Histoire naturelle des oiseaux, 2, page 61. [Here] Latham, Synopsis, II, 2, page 805, number 7. [Here]
Resides in Arabia, gregarious and granivorous, with strong bill and feet.
Gmelin cited three references, Shaw, Buffon and Latham. However, Buffon's text is based on Shaw's, and Latham's is based on Shaw's and Buffon's; thus ultimately, the only primary source is Shaw:
Shaw T. 1738. Travels, or Observations relating to several parts of Barbary and the Levant. Printed at the Theatre, Oxford.
The description of the Rhaad in this book is part of a section titled Physical and miscellaneous observations or an essay towards the natural history of the kingdoms of Algiers and Tunis. It says:
The Rhaad or Saf-saf.
The Rhaad or Saf-saf, is a granivorous and gregarious Bird, which wanteth the hinder Toe. There are two Species of It; the smaller whereof is of the Size of an ordinary Pullet, but the larger is near as big as the Hoobaara, differing also from the lesser in having a black Head, with a Tuft of dark blew Feathers immediately below It. The Belly of them both is white, the Back and the Wings of a buff Colour spotted with brown, whilst the Tail is lighter, marked all along with black transverse Streaks. The Beak and the Legs are stronger than in Birds of the Partridge Kind. Rhaad¹, which denoteth Thunder in the Language of this Country, is supposed to be a Name that hath been given to This Bird, from the Noise It maketh in springing from the Ground; as Saf-saf², the other Name, very naturally expresseth the beating of the Air, when It is got upon the Wing.
¹ Sc. a رعد Rahad tonuit. ² صفصف, translated Passer only by Golius, is not unlike in Name to the שחפ Sachaph or Sah-haph, which Lev. 11. 16. we render the Cuckow.
('Not fully sure of the Arabic and Hebrew; did my best, though ;).) The figure is [here].

Also relevant, as it provides information about the Rhaad by comparing another bird to it, is the next species account in Shaw's book:
The Kitawiah, or Lagopus Africanus.
The Kitawiah or African Lagopus (as we may call It) is another Bird of the gregarious and granivorous Kind which likewise wanteth the hinder Toe. It frequenteth the most barren, as the Rhaad doth the more fertil Parts of these Countries, being in Size and Habit of Body like the Dove, with short feathered Feet also, as in some Birds of that Kind. The Body is of a livid Colour, spotted with black; the Belly blackish; and, upon the Throat, there is the Figure of an half Moon in a beautiful Yellow. The Tip of each Feather in the Tail, hath a white Spot upon It, and the middle one is long and pointed, as in the Merops. The Flesh is of the same Colour with the Rhaad's, red upon the Breast and white in the Legs, agreeing further, in being not only of an agreeable Tast, but easy Digestion.
From the main account, the Rhaad appears to have been a granivorous and gregarious bird; with no hind toe; dimorphic in size and plumage, some birds being larger, almost the size of a Houbara, and having a black-and-blue patterned head, others being smaller, the size of a chicken, and lacking the head pattern; with a white belly, dark-spotted buffy upperparts and a paler, barred tail; with strong bill and legs.
The figure quite clearly shows some kind of bustard, but no obvious pattern on the head and neck.
From the Kitawiah (= Spotted Sandgrouse, I think) account, we learn that it inhabits the more fertile parts of Algeria and Tunisia; that the flesh of its breast is red and that of its legs white; and that it tastes good and is easily digested.

So what was this bird ?

The two species it has been assumed to have been, as indicated in the Key entry above, are Arabian and White-bellied Bustard. I fail completely to see an Arabian Bustard in Shaw's description - Arabian is much bigger than Houbara, not dimorphic, has no black in plumage, is not gregarious at all... White-bellied Bustard, on the other hand, though it may match the description better, is still not really gregarious and, quite frankly, seems an extraordinarily far-fetched guess from a geographical standpoint (so far as I can determine, Shaw never put a foot south of the Sahara).

I am inclined to believe the Rhaad was the Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax, a bird that used to be extremely numerous in Tunisia and Algeria, and the meat of which was very appreciated there (e.g., Whitaker 1905 [here]).

I'd be interested in others' views.
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Well-known member
I thought maybe Shaw was describing two different species. But some bustards are dimorphic. Ernst Hartert thought like me.:
Gmelin and Latham based their rhaad entirely on the Rhaad of Shaw, Trav. and Observ. in Barbarij and Levant. The bird figured by Shaw appears to me to be an Otis tetrax, and his description refers to the latter and another larger species, either the Great Bustard or Otis arabs, while O. senegalensis does not occur in Algeria. Latham said that Shaw's Rhaad inhabited Arabia, but he described it from Algeria.
https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/22360#page/305/mode/1up .
https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/172094#page/262/mode/1up .
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laurent raty
Thanks Mark, I had not seen Hartert's opinion on this.

The male Little Bustard is slightly larger than the female, albeit admittedly not much. Of course, it also has a black neck and some blue-grey feathering on the lower part of the head, which the female lacks; this admittedly does not fit Shaw's "black Head, with a Tuft of dark blew Feathers immediately below It" perfectly; but if we allow for some imprecision, the inconsistencies are not that strong, I think. In any case, Shaw's description doesn't seem to match Great or Arabian Bustard much better than Little. And I'm not exactly comfortable with the idea that Shaw might have seen female-type Little Bustards only, and that the black-headed birds he reported along them might really have belonged to another species (which we struggle to identify).

Shaw's description of the size of the larger bird "near as big as the Hoobaara" doesn't fit Great or Arabian Bustard well either. I understand "near as big" as still smaller; in any case certainly not significantly bigger and heavier, which both Great and Arabian are.

James Jobling

Well-known member
Laurent, Based on the figure on the plate and associated text I agree that Shaw's Rhaad is the Little Bustard Tetrax. In nomenclature, however, the name seems only to have been applied to Eupodotis senegalensis (by Rueppell 1837 and 1845). I have revised the Key entry.


laurent raty
In nomenclature, however, the name seems only to have been applied to Eupodotis senegalensis (by Rueppell 1837 and 1845).
Lesson 1839 (Oiseaux rares ou nouveaux de la collection du Docteur Abeillé, à Bordeaux. Rev. Zool., 2: 40-47. [here]), when he introduced the genus Eupodotis, was certainly not using specific names in the sense of Rüppell 1837, however: Rüppell 1837 ([here]) had very clearly placed Otis senegalensis Vieillot in the synonymy of "his" Otis rhaad Latham; Lesson treated them both as distinct valid species, which he did not even list side by side. What he meant there by this name, however... I don't know. (Possibly nothing that he knew first-hand; if the sequence of cited species is of any value, presumably something closer to arabs than to senegalensis; not tetrax as he treated it as distinct as well.)

As nomenclature starts in 1758, surely Gmelin 1789 is part of it, however...? o:)

Of course, it's the original type series, not any subsequent application that should in principle determine the identity of a nominal species. (Pace Mathews 1911 [here]. I must confess that I do not understand at all how the argument he offered there can be acceptable. In any case, the rule he was applying to justify this "necessary alteration in the nomenclature of birds" certainly does not appear to be one that can be found in the current Code. Under the current Code, Otis rhaad is available from Gmelin 1789, and nowhere else (certainly not Rüppell 1837, who explicitly attributed it to Latham 1823 ([here]), who in turn cited Gmelin as a source); the only way a subsequent 'fixation' of this name might be possible would be via an action of the Commission under the Plenary Powers.)
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James Jobling

Well-known member
Mea culpa. Of course, Gmelin 1789 has the priority; I had forgotten that Sharpe 1894 (and elsewhere in the Catalogue) doesn't always give credit to Gmelin. Since Gmelin 1789 is based on Shaw 1738, etc., his combination Otis Rhaad should refer to the Little Bustard, but (?erroneously) the habitat is given as Arabia instead of Barbary. Certainly, ra'd is the Arabic for thunder. In Egypt hubaarii is a generic name for bustards.

Björn Bergenholtz

... earlier a k a "Calalp"
Maybe wort considering in this context: Arabia doesn´t always necessarily mean the Arabian Peninsula, sometimes also the Mashriq and/or even Maghreb is included in Arabia. Simply "where the Arabs lives".


Well-known member
With regard to Dr. Shaw’s proposed identification of Shachaph with his Zaf Zaf or Rhaad it may be observed that hard-billed species feeding on grain like all gallinacean are also very prone to devour reptiles and therefore not necessarily clean birds; but unfortunately what the Rhaad may be is a question which the characters assigned to both species leaves undetermined. The black tuft of feathers beneath the throat the white belly and bulk of body seems to imply that he alluded to two species of smaller Bustards or Pterocles, such as Otis Torquata Otis Kuba Otis Hobara Tetrix Campestris or the Katta Pterocles Alchata all of which reside in or near Palestine or make their passage through that country in the proper season, have a low flight with beating wings and voices which suggest the name Rhaad.
Charles Hamilton Smith in A cyclopædia of biblical literature, ed. by J. Kitto, Volume 1

Björn Bergenholtz

... earlier a k a "Calalp"
I deleted my latest post, from yesterday (it was simply too lingering, too absent-minded), but I (apparently ;)) have a hard time leaving Shaw's depicted "Rhaad" ...

Cuvier, Georges. 1827-35. The animal kingdom arranged in conformity with its organization. With additional descriptions of all the species hitherto named, and of many not before noticed, by Edward Griffith and others. 16 vols. London: Geo. B. Whittaker. Volume 8, III; Class Aves (1829):
The Ruffed Bustard (Otis Houbara) is the same as the "petite outarde huppée d'Afrique," of Buffon, and forms the Second section of M. Temminck in his Manual of Ornithology. Jt is distinguished by its long bill, depressed at the base. The same author adds, to this essential character, those of having on the head a large tuft of slender feathers, and similar feathers on the sides of the neck, the longest of which are four inches, and capable of being spread out. Gmelin and Latham have given, as a separate species from this, another bustard, known in Barbary under the name of Rhaad; but Temminck has united them as one species. Our figure is of a young male bird; the top of the head, cheeks, back, wings, and tail, are light dun; the elongated feather, down the side, and under the neck, and the lunated marks, nearly black: the crest in the specimen was merely incipient from non-age.
It is said that the name of Rhaad, which signifies thunder, is given in consequence of the noise which it makes in shooting from the ground; and that its other name, Saf-saf, is an imitation of the sound of its wings in flying.
These birds are found in Barbary, in Arabia, in Turkey, and are birds of accidental passage in Spain and Silesia. Those which have been met in Numidia, towards the confines of the desert, live on insects and the young buds of plants. They are equally cunning and distrustful with the bustards of our own climates.

[from here, p.454-455]​

On top of this, and all earlier said in this thread (but most important simply by starring at Shaw's Plate itself) I'm still not convinced that "... Shaw's plate, and the accompanying text, undoubtedly refer to the Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax" (as today's HBW Alive Key claim). I agree on the text part, but the Plate ... ?

Compare Shaw's Plate of the Rhaad with the Plate belonging to the text above.

The Rhaad ..."undoubtedly" a (female) Little Bustard? Really?


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laurent raty
The Rhaad ..."undoubtedly" a (female) Little Bustard?
If the black spots on the lower breast are real, it might actually be a young male. (In whole, or in part -- such a figure does not need to be based on a single individual bird, of course.) Something like [this].
(But, looking at the plumage depiction of the Houbara and sandgrouse on that plate, I'm not at all sure we can trust the fine details of plumage in the figure...)

I'm not sure either to understand why you treat the figure independently of the text -- as if it could show something else...? I see no good reason for doing this. From the text, it is obvious that Temminck was plain wrong.

Björn Bergenholtz

... earlier a k a "Calalp"
And here´s a possible 'rhaad' and 'saf-saf' from the Kori Ardeotis kori! ;)

What I mean is that the Arabian name Rhaad (and/or Saf-saf) doesn´t necessarlily have to be connected to one certain species, it could, might, possibly be an Arabic name widely used for several of today's Bustard!? If the Kori would be involved (in the Arabic name that is) I assume we would be talking of the "Arabian" subspecies A. k. struthiunculus (from the Horn of Africa). I guess it sounds about the same.

Unfortunatelly Xeno-canto has no records of the Houbara Bustard Chlamydotis undulata.

However: back to the main issue this far; the Identity of the bird depicted on Shaw's Plate: What disturbed (and still disturbs) me wasn´t the blotches, but the breast marking, the wavy line, downwards. I find it unlikely that any Artist would mark, draw such a character without reason. And the somewhat tufted neck. "If the black spots on the lower breast are real" wasn´t the single main reason for my doubt, that they are, at least on the engraving, as real as any other character in this depiction. If accurate to the/any actual bird in real life is, of course, another thing, impossible to say.

But I might have been focused too much on a female Little Bustard. If we´re possibly talking of a young male it´s another ball game! See this Photo, here.

Also compare with the following Photos: here, here, here, here ... and elsewhere.

To me the (rather crude) Plate in Shaw's book looks like a mixed bird, based on specimen/s of either female/young male Little ones and/or possibly also of dittos of the Houbara. Either way I would hesitate on using the word " "undoubtedly"(for the Plate), [that´s James's choice of phrase, in the Key, not Laurent's] ... which was the main (and only) reason why I got caught up in this thread to start with. I wouldn´t bet any money, solely on either one.

In any case; Shaw's Text on the Rhaad, or Saf-saf, from 1738 as well as Gmelin's OD of [Otis] "Rhaad" from 1789, all based on the former, sure looks like a description of today's Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax.

On this I can agree.


PS. Laurent, why I treated the text vs the Plate separately is simply because it/they could very well have been done separately, not depending on, alt. in connection to, each other. Similar cases are well-known and fairly common (even in modern Field guides). Clear cases when the illustration doesn´t show what´s told in the text. One example, as a small side-track; regarding exactly this species; the Little Bustard. In the (at the time) popular Field guide Birds of Britain and Europe, by Bruun/Singer (in Swedish; Alla Europas fåglar i färg, several editions 1978-1992), this species (male in flight) was depicted with most of its primaries all sooty brownish/blackish, contra the text (at least in the Swedish Edition, edited by Lars Svensson and Håkan Delin); that clearly pointed out that only the 4 outer ones is black (in a major part). In the same book/s the female (in flight) was depicted with the upper/inner part of the primary coverts all buffy! Not white as in nature (except, of course, for the black crescent, on the greater coverts).

In Sweden we had to wait for Lars Jonsson's Fåglar i naturen 1990 (alt. Fåglar i Europa 1992) until we understood, or could anticipate, how the wing pattern, in flight, of the Little Bustard truly looked like! Later reassured and (of course) backed up by Lars Svensson's Fågelguiden (Collins Bird Guide) in 1999. Lesson learned; texts and plates, doesn´t always tell the same story.
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