Cream-coloured courser -- 乳色走鸻 (Cursorius cursor)

Cream-coloured courser feeding chick
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Cream-coloured courser fact file

Cream-coloured courser description

GenusCursorius (1)

The cream-coloured courser (Cursorius cursor) is a tall, slender bird with a relatively long, pointed, down-curved beak, a short tail, distinctly long legs and a characteristic upright stance (3) (4). As the name suggests, the body is largely pale cream or sandy in colour, with a white lower belly and sharply contrasting black wing tips and black underwings, which are visible in flight. The head is strikingly marked with a black stripe from the eye to the back of the neck, bordered above by a white stripe, and has a bluish-grey crown (2) (3) (5). The beak is black and the legs and feet are yellowish-white (2). The pale belly, which does not contrast sharply with the rest of the underparts, helps distinguish the cream-coloured courser from other Cursorius species (2) (5). Juvenile cream-coloured coursers have a more mottled, scaly-looking back and a less conspicuous head pattern than the adult (2) (3).

The cream-coloured courser was previously split into five subspecies: Cursorius cursor cursor, Cursorius cursor exsul, Cursorius cursor bogolubovi, Cursorius cursor somalensis and Cursorius cursor littoralis (2). These differ in size, colouration and the presence and extent of darker colouration on the belly (2). However, the smaller, darker subspecies of East Africa, C. c. somalensis and C. c. littoralis, are quite distinct and are now classified together as a separate species, the Somali courser (Cursorius somalensis) (5).

Length: 19 - 22 cm (2)
102 - 156 g (2)

Cream-coloured courser biology

The cream-coloured courser feeds by walking or running across the ground, pausing to pick up prey items (2) (3), which are swallowed whole (2). It may also catch insects in flight, or dig for food with the beak (2). The diet includes a range of insect prey, as well as spiders, other invertebrates and seeds (2). Some studies have reported it to specialise in feeding on small ground beetles (8). In flight, the cream-coloured courser appears quite bulky, and flies with the feet trailing. Its calls include a deep, barking praak-praak and a quieter tuk-tuk (3).

The breeding season may vary with location, but usually runs from March to July, or sometimes to September (2) (6). Breeding has also been recorded during winter (October to January) in Senegal (9). The nest is located on bare ground and consists of a shallow, unlined scrape. The cream-coloured courser usually lays 2 eggs (2) (6), which are incubated by both the male and female, hatching after 18 to 19 days (2). The chicks, which are a mottled sandy brown and white above and whitish below, fledge after about 30 days, and begin to breed at a year old (2). Adult cream-coloured coursers have been recorded performing a ‘distraction display’ in which the bird crouches as if brooding an egg or chick, luring predators away from the real chicks or nest, which are some distance away (2) (9). Outside of the breeding season, Cursorius species are usually gregarious, gathering in small flocks or family parties (4).


Cream-coloured courser range

The cream-coloured courser is found from the Cape Verde and Canary Islands, across North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and into Asia. Subspecies C. c. exsul occurs on the Cape Verde Islands, C. c. cursor on the Canary Islands, across North Africa and into the Arabian Peninsula, and C. c. bogolubovi from Turkey to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. C. c. cursor moves southwards in winter, when its range extends into northern Kenya, Sudan and the Sahel region of Africa, and it also winters in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, while C. c. bogolubovi is mainly a winter visitor in Pakistan and northwest India (2). The cream-coloured courser also occurs as a vagrant in Europe (2) (3).


Cream-coloured courser habitat

This species typically inhabits arid, open, stony or sandy desert and semi-desert, including steppe, gravel plains, gravel roads, salt flats and dune troughs (2) (3) (6). The cream-coloured courser generally prefers relatively flat areas with only low, sparse vegetation (2) (6) (7).


Cream-coloured courser status

The cream-coloured courser is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Cream-coloured courser threats

The cream-coloured courser is a widespread species and its population does not appear to be undergoing a decline, although the exact population size is unknown now that the species has been split from C. somalensis (10). Increased desertification may even be benefitting this desert-dweller, allowing it to extend its range in some areas (2). However, on the Cape Verde Islands the cream-coloured courser population is relatively small (2), while in the Canary Islands the species has undergone a decline due to egg collection, habitat destruction, road-building and an increase in off-road vehicles. Human disturbance, overgrazing by goats, predation by introduced mammals and increasing tourist developments are also threatening the species on these islands (2) (6) (7).


Cream-coloured courser conservation

Within Europe, the cream-coloured courser is listed under Annex I of the EC Birds Directive, which provides a framework for bird conservation in the region (11). A Species Action Plan is also in place in Europe, which recommends a range of conservation actions for the cream-coloured courser in the Canary Islands. These include the designation of protected areas, management plans for existing protected areas, controlling feral dogs and cats, and restricting vehicle movement and grazing within areas critical to this species. It also recommends further research into the cream-coloured courser and regular monitoring of its population (6). Conservation measures already taken for the houbara bustard (Chlamydotis undulata) on the islands are also likely to benefit the cream-coloured courser, which shares its habitat (6). In other parts of its range, the cream-coloured courser may occur in a number of protected areas, including the Badhyz State Nature Reserve in Turkmenistan, a proposed World Heritage Site (12).

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View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

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A process of sustained decline of the biological productivity of arid and semiarid land; the end-result is desert, or skeletal soil that is irrecoverable.
Previously domesticated animals that have returned to a wild state.
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones), echinoderms, and others.
A vast grassland plain, characterised by few trees and low rainfall.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
An individual found outside the normal range of the species.


  1. IUCN Red List (September, 2010)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1996) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Peterson, R.T., Mountfort, G. and Hollom, P.A.D. (1993) Peterson Field Guides: Birds of Britain and Europe. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York.
  4. Perrins, C. (2009) The Encyclopedia of Birds. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Pearson, D.J. and Ash, J.S. (1996) The taxonomic position of the Somali courser Cursorius (cursor) somalensis. Bulletin of British Ornithologists’ Club, 116(4): 225-229.
  6. González, C. (1999) Species Action Plan for the Cream-Coloured Courser Cursorius cursor in Europe. BirdLife International, UK and European Commission. Available at:
  7. Palomino, D., Seoane, J., Carrascal, L.M. and Alonso, C.L. (2008) Competing effects of topographic, lithological, vegetation structure and human impact in the habitat preferences of the cream-coloured courser. Journal of Arid Environments, 72: 401-410.
  8. Mian, A. (1999) On biology of houbara bustard (Chlamydotis undulata macqueenii) in Balochistan, Pakistan: food of some dominant bird species and food web. Pakistan Journal of Zoology, 31(2): 167-174.
  9. Triplet, P. and Yésou, P. (1994) Winter breeding and distraction display of the cream-coloured courser. Wader Study Group Bulletin, 72: 32.
  10. BirdLife International (September, 2010)
  11. EC Birds Directive (September, 2010)
  12. UNESCO World Heritage Centre - Badhyz State Nature Reserve, Turkmenistan (September, 2010)

Image credit

Cream-coloured courser feeding chick  
Cream-coloured courser feeding chick

© Hanne & Jens Eriksen /

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