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White-headed Duck breeding again in Morocco

The White-headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephala) start breeding again in Morocco for the first time in almost a century.

The endangered White-headed Duck went extinct as a breeding species in Morocco in the first half of 20th century. It also disappeared as a wintering visitor. The Spanish population has also decreased dramatically between the 1950s and 1970s to just 22 birds in 1977. However, the population in Spain has since recovered and increased to over 2500 birds in the beginning of 2000s thanks to the conservation measures which were undertaken since years (habitat protection, protection from hunting,…). The recovery of the Spanish population impacted positively on the occurrence of the species in Morocco. On a similar case, conservation actions at Doñana have led to a great increase of the Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) population at the site. This in turn became the source for the colonisation of several sites in Northwest Africa in recent years starting from the Smir heronry in northern Morocco and other sites in Algeria.

First breeding success after the species’ return

The first sighting of the White-headed Duck in Morocco in modern times was in December 1996 at Merja Bargha. And the first observation at Douiet near Fes was in April 1998, and the species is regularly observed at this site since then. Recently the species became more or less regular at various other wetlands (e.g. Sebkha Fida Ameziane, Sebkha Bou Areg, Oued Moulouya estuary and Sidi Boughaba).

The first breeding case of the species in Morocco was recorded at Douiet in July 2000. The second Moroccan breeding site for the species is the biological reserve of Sidi Boughaba where 4 juveniles were photographed on 21 August 2009 (B. Maire & S. Rih).

Ruddy Duck problem

Even before the reappearance of the White-headed Duck in Morocco, the invasive Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) has already been observed in Morocco since 1986. The Ruddy Ducks have become so regular at Merja Bargha and Merja Halloufa (both since 1992) and at Douyiet (since 1993) to the point that their observations at these sites are no longer to be submitted to the Moroccan Rare Birds Committee (MRBC). In their report about the eradication of the Ruddy Duck in the WP, Cranswich and Hall (2010) reported 25 records totalling 86 birds (the largest group was 15) between 1986 and 2007.

Despite these records, the breeding of the Ruddy Duck in Morocco has never been observed with certainty. Unfortunately however, hybrid Ruddy Ducks x White-headed Ducks have been observed several times (In the Western Palearctic, Morocco is the only country alongside Spain where these hybrids have been observed). Cranswich & Hall (2010) reported 49 hybrids in Morocco between 1996 and 2009. By comparison, there were only 29 hybrids in Spain during the same period.

References:

Bergier, P., Franchimont, J. & Thévenot, M. 2003. Évolution récente de la population d’Érismature à tête blanche Oxyura leucocephala au Maroc. Alauda 71: 339-346. 

Cranswick, P.A. & Hall C. 2010. Eradication of the Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis in the Western Palaearctic: a review of progress and a revised Action Plan 2010–2015. WWT report to the Bern Convention.

White-headed Duck / Érismature à tête blanche (Oxyura leucocephala), Sidi Boughaba (Said Lahrouz)
White-headed Duck / Érismature à tête blanche (Oxyura leucocephala), Sidi Boughaba (Said Lahrouz)