The Maghreb is the equivalent term of Northwest Africa. Historically and in the narrow sense of the term, the Maghreb means the three countries linked by the Atlas Mountains (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) which also share a long history (this is also shared with neighbouring Libya and Mauritania depending on the historical era). The climate is also similar and there are many other reasons, the chief among them is the languages (Tamazight/Berber and Maghrebi Arabic or Darija are the main languages spoken here. The latter heavily influenced by Berber to the point near unintelligibly with the Arabic spoken from Egypt eastwards).
Politically, the Maghreb does not exist, or more accurately was a “stillborn project”. I won’t discuss the many reasons why this project failed (this site is obviously about birds and biodiversity not politics), but the name is worth mentioning. Our “leaders” choose a non-inclusive name (this is a euphemism, because some use stronger terms I won’t repeat here). For example, imagine if the European Union is named the “Roman Union” or the “Latin Union”, that’s obviously not good becase it exclude other European people. Yes, the name chosen for the political union of the Maghreb is the equivalent of these two termes. For this reason, the Maghreb entry in many Wikipedia versions are not neutral, with the Arabic version the most biased one followed by the French, Spanish and Catalan versions while the English version is the most neutral one.
From a biogeographic point of view, the Maghreb can be defined by the region of Northwest Africa spanning Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia (which share more fauna and flora between them than between them and the rest of the region) plus Libya, and perhaps a small area in northern Mauritania.
– The Maghreb has one of the highest percentages of endemic plants in the Mediterranean basin.
– The Maghreb has the highest percentage of endemic reptiles in the Mediterranean basin.
– The Maghreb has a big numbers of endemic mammals, especially micro-mammals, but also some larger species as well including the only primate north of the Sahara: the Barbary Macaque (Macaca sylvanus).
– What about birds? Their ability to fly and disperse over long distances means that the region is not very isolated to allow a good number of species to evolve and differentiate as in the case of reptiles, mammals and plants. However, despite the region is not as isolated as islands, it’s still relatively isolated by the Mediterranean Sea the Sahara desert. And this has allowed a number of species to evolve independently from their closely related European species (The regional avifauna is mostly Palearctic, and species of Afro-tropical affinity – such as Marsh Owl and Dark Chanting Goshawk – are relatively few). Here is the list of these endemic birds.
Maghreb endemic birds
Until a few decades ago we used to have only a very small number of endemic birds, one restricted to Algeria (Algerian Nuthatch) and a few others shared between the Maghreb countries.
But given the recent advances in avian taxonomy many species were split, which means the former Northwest African subspecies become full species more or less restricted to this region. Here are some:
- Maghreb Owl / Chouette du Maghreb (Strix mauritanica).
- Maghreb Green Woodpecker or Levaillant’s Woodpecker / Pic de Levaillant (Picus vaillantii).
- Maghreb Magpie / Pie d’Afrique du Nord (Pica mauritanica).
- Atlas Horned Lark / Alouette hausse-col du Maroc [Eremophila atlas]. A split is suggested but it’s unlikely to be widely adopted according to the current knowledge. Read: “Horned Lark taxonomy: possible split into six species”.
- Maghreb Lark or Long-billed Lark / Cochevis à long bec (Galerida macrorhyncha).
- African Desert Warbler / Fauvette du désert (Sylvia deserti).
- Tristram’s Warbler / Fauvette de l’Atlas (Sylvia deserticola).
- Algerian Nuthatch / Sittelle kabyle (Sitta ledanti).
- Atlas Flycatcher / Gobemouche de l’Atlas (Ficedula speculigera).
- Moussier’s Redstart / Rougequeue de Moussier (Phoenicurus moussieri).
- Black-throated Wheatear or Seebohm’s Wheatear / Traquet de Seebohm (Oenanthe seebohmi).
- Maghreb Wheatear / Traquet halophile (Oenanthe halophila). The split from the Eastern Mourning Wheatear is not universally recognised, but as our knowledge advances the split will eventually be accepted by the majority. Read: “Maghreb Wheatear should be split according to new research”.
- Moroccan Wagtail / Bergeronnette du Maroc (Motacilla alba subpersonata). A future split is expected for this highly divergent taxon.
- African Crimson-winged Finch / Roselin à ailes roses d’Afrique (Rhodopechys alienus).
- Atlas Crossbill or Maghreb Crossbill / Bec-croisé du Maghreb (Loxia curvirostra poliogyna). A future split is likely for this divergent taxon following a study published in 2018. Read: “Atlas and Balearic Crossbill are the most divergent of all Western Palearctic crossbills”.
The use of ‘Maghreb’ in bird names in some languages:
The following are some species for which the common names (in different languages) is formed by the term Maghreb or by one of its equivalents (Barbary, Berber, moro,…).
To my knowledge this is one of the richest languages in terms of using the word Maghreb. van den Berg (2016) in his ‘Dutch Birding bird names’ lists a number of Dutch names that use Maghreb or equivalent terms:
- Barbarijse Patrijs – Alectoris barbara (Barbary Partridge)
- Maghrebbosuil – Strix mauritanica (Maghreb Wood Owl).
- Maghrebekster – Pica mauritanica (Maghreb Magpie).
- Maghrebpimpelmees – Cyanistes ultramarinus (Ultramarine Tit, the the split of this taxon from Cyanistes teneriffae is recognised only by Dutch Birding).
- Marokkaanse Karekiet – Acrocephalus baeticatus ambiguus (Moroccan Reed Warbler).
- Maghrebboomkruiper – Certhia brachydactyla mauritanica (Maghreb Short-toed Treecreeper).
- Barbary Partridge (Alectoris barbara). Both names derived from ‘Barbary Coast’ as Northwest Africa was known to Europeans on the near past.
- Maghreb Owl.
- Maghreb Magpie.
- Maghreb Lark.
- Maghreb Wheatear.
Plus the names adopted by van den Berg (2016) cited above under the Dutch.
- Chouette du Maghreb
- Mésange maghrébine (Cyanistes teneriffae).
- Roselin du Maghreb (Rhodopechys alienus).
Like the Dutch language, the Spanish also have a few bird names featuring the region’s name in one form or the other.
In the following Spanish names, the terms ‘moro’ (masculine form) and ‘moruna’ (feminine) are adjectives meaning ‘Moorish’, which in this context can mean North African or Moroccan (in the regional context, some species exist primarily only in Morocco such as Red-knobbed Coot and Marsh Owl). The terms ‘bereber’ and ‘berberisco’ are just Spanish for Berber.
- Focha moruna (Fulica cristata).
- Busardo moro (Buteo rufinus). This is the Spanish name for the ‘whole’ species not just the Atlas Long-Legged Buzzard (cirtensis).
- Búho moro (Asio capensis). This is the species name not just the name of the Moroccan subspecies (A. c. tingitanus).
- Vencejo moro (Apus affinis).
- Pito real bereber (Picus vaillantii).
- Zarcero bereber (Iduna opaca).
- Búho berberisco (Bubo ascalaphus). Although this name is still used by some birders, it’s the least established among other alternative names such as Búho del desierto or Búho del Sahara.
The names above are well established and officially used in the Spanish list I consulted (Gutiérrez et al. 2012), with the exception of the Levaillant’s Woodpecker and Pharaoh Eagle-Owl which are not in the list
Like the Spanish language, the Portuguese terms ‘moura’, ‘mourisca’ (both feminine forms) and ‘mourisco’ (masculine) are adjectives meaning Moorish (although probably derived directly from Moriscos). In the current context, they mean ‘North African’ or more specifically ‘Moroccan’ for some species that occur primarily in Morocco. The names below were compiled by Paulo Paixão (many thanks!) from the list published by Costa et al. (2000):
- Perdiz-mourisca (Alectoris barbara).
- Rola-mourisca (Streptopelia risoria). This is the Barbary Dove which is the domesticated form of the African Collared Dove (S. roseogrisea).
- Coruja-moura (Asio capensis). As in Spanish, this is the name of the ‘whole’ species not just the Moroccan subspecies
- Bútio-mourisco (Buteo rufinus). As above, this name is applied to the parent species not just to the Atlas Long-legged Buzzard.
- Peto-mourisco (Picus vaillantii).
- Rabirruivo-mourisco (Phoenicurus moussieri).
Do you know any other names from any language, please helm me complete this.
Bergier, P. & Thévenot, M. 2010. Liste des oiseaux du Maroc. Mise à jour février 2010 (rév. 3.0). Go-South Bull. 7: 15-55.
Costa, H., Araújo, A., Farinha, J. C., Poças, M. C. & Machado, A. M. 2000. Nomes Portugueses das Aves do Paleárctico Ocidental. Assírio & Alvim, Lisboa. 182 pp. (online list: http://sweet.ua.pt/pjf/Aves/chmsm-H.html).
Gill, F & Donsker, D (Eds) 2011. IOC World Bird Names (version 2.10). Available at: worldbirdnames.org [Accessed on: 17 January 2011].
Gutiérrez, R., de Juana, E. & Lorenzo, J.A., 2012. Lista de las aves de España. Edición de 2012. Versión online 1.0. SEO/BirdLife
van den Berg, A. B. 2016. Dutch Birding bird names. Dutch Birding-vogelnamen. 15 January 2016.
This page is updated continuously.
In 2017, updated the Dutch names and added the Spanish names. Added the Portuguese names in 2018.
If you have any comment or addition, please comment below or send us an email. Thanks!