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Marsh Owls in Morocco south of its core breeding area

The historical breeding range of Marsh Owl (Asio capensis) in Morocco extended from Tangier to the marshes of Sidi Moussa-Oualidia – and possibly as far south as Chiadma region (Essaouira). While currently the species breed only on coastal area, in the past it bred inland as well (east to around Meknès).

Currently, almost the whole Moroccan population of the species is restricted to Merja Zerga and its surrounding – the area between Lower Lokkous and Sidi BouGhaba.

The range restriction of the species started since many decades ago. First, it was caused by the drainage of the large marshes in the 1950s, and later by the degradation of the breeding habitats in the remaining sites. [Read: Why Marsh Owl in Morocco is endangered and how to save it?]

A few years ago, we compiled some rare observations of Marsh Owl north of Lower Loukkos (i.e. north of the current main breeding area). Today, we will compile a few observations of the species south of the breeding area:

   – One bird photographed at El Hotba marshes, Sidi Moussa-Oualidia wetland complex, on 2 October 2014 (Benoît Maire, Karim Laïdi and Katharine Glen). The species has not been observed in this wetland complex since more than three decades. Exactly, the last time seen there was in April 1984 (Thévenot et al. 2003 – Birds of Morocco).

Marsh Owl / Hibou du Cap (Asio capensis), Sidi Moussa-Oualidia wetland complex, 2 Oct. 2014 (Benoît Maire).

   – One bird observed at Casablanca on 10 November 2015 (Benoît Maire). “The owl seen flying low over the rocks of Sidi Abderrahmane and landing there twice before gaining the attitude and heading south-east over Casablanca”, wrote Benoît in observation.org.

   – Two birds at a farmland near Benslimane, north-east of Casablanca on 8 August 2018 (Lauria Sirven-Villaros). Like the first site, the species has not been observed here since decades.

Marsh Owl / Hibou du Cap (Asio capensis), Benslimane, 8 August 2018 (Lauria Sirven-Villaros).

What do these observations mean? Is this an early sign of the species expansion, or maybe they are just dispersing birds?

If you know any observation outside the current breeding areas, it would be great if you could share them. Many thanks!

As always, thanks to all the observers!

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