Saturday, 25 June 2011

Bristol Waterfowl 8: And finally

In 2009 Bristol added a new species to our waterfowl collection, the Marbled duck Marmaronetta angustirostris. We succeeded in breeding them last year, and a small flock can now be seen in the Camargue exhibit by the zoo entrance.

Marbled Duck are a very small species, and although they resemble small teal seem to be slightly more closely related to the diving ducks. They are birds of brackish waters, especially with extensive reeds, and feed heavily on seeds rather than on invertebrates. They disperse when the often temporary pools dry up, and as a result of this habit have an extensive range, from Spain to Afghanistan and south to the pools of sub-Saharan Africa. The clutch is around 8-10 eggs, and both parents assist with rearing the young, with the male tending to take more of a guarding role while the female broods the ducklings.

Unfortunately, the Marbled Duck is currently classed by the IUCN as Vulnerable, because the population has suffered serious declines as a result of loss of habitat. One of the most serious losses were the near total destruction of the Iraq marshes as part of Saddam Hussein’s genocidal campaign against the Marsh Arab’s, which included the construction of major canals in southern Iraq and forcing people away from the marshes into towns.

With fall of Saddam one of the first actions taken by the locals was the breaching of the dikes and sluices, thus reflooding much of the area. This work was done piecemeal, and it took some time for proper water flow to re-establish. The problem was compounded by a serious lack of rainfall in th years up to 2010, plus water abstraction in the headwaters of the Euphrates and Tigris. Improved rainfall in the past winter has greatly relieved the pressure on both the marsh wildlife and the hard-pressed farmers in Iraq, and to date bird surveys by local conservationst have recorded 337 species, including first breeding records for Glossy Ibis , Upcher’s Warbler and Eastern Orphean Warbler. Most importantly, a count in the southern marshes recorded no less than 41,000 Marbled Duck. Until that point, the entire world population was estimated at 20,000 at most. Marbled Duck seem able to recover numbers quite quickly, as a result of their adaptation to ephemeral waters, but this is an amazing population boom, and will hopefully continue. For more on conservation in Iraq, see the Nature Iraq link in the Useful links section – the English language newsletters are very informative and well written.

That brings this series to a close – next week a change of topic, but I have not decided what yet.

(image from wikipedia)

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