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White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala
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Despite uncertainty about the possible large-scale inter-year movement of birds between wintering sites, mid-winter counts indicate that the population of this species has undergone a very rapid decline, which qualifies it as Endangered. The Spanish subpopulation has now stabilised, and it is projected that the global rate of decline will be lower in the next ten years (Green and Hughes 1996).

Taxonomic source(s)
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: # _the_WP15.xls#.
Cramp, S.; Perrins, C. M. 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

43-48 cm. Chestnut-brown diving duck with long tail, often cocked vertically. Male has white head, black cap and blue bill, swollen at base. Female has pale face with dark cap and cheek-stripe and blackish, less swollen bill. Similar spp. Ruddy Duck O. jamaicensis is smaller with brighter chestnut plumage. Male has more extensive black cap and dark hindneck and female has narrower facial band and browner cap. Both sexes lack swollen base to bill. Hybrid identification can be very problematic. Voice Low rattling noise uttered during display. Otherwise generally silent.

Distribution and population
Oxyura leucocephala is resident in Spain, Algeria and Tunisia. A larger population breeds primarily in Russia and Kazakhstan, and also Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan (likely small and declining [Li and Mundkur 1993]), Turkmenistan (Ritschard and Täschler 2008) (Li and Mundkur 1993), Uzbekistan, Armenia, and Mongolia (believed to be increasing in this latter [Li and Mundkur 1993]) (Green and Hughes 1996). Its status in China is unclear, but it appears to be rare (Li and Mundkur 1993, Ma Ming 2007a; b). It occurs on passage/in winter in the eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East, and central and south Asia. The global population was probably over 100,000 in the early 20th century, falling to an estimated 20,000 birds in 1996 (Green and Hunter 1996), since then numbers have probably declined to around 8,000-13,000 individuals (Li and Mundkur 2003). Concurrently, breeding populations have become extinct in Italy, France, Hungary, Albania, Yugoslavia, Greece, Israel and Egypt, and probably also in the Ukraine and Armenia. Exact population trends are difficult to calculate given that numbers on wintering grounds often change dramatically in line with altered water availability (Li and Mundkur 1993, Schielzeth et al. 2003, E. Kreuzberg-Mukhina in litt. 2005). At the former key wintering site, Burdur Gölü, Turkey, numbers have steadily declined from 10,927 birds in 1991 to 653 in 2001 (M.A. Tabur in litt. 2005). The total Turkish wintering population in 2005 was only 1,006 birds, down from over 9,000 in 1988 (S. Isfendiyaroglu in litt. 2005). The wintering population in south Asia is mainly concentrated in Pakistan, where it has declined from 1,039 individuals in 1968 to less than 10 in 2002 (Li and Mundkur 1993, A.A. Khan, A. Parveen, and R. Yasmeen in litt. 2005), 33 in January 2003 and 24 in January 2004. It is now only rarely recorded in India (Li and Mundkur 1993). Increases at wintering sites in Israel (Ohad Hatzofe in litt. 2005), Syria (recent large counts of at least 2,300 birds at Sabkhat al-Jabbul [Balmer and Murdoch 2010]), Greece (Handrinos 1998), Bulgaria (P. Iankov in litt. 1999) and Romania (D. Munteanu in litt. 1999) and in the Spanish population (22 birds in 1977 to 2,396 in 2000 [J. A. T. Esquivias in litt. 2000], fluctuating to between 1,600 and 2,600 in 2001- 007 [Ballesteros et al. 2008] do not compensate for the large declines at Burdur Gölü; and in other eastern populations e.g. Turkmenistan [Li and Mundkur 1993]). Important passage concentrations occur in Uzbekistan (E. Kreuzberg-Mukhina in litt. 1999) and Kazakhstan (Schielzeth et al. 2003). There are also reports of wintering populations in the Ukraine.

Population justification
The population is estimated to number 2,500 individuals in Spain and Morocco (J. A. Torres Esquivias and A. Green in litt. 2002); 400-600 individuals in Algeria and Tunisia (H. Azafzaf and P. Isenmann in litt. 2002); 5,000-10,000 individuals in the east Mediterranean and south-west Asia, and 10 individuals in south Asia. This totals 7,900-13,100 individuals, roughly equating to 5,300-8,700 mature individuals.

Trend justification
Despite uncertainty about the possible 'redistribution' of birds in the Middle East, Azerbaijan, etc., the latest total winter figures from Turkey (for 2002 and 2005) suggest that the 'fluctuation' recorded during 1990-2000 has now become a real decline. Thus a very rapid decline is estimated for the last ten years, which is expected to slow to a rapid decline over the next ten years.

Behaviour The Central and east Asian populations of this species are migratory while the populations in Spain and North Africa are non-migratory (Kear 2005). Migrating birds breed from April to July (Sánchez et al. 2000, Kear 2005) (its mating system is unconfirmed) (Kear 2005). After breeding it undergoes a flightless moulting period lasting for 2-3 weeks before it begins the migration to its wintering grounds in late August to arrive September-October (Kear 2005). The return journey commences in February (Johnsgard and Carbonell 1996) and all birds have returned to the breeding range by early May ( Johnsgard and Carbonell 1996, Kear 2005). The species is highly gregarious outside of the breeding season with more than 10,000 gathering at some winter sites, although individual flocks more usually contain less than 500 individuals (Kear 2005). It breeds in single pairs (Kear 2005). In Mediterranean populations, although the species forms congregations at certain sites during the non-breeding season, there is no overall direction to its seasonal movements (Kear 2005) and the location of such non-breeding sites varies inter-annually (Kear 2005). Habitat Breeding It breeds on small, enclosed, semi-permanent or temporary (Kear 2005) freshwater, brackish or eutrophic lakes with a fringe of dense emergent vegetation (Sánchez et al. 2000, Sebastián-González et al. submitted), often including Phragmites or Typha species, and a covering of pondweeds (Potamogetonaceae) (Johnsgard and Carbonell 1996). It is usually found where these conditions occur within larger wetland systems (Kear 2005, Sebastián-González et al. submitted), and shows a preference for areas with extensive areas of shallow water 0.3-0.5 m deep (Kear 2005). Non-breeding During the winter the species inhabits larger, deeper alkaline or saline waters which often have less emergent vegetation than in the breeding season, but still support algae and pondweeds (Johnsgard and Carbonell 1996). Habitats include saline inland lakes, coastal lakes and lagoons, and even the coastal waters of inland seas (Kear 2005), although it is not found on areas of coast that are subjected to heavy wave action (Johnsgard and Carbonell 1996). In the north-east of its range it is associated with water bodies which are sufficiently saline so as not to freeze over during winter (Johnsgard and Carbonell 1996). Diet This is a diving duck (Sánchez et al. 2000), its diet consisting predominantly of midge (chironomid) larvae (Sánchez et al. 2000, Kear 2005) and other aquatic invertebrates such as amphipods, isopods and polychaetes (Sánchez et al. 2000) (especially in coastal wintering sites [Kear 2005]). Seeds (Sánchez et al. 2000) and the vegetative parts of Potamogeton spp., Ruppia spp. and other aquatic plants are also be taken (Kear 2005, Johnsgard and Carbonell 1996). Breeding site The nest is constructed over water in emergent vegetation (usually Phragmites spp. or Typha spp.) (Kear 2005). It consists of a cupped platform of leaves and stems, over which a roof may be formed by bending down overhead leaves (Johnsgard and Carbonell 1996). It will also use old nests of coots or ducks, and has been found to make use of nesting boxes in which it constructs a nest of twigs (Johnsgard and Carbonell 1996).


The greatest long-term threat to the species survival is thought to be competition and introgressive hybridisation (i.e. genetic swamping) with the non-native North American Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis (Green and Hughes 1996, Green and Hughes 2001, Muñoz-Fuentes et al. 2007). Both male Ruddy Ducks and male hybrids are socially dominant over male White-headed Ducks during courtship (Johnsgard and Carbonell 1996). The threat from the Ruddy Duck is extremely serious, given that, if allowed to proceed beyond a certain point, the Ruddy Duck's spread across the Palearctic will become unstoppable, especially if the species was allowed to become established in White-headed Duck range-states such as Algeria, Turkey or the Russian Federation, where the huge size and area of the wetlands and their infrequent monitoring would make control impossible (Hughes et al. 2006). Climate change is thought to be causing more frequent droughts and drying out of many lakes in central Asia which may be a great threat to the survival of the species. Droughts in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan may have caused poor breeding seasons in 2002 and 2003 (Li and Mundkur 1993, B. Hughes in litt. 1999). Approximately 50% of breeding habitat has been drained during the 20th century. Remaining sites are vulnerable to drainage, filling, pollution and disturbance. A 1989 study in the main Pakistani wintering lakes showed that suitable habitat had decreased because of lowered water levels due to reduced water supply, and that fisheries had increased disturbance (A.A. Khan, A. Parveen, and R. Yasmeen in litt. 2005). Water abstraction for agriculture and other uses has affected water levels in many important sites throughout the range. The genetic diversity of the Western European population is low (Muñoz-Fuentez et al. 2005) owing to its having suffered a bottleneck in the 1970s and early 1980s when only a few dozen individuals remained in the wild (Johnsgard and Carbonell 1996, Muñoz-Fuentez et al. 2005). This may lessen the adaptive potential of the population, rendering it less able to withstand environmental change (Muñoz-Fuentez et al. 2005). Further threats include drowning in fishing-nets, hunting and ingestion of lead shot (Green et al. 1996, J. Criado in litt. 1999, Mateo et al. 2001, A.A. Khan, A. Parveen, and R. Yasmeen in litt. 2005). The species is hunted illegally in most of the range states but this has not been quantified, apart from in Turkey. Hunting and egg collection are the most likely reason for extinction in some countries (Hughes et al. 2006).

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. CMS Appendix I. The species is legally protected in many range countries, and occurs in a number of protected areas. A conservation programme in Spain has resulted in a significant population increase (J. Criado in litt. 1999). Ruddy Ducks O. jamaicensis are controlled in 15 Western Palearctic countries, including Spain, Portugal and France. A programme was started in 2005 to eradicate the UK population of Ruddy Ducks and by 2009, over 6,200 ducks had been culled, resulting in a suggested decrease in the UK population of almost 90% (Henderson 2009). Reintroduction schemes are operational in Majorca and Italy (B. Hughes in litt. 1999, A. J. Green in litt. 2012). A European action plan was published in 2006 (Hughes et al. 2006). Sport hunting has been banned on two primary wintering lakes (Burdur Gölü and Yarisli Gölü) in Turkey where hunting from speedboats was threatening the White-headed Duck (Green et al. 1996).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Survey breeding and wintering grounds and migration sites. Enforce strict protection from hunting. Conduct comprehensive winter monitoring, and tracking studies to improve knowledge of migration routes and phenology (Li and Mundkur 1993). Protect and manage key sites and their catchments, including monitoring of hydrology and water pollution (M.A. Tabur in litt. 2005). Reduce disturbance by fisheries. Ensure legislative protection for this species in all range states (Li and Mundkur 1993). Alleviate hunting pressure and ban lead shot throughout its range. Prevent drowning in fishing nets by regulating fisheries. Promote policies to control O. jamaicensis and hybrids.

Related state of the world's birds case studies

Ballesteros, G., M., Cabrera, J. L. Echevarría, J. A. Lorenzo, C. Raya, J. A. Torres Esquivias and C. Viedma. 2008. Tarro canelo, cerceta pardilla, porrón pardo, malvasía cabeciblanca y focha moruna en España. Población en 2007 y método de censo. SEO/BirdLife, Madrid.

Balmer, D.; Murdoch, D. 2010. Syria [bird records]. Sandgrouse 32(2): 184-185.

Chaudhry, A. A. 2002. White-headed Duck survey in Pakistan. Wetlands International, Selangor, Malaysia.

Green, A. J. and Hughes, B. 2001. White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala. In: D.B. Parkin (ed.), BWP Update: the journal of birds of the Western Palearctic, Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 79-90. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Green, A. J.; Fox, A. D.; Hilton, G.; Hughes, B.; Yarar, M.; Salathé, T. 1996. Threats to Burdur Lake ecosystem Turkey and its waterbirds, particularly the White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala. Biological Conservation 76: 241-252.

Green, A. J.; Hughes, B. 1996. Action plan for the White-headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephala). In: Heredia, B.; Rose, L.; Painter, M. (ed.), Globally threatened birds in Europe: action plans, pp. 119-145. Council of Europe, and BirdLife International, Strasbourg.

Green, A. J.; Hunter, J. 1996. The declining White-headed Duck: a call for information. Threatened Waterfowl Research Group Newsletter: 19-21.

Handrinos, G. I. 1998. Record count of White-headed Ducks wintering in Greece. TWSG News 11: 34-35.

Henderson, I. 2009. Progress of the Ruddy Duck eradication programme. British Birds 102(12): 680-690.

Hughes, B.; Robinson, J. A.; Green, A. J.; Li, Z. W. D.; Mundkur. T. 2006. International single species action plan for the conservation of the White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala. CMS/AEWA, Bonn, Germany.

Johnsgard, P.A. and Carbonell, M. 1996. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, USA.

Kear, J. 2005. Ducks, geese and swans volume 2: species accounts (Cairina to Mergus). Oxford University Press, Oxford, U.K.

Li Zuo Wei, D.; Mundkur, T. 2003. Status overview and recommendations for conservation of the White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala in Central Asia. Wetlands International, Kuala Lumpur.

Li, Z. and Mundkur, T. 2003. Wetlands International Global Series, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Ma Ming. 2007. Distribution and breeding of White-headed Ducks in Xinjiang. China Crane News 11(2): 13-14.

Ma Ming. 2007. White-headed Duck locations in Xinjiang. Newsletter of China Ornithological Society 16(2): 35.

Mateo, R.; Belliure, J.; Dolz, J. C.; Aguilar-Serrano, J. M.; Guitart, R. . 1998. High prevalences of lead poisoning in wintering waterfowl in Spain. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 35: 342-347.

Munoz-Fuentes, V., Green, A.J., Negro, J.J. and Sorenson, M.D. 2005. Population structure and loss of genetic diversity in the endangered white-headed duck, Oxyura leucocephala. Conservation Genetics 6(6): 999-1015.

Munoz-Fuentes, V., Vila, C., Green, A.J., Negro, J.J. and Sorenson, M.D. 2007. Hybridization between white-headed ducks and introduced ruddy ducks in Spain. Molecular Ecology 16(3): 629-638.

Munoz-Fuentes, V.; Vila, C.; Green, A. J.; Negro, J. J.; Sorenson, M. D. 2007. Hybridization between White-headed Ducks and introduced Ruddy Ducks in Spain. Molecular Ecology 16(3): 629-638.

Panayotopoulou, M. Y. and Green, A. J. 2000. White-headed Ducks in Greece. Threatened Waterfowl Specialist Group News 12: 16-17.

Ritschard, M.; Täschler, A. 2008. A recent observation of White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala at Gajaldoba Barrage, West Bengal, India. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 105(1): 95.

Sánchez, M. I.; Green, A. J.; Dolz, C. 2000. The diets of the White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala, Ruddy duck O.jamaicensis and their hybrds from Spain. Bird Study 47: 275-284.

Schielzeth, H.; Lachmann, L.; Eichhorn, G.; Heinicke, T. 2003. The White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala in the Tengiz-Korgalzhyn region, central Kazakhstan. Wildfowl 54: 115-129.

Sebastián-González, E. Fuentes, C., Ferrández, M., Echevarrías, J. L. and Green, A. J. Submitted. Habitat selection of Marbled Teal and White-headed Duck during the breeding and wintering seasons in south-eastern Spain. Bird Conservation International.

Wetlands International. 2002. Waterbird population estimates. Wetlands International, Wageningen, Netherlands.

Further web sources of information
Action Plan for the White-headed Duck in Europe

African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) International Action Plan 2006

Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

Detailed species accounts from the Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book (BirdLife International 2001).

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Jump to the case study for this species in Wildlife comeback in Europe: The recovery of selected mammal and bird species (Deniet et al. 2003)

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Derhé, M., Ekstrom, J., Gilroy, J., Malpas, L. & Pilgrim, J.

Criado, J., Esquivias, J., Green, A., Hatzofe, O., Hughes, B., Iankov, P., Isfendiyaroglu, S., Khan, A., Kreuzberg-Mukhina, E., Munteanu, D., Parveen, A., Tabur, M. & Yasmeen, R.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Oxyura leucocephala. Downloaded from on 23/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 23/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - White-headed duck (Oxyura leucocephala) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Endangered
Family Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, Swans)
Species name author (Scopoli, 1769)
Population size 5300-8700 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 215,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- 2015 European Red List assessment