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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).
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: http://www.aerc.eu/DOCS/Bird_taxa_of _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.
Sibley, C. G.; Monroe, B. L. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the world. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.
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.
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
Green, A. J.; Hunter, J. 1996. The declining White-headed Duck: a call for information. Threatened Waterfowl Research Group Newsletter: 19-21.
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.
Handrinos, G. I. 1998. Record count of White-headed Ducks wintering in Greece. TWSG News 11: 34-35.
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.
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.
Kear, J. 2005. Ducks, geese and swans volume 2: species accounts (Cairina to Mergus). Oxford University Press, Oxford, U.K.
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.
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.
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.
Johnsgard, P.A. and Carbonell, M. 1996. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, USA.
Li, Z. and Mundkur, T. 2003. Wetlands International Global Series, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
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.
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.
Panayotopoulou, M. Y. and Green, A. J. 2000. White-headed Ducks in Greece. Threatened Waterfowl Specialist Group News 12: 16-17.
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.
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.
Further web sources of information
Action Plan for the White-headed Duck in Europe
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.
BirdLife International (2013) Species factsheet: Oxyura leucocephala. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 22/05/2013. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2013) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 22/05/2013.
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
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Additional resources for this species
|Current IUCN Red List category||Endangered|
|Family||Anatidae (Ducks, geese and swans)|
|Species name author||(Scopoli, 1769)|
|Population size||5300-8700 mature individuals|
|Distribution size (breeding/resident)||215,000 km2|
|Links to further information|
|- Additional Information on this species|