email a friend
printable version
Madagascar Pochard Aythya innotata
BirdLife Species Champion Become a BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme Supporter
For information about BirdLife Species Champions and Species Guardians visit the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme.

This species was rediscovered in 2006 following the last sighting in 1991. It is currently known from a single location where 29 mature individuals were seen in 2011. While it may also persist at other sites, the population is likely to be tiny and therefore it is classified as Critically Endangered.

Taxonomic source(s)
Dowsett, R. J.; Forbes-Watson, A. D. 1993. Checklist of birds of the Afrotropical and Malagasy regions. Tauraco Press, Li
Sibley, C. G.; Monroe, B. L. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the world. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.

45-56 cm. A medium-sized diving duck. Male is dark mahogany-brown all over except for white eye, white undertail-coverts, white underparts and conspicuous white wing-bar along bases of flight feathers. Bill is dull brown with paler, bluish subterminal band. Female is duller brownish, lacking white eye. Similar spp. From all waterfowl by overall dark plumage and white undertail-coverts and wing-bar extending length of the wing. In addition, from White-backed Duck Thalassornis leuconotus by uniform colouration, dark back and white eye (in male), from Red-knobbed Coot Fulica cristata by mostly dark bill, and from all other ducks by diving habit and running take-off. Hints Rather tame.

Distribution and population
This species is endemic to Madagascar (although sub-fossil remains of an Aythya duck on Reunion are attributed to A. innotata), where it was found historically in the Lake Alaotra basin in the northern central plateau. It was considered relatively common at Lake Alaotra in the 1930s, but declined dramatically through the 1940s and 1950s (Young and Kear 2006, Rene de Roland et al. 2007). Until the 1990s, the last certain record was at Lake Alaotra in 1960, with one unconfirmed sighting near Antananarivo in 1970 and several other possible records. Then a single male was captured alive in August 1991. Intensive searches (including major publicity campaigns) at Alaotra during 1989-1990 and 1993-1994 failed to discover more birds. However, in 2006 the species was rediscovered when nine adults and four juveniles were observed at a volcanic lake situated 330 km north of the last known site, Lake Alaotra (S. T. Seing in litt. 2006). Reports from local people that the lake was not suitable for rice cultivation round the edge, it contained no fish and that the water was cold suggest that the species may have persisted at this new location because human disturbance has been minimal (S. T. Seing in litt. 2006). Follow-up surveys in 2006 located c.20 mature individuals with up to nine ducklings observed at the same site (G. Young in litt. 2007). Five birds were seen at a second lake c.3-4 km from the site but these may be part of the 20 individuals counted previously. A total of 25 mature individuals were counted in 2008, with six pairs nesting in the 2007/08 season (L.-A. Rene de Roland in litt. 2008). However, no chicks fledged in 2008 or 2009 (P. Cranswick in litt. 2009, H. G. Young in litt. 2012), and only 19 adults were recorded in July 2009 (Jarrett 2010), including six females (Cranswick 2010). In 2011 there was again no successful breeding, and the lake was apparently in poor condition with little available food other than caddis fly larvae (Cranswick 2012), however a total of 29 mature individuals were counted (L.-A. Rene de Roland in litt. 2012).

Population justification
A total of 25 adult birds were counted at the rediscovery site in 2008, with 29 there in 2011 (L.-A. Réne de Roland in litt. 2012). The species may persist elsewhere but the numbers are likely to be tiny, with fewer than 50 individuals and mature individuals.

Trend justification
The species is likely to have dramatically declined in the past. Recent surveys suggest a modest increase in the tiny population which may be aided by conservation efforts. However, the population is still extremely small and prone to stochastic events. Breeding success is very limited with no young reared in some years. Young may have trouble finding adequate food and if they do fledge the likelihood of dispersing birds surviving away from main site is very low (H. G. Young in litt. 2012).

Behaviour This species is generally sedentary and usually occurs singly, or occasionally in pairs (Langrand 1990). It is not known to flock or to associate with any other species (Kear 2005). Nesting has been observed during the months of July to January (G. Young in litt. 2012). Habitat The species was historically only known from shallow freshwater lakes and marshes that combine open water with nearby areas of dense vegetation (Langrand 1990; Morris and Hawkins 1998; G. Young in litt. 2003). It probably prefers marshy areas and shallow water (G. Young in litt. 2003). However, the site of its rediscovery is a volcanic lake with very little emergent vegetation (G. Young in litt. 2007). What vegetation does grow at the lake edge may provide suitable nesting habitat. The requirement for shallow water may prevent it from using other volcanic lakes similar to the site of its rediscovery (G. Young in litt. 2007).The nest is sited amongst lake-edge vegetation (Cyperaceae) and placed 10-20cm above water. The clutch size is 6-10 eggs (L.-A. Réne de Roland and G. Young in litt. 2012). Diet It is believed to feed on benthic invertebrates and aquatic plants and seeds by diving frequently in shallow waters (Langrand 1990).

Given that it has a tiny known population, it faces significant risk from stochastic events and genetic factors, particularly inbreeding depression. Since permanent guards have been positioned at the rediscovery site the population appears to have increased, suggesting that hunting may have been a threat there (L.A. Rene de Roland in litt. 2008), however breeding success has remained low, with no young reared in some years. Young may have trouble finding adequate food and if they do fledge likelihood of dispersing birds surviving away from main site is very low (H. G. Young in litt. 2012). Slash-and-burn agriculture takes place in the catchment around the sole remaining site, and may be causing ash and silt sedimentation which has left the majority of the lake in very poor condition with little suitable food (Cranswick 2012). Previous declines have been attributed to the widespread loss of habitat through siltation and conversion to agriculture throughout the central plateau and, from the 1950s, introduction of exotic fish species to Alaotra and other wetlands (Young and Kear 2006). Lake Alaotra, one of very few unconverted central plateau wetlands, is under considerable and increasing pressure: the area is one of Madagascar's major rice producers, with 250 km2 of the 350 km2 surrounding the lake converted to rice cultivation (Edhem 1993). Soil erosion from deforested hillsides and more intensive agricultural practices have diminished the water quality of the lake (Pidgeon 1996). Introductions of exotic plants, mammals (Rattus) and fish, especially Tilapia, have depleted essential food supplies and likely increased nest-predation for the species (Pidgeon 1996). The introduction of Tilapia into Alaotra probably had a devastating effect on the pochard and other more widespread waterbirds preferring emergent vegetation (G. Young in litt. 2003). Some of these species apparently died out at Alaotra but have repopulated from other parts of their ranges as water-lilies and other emergent vegetation have made a comeback along the marsh's southern edge (G. Young in litt. 2003). Hunting and trapping of adults for food, and death through entanglement in monofilament gill-nets, are thought to have contributed to the decline of this species (Morris and Hawkins 1998).

Conservation Actions Underway
The Peregrine Fund and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust are conducting further surveys at the site of rediscovery, which is currently permanently guarded, and are now seeking the support of locals to gain formal protection for the area (R. Watson in litt. 2006; L.A. Rene de Roland in litt. 2008; Watson 2007; Cranswick 2010). Furthermore, together with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the government of Madagascar, and with support from with Mitsubishi Corporation Fund for Europe and Africa, a conservation breeding facility has been built, and a Malagasy warden was to be appointed to help protect the breeding site (Anon 2009). A small number of eggs were opportunistically taken from the wild in 2009, leading to hatching of the first captively-reared individuals (Jarrett 2010), with three clutches successfully hatched by the end of the year, producing 20 young (Cranswick 2010). The long-term aims of such efforts are to secure of the existing population and to establish another viable population in the wild (Cranswick 2010). Work is ongoing through WWT, the Peregrine Fund and two PhD students to identify potential areas for the release of captive-bred birds, which will probably necessitate some habitat restoration (Cranswick 2010, 2012). Efforts are underway to conserve the last vestiges of suitable habitat at Lake Alaotra (Morris and Hawkins 1998). The Malagasy government has ratified the Ramsar Convention, and Lake Alaotra became a Ramsar Site in 2003. Searches for the species continue, as do education and awareness programmes on the benefits of maintaining natural wetlands. However, implementation of any conservation policy for the area will be very difficult owing to Alaotra's huge economic importance for agriculture and fisheries (Pidgeon 1996). Conservation Actions Proposed
Continue searches for extant populations, with a particular focus around former high-plateau wetlands (Rene de Roland et al. 2007). Protect areas of least-modified wetland at Lake Alaotra. Continue community surveys and wetland awareness programmes. Conduct further surveys to determine the existing population size. Continue work to establish a captive-breeding programme. Carry out inventory of wetlands near remaining population to identify sites for release of captive-bred birds and assess the need for habitat restoration (Cranswick 2010).

Anon. 2009. Latest red list for birds. Waterlife: 8.

Collar, N. J.; Stuart, S. N. 1985. Threatened birds of Africa and related islands: the ICBP/IUCN Red Data Book. International Council for Bird Preservation, and International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, Cambridge, U.K.

Cranswick, P. 2012. Return of the native. Waterlife: 16-21.

Edhem, M. 1993. Lake Alaotra - in search of the Madagascar Pochard. Wildfowl and Wetlands 109: 18-21.

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

Langrand, O. 1990. Guide to the birds of Madagascar. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.

Morris, P.; Hawkins, F. 1998. Birds of Madagascar: a photographic guide. Pica Press, Robertsbridge, UK.

Pidgeon, M. 1996. Summary: an ecological survey of Lake Alaotra and selected wetlands of central and eastern Madagascar in analysing the demise of Madagascar Pochard Aythya innotata. Working Group on Birds in the Madagascar Region Newsletter 6(2): 17-19.

Rene de Roland, L., Sam, T.S., Rakotondratsima, M. P. H., Thorstrom, R. 2007. Rediscovery of the Madagascar Pochard (Aythya innotata) in northern Madagascar. Bulletin of the African Bird Club 14: 171-174.

The Peregrine Fund. 2009. The Peregrine Fund assists launch of conservation program for critically endangered Madagascar Pochard. Available at: #

Watson, R. 2007. "Extinct" ducks, new lemurs and endangered owls in Madagascar: a new conservation gem in a global biodiversity hotspot. Peregrine Fund Newsletter: 16-17.

Young, G. 2005. Madagascar Pochard Aythya innotata. In: Kear, J. (ed.), Ducks, geese and swans volume 2, pp. 657-658. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

Young, H. G.; Kear, J. 2006. The rise and fall of wildfowl of the western Indian Ocean and Australia. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club 126A: 25-39.

Further web sources of information
Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) species/site profile. This species has been identified as an AZE trigger due to its IUCN Red List status and limited range.

Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Bird, J., Butchart, S., Calvert, R., Ekstrom, J., Evans, M., Shutes, S., Symes, A., Taylor, J. & Martin, R

Hawkins, F., Rabenandrasana, M., Réné De Roland, L., Seing, S., Watson, R. & Young, G.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2014) Species factsheet: Aythya innotata. Downloaded from on 13/07/2014. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2014) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 13/07/2014.

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 - Madagascar pochard (Aythya innotata) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Critically Endangered
Family Anatidae (Ducks, geese and swans)
Species name author (Salvadori, 1894)
Population size 20-49 mature individuals
Population trend Stable
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 1 km2
Country endemic? Yes
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species