This species is listed as Endangered because it has a small population which is estimated to be undergoing very rapid and continuing declines owing to extensive, and recently accelerating, drainage of its breeding habitat. Population declines are corroborated by an apparent decline in numbers trapped on migration at a ringing station.
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.
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.
Distribution and populationAcrocephalus griseldis
18 cm. Large, rather dull reed-warbler. Upperparts dark brown and underparts mostly whitish, flanks creamy yellow. Head pattern strong with whitish supercilium and contrasting dark eyestripe. Similar spp. Best told from Great Reed-warbler A. arundinaceus by more slender, Long pointed bill, lower mandible is paler and often pinkish contrasting with the upper mandible, shorter less graduated tail, lack of rufous tones in plumage and paler underparts. Best told from Clamorous Reed-warbler A. stentoreus by its greater primary extension and the fact that the exposed primaries have pale fringes. Voice Male's song is kaka-kee, kaka-kee, kaka-kee. Call is a harsh chaarr.
breeds in the Mesopotamian marshes of south-east Iraq
(between Baghdad and Basra, though also observed in 2006 close to the Tigris north of Baghdad)
(Maltby 1994; O. Fadhel in litt.
2007) and probably in south-west Iran in the Hawr Al Hawizeh marsh complex of Khuzestan
(D. Scott in litt.
, two pairs have recently been found breeding in the Hula Valley, Israel
(Shanni and Labinger 2007). It winters in Sudan, South Sudan
, south Somalia
, south-east Kenya
(Urban et al.
1997), east Tanzania
, south Malawi
(few records) and Mozambique
. It is regular on passage in Saudi Arabia
(where it may breed)
(Porter et al.
1996), and one in Syria in April 2006 was most likely a migrant (Yésou et al.
. Although presumably still common in the breeding habitat that remains
, and thought now to be common locally due to re-flooding of the marshes following the fall of Saddam's government, there was massive loss of its shallow, marshy wetland habitat within its breeding range since the 1950s. The maximum area of suitable habitat that is estimated to remain within the main Mesopotamian marshlands is 759 km2
(c.7% of the original marshland area, as of the mid-1970s)
(UNEP 2003). At Ngulia ringing station (Kenya), the average decadal ringing total for this species has been declining over the last three decades relative to the average decadal total for all Palearctic passerine migrants (by c.20% per decade) (D. Pearson in litt.
. This suggests that a decline of up to 70-80% may have taken place since the 1970s
(D. Scott in litt.
; M. Evans in litt.
2003). However, the ringing methodology has changed somewhat during this period (D. Pearson verbally 2000, in litt.
and even fewer birds might be expected in Kenya given the very high rate of destruction of the Mesopotamian marshes
(D. Pearson in litt.
. Following the regeneration of habitat in southern Iraq, surveys indicate that the species increased between 2006 and 2007
O. Fadhel in litt.
2007), and a total of 180 birds ringed at Ngulia in November-December 2005 was the second highest annual total at the site (R. Porter in litt.
2006), however it is as yet uncertain whether the species has undergone a genuine recovery. Population justification
The population is estimated to number 2,500-9,999 individuals based on an assessment of known records, descriptions of abundance and range size. This is consistent with recorded population density estimates for congeners or close relatives with a similar body size, and the fact that only a proportion of the estimated Extent of Occurrence is likely to be occupied. This estimate is equivalent to 1,667-6,666 mature individuals, rounded here to 1,500-7,000 mature individuals.Trend justification
A very rapid and ongoing population decline is estimated from declines in ringing records of migrating birds, as well as the loss of the species's marshland breeding habitat.EcologyAcrocephalus griseldis
breeds in aquatic vegetation in or around shallow fresh or brackish water, still or flowing, mostly in Typha
beds, although it forages extensively in adjacent dense reedbeds Phragmites austoralis
O. Fadhel in litt.
2007). Newly fledged birds are often observed feeding in Typha
along the dry edge of marshes and also in adjacent Tamarix
O. Fadhel in litt.
2007). It is found in low reeds above water, mangroves and gardens on migration, whilst in winter it has been recorded in dense Typha
beds, coastal dense Suaeda monoica
saltbushes, moist dense green thickets with tall rank grass and sedges near or over wet or drying ditches, swamps, lakes and flood pools and occasionally in herbaceous woodland undergrowth
Walther et al
2004). It occurs mostly singly or in pairs, but during migration it has been recorded in loose groups (Baker 1997)
Since the 1950s there has been considerable loss of its shallow, marshy wetland habitat due to large-scale hydrological projects throughout the Euphrates and Tigris river-basins
(Maltby 1994). The Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) resulted in extensive damage to reedbeds in the main Mesopotamian marshes in southern Iraq
. In the 1980s, the construction of upstream dams smoothed out the annual flood pulse from the Zagros Mountains snow-melt which until then was probably an important factor affecting reedbed distribution and growth from year to year
(D. Pearson in litt.
2003; M. Evans in litt.
2003; G. Backhurst in litt.
. Large-scale hydrological engineering works in the main Mesopotamian marshes had, by 1993, prevented water from entering up to two-thirds of the area, with huge expanses of lake drying up (
Evans 1993; Pearce 1993). Improvement in access to the region, with consequent increases in settlement, has resulted in increased disturbance and water pollution
. Until 1997 perhaps as much as one third of the original extent of suitable habitat remained on the Iran-Iraq border where the dominant water supply to the area (unregulated rivers from Iran) had not yet been controlled or reduced
(Maltby 1994). By 2000, however, the main Mesopotamian marshes had been reduced to just 1,294 km2
(UNEP 2003), and by 2003 a further third of this area had been drained, leaving a maximum of 759 km2
of wetland extant
(UNEP 2003). The amount of suitable reedbed habitat within this wetland area is probably significantly smaller (
M. Evans in litt.
. Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq a major project aiming to restore the marshes began, and as of late 2006 58% of the original marshes had been reinundated.
However, recent drought and continued upstream dam construction and operation in Turkey, Syria and Iran have reduced the marshes to around 30% of their original size by 2009 (Anon. 2012).
The 130,000 ha Tana River Delta in Kenya, a key wintering site, is threatened by large-scale conversion for agriculture (food and biofuels), including Kenyan based organisations wanting to establish huge sugar cane plantations on over 70,000 ha of land, companies from Canada and the UK wanting to grow oil seed crops on over 60,000 ha, possible mining in the sand dunes and prospecting for oil and gas. Kenya's National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) approved these projects after considering their Environmental Impact Assessments, and if they go ahead they will convert an area of over 110,000 ha into plantations (RSPB 2012). In 2011 a high level meeting resulted in the launch of the Tana Delta planning initiative, with the process to take place ofver the forthcoming 18 months and the output to be a long-term strategic land use plan representing a 'truly sustainable' future to the Delta, informed by Strategic Environmental Assessment (RSPB 2012).
Conservation actions underway
CMS Appendix II. The population in Israel is being monitored intensely and the population in the Lower Marshes of Iraq is also subject to a monitoring program. A large-scale restoration of the Mesopotamian marshes began following the 2003 invasion and successfully reinundated large areas of habitat, however these successes are now threatened by drought and upstream dam projects.
Conservation actions proposed
Confirm whether Acrocephalus griseldis breeds in the marshes of Khuzestan, Iran (D. Scott in litt. 2003; M. Evans in litt. 2003). Continue to monitor migrating birds at Ngulia (Kenya) to assess population trends (D. Scott in litt. 2003; D. Pearson in litt. 2003); M. Evans in litt. 2003. Conduct surveys to assess whether the species now breeds in sub-optimal habitats, e.g. further up the Euphrates/Tigris north of Baghdad (M. Evans in litt. 2003). Investigate possibilities for habitat restoration.
Related state of the world's birds case studies
Pearce, F. 1993. Draining life from Iraq's marshes. New Scientist 138(1869; 17 April 1993): 11-12.
Evans, M. I. 1993. Iraq marshes doomed. Ornithological Society of the Middle East, Bulletin 31: 28-29.
Maltby, E. 1994. An environmental and ecological study of the marshlands of Mesopotamia. AMAR Appeal Trust, Exeter, U.K.
Baker, K. 1997. Warblers of Europe, Asia and North Africa. Princeton University Press, Princeton.
Urban, E. K.; Fry, C. H.; Keith, S. 1997. The birds of Africa vol. V. Academic Press, London.
Walther, B. A.; Wisz, M.S.; Rahbek, C. 2004. Known and predicted African winter distributions and habitat use of the endangered Basra Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus griseldis) and the near-threatened Cinereous Bunting (Emberiza cineracea). Journal of Ornithology 45: 287-299.
Yésou, P.; Flohart, G.; Murdoch, D. 2007. First record of Basra Reed Warbler Acrocephalus griseldis for Syria. Sandgrouse 29(2): 214-215.
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). 2003. Environment in Iraq: UNEP Progress Report. .
Porter, R.F., Christensen, S. and Schiermacker-Hansen, P. 1996. Poyser, London, UK.
RSPB. 2012. Tana River Delta. Available at: http://www.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/casework/details.aspx?id=tcm:9-228564. (Accessed: 22/3/2012).
Anon. 2012. Mesopotamian Marshes. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mesopotamian_Marshes. (Accessed: 22/3/2012).
Further web sources of information
View photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection
Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Capper, D., Evans, M., Mahood, S., O'Brien, A., Shutes, S., Symes, A., Temple, H.
Backhurst, G., Callaghan, D., Evans, M., Pearson, D., Scott, D.
IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Taylor, J.
BirdLife International (2013) Species factsheet: Acrocephalus griseldis. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 25/05/2013.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2013) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 25/05/2013.
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