Low-salt diet suits White-headed Ducks
Iraqi conservations training in Syria have found unexpectedly large numbers of wintering White-headed Ducks .
A total of 725 birds were recorded at Sabkhat Al-Jabbul, a large salt lake near Aleppo, in January this year. The global population of this Endangered species, which has declined rapidly in the southwest Asian part of its range, is estimated at 8,000 to 13,000 birds.
"The concentration of 725 individuals at Sabkhat Al-Jabbul constitutes at least 7% and perhaps as much as 14.5%, of the estimated regional population," said Richard Porter of BirdLife's Middle East Division.
There is no evidence that the White-headed Ducks Oxyura leucocephala occurred in large numbers at Sabkhat Al-Jabbul in the past. It seems likely that recent changes in the hydrology of the lake, particularly higher and more stable water levels and lower salinities resulting from the discharge of surplus irrigation water into the lake, have created new habitats which are more suitable for White-headed Ducks than the highly saline conditions and widely fluctuating water levels of the past.
"Sabkhat Al-Jabbul may now be one of the most important wintering areas for the White-headed Duck in the world," asserted Richard Porter. "The possibility that the species breeds in the area should also be investigated, as local villagers report seeing ducks with white heads during the breeding season."