Bare future for rare duck?
Ornithologists are concerned about a possible sharp decline in numbers of the globally threatened Baer’s Pochard Aythya baeri. This was the alarming speculation from recent discussions on the OrientalBirding email newsgroup. The topic was raised after the 2005 WWF survey of the Yangtze River basin, China, recorded just eight Baer’s Pochards among the total 636,000 waterbirds counted.
Reports of Baer’s Pochard in Thailand have plummeted, from several hundred birds regularly wintering in the late 1980s, to just a handful in recent years. In Bangladesh, where the two major wintering sites, Hakaluki Haor and Tangua Haor, held about 700 and 1,700 birds as recently as 1992 and 1993 respectively, none have been seen by visiting birdwatchers at the former site in the last two winters.
In South Korea the species has always been uncommon and is apparently getting scarcer – so much so that it is now recorded barely annually.
The species is also missing from its traditional passage sites. Baer’s Pochard was regularly recorded by birdwatchers on passage in China’s Hebei and Beijing provinces, but none were reported there in 2003.
"As one of Asia’s most threatened wildfowl species, the lack of recent reports is worrying. Surveys are now urgently needed at former and potential Baer’s Pochard sites to investigate whether this is a real decline." —Mike Crosby, BirdLife’s Asia Research & Data Manager
However, the species is known to fluctuate greatly in numbers according to water level changes, and so its absence (or reduced numbers at former sites) might mean that birds have simply moved to other locations, making more surveys a priority.
Current estimates put the world population of this Vulnerable species at fewer than 20,000 individuals. It is possible that this figure could even be lower – with less than 10,000 mature Baer's Pochard remaining.