Europe and Central Asia
9 May 2018

Great White Pelican discovery in Turkey

Great White Pelicans over Turkey
By Burak Özkırlı & Gui-Xi Young

A major stopover site of Europe’s Great White Pelicans has recently been discovered in Turkey. A count conducted by our Turkish partner Doğa Derneği showed that more than 15,000 pelicans stop off at the Karacabey Floodplain to roost and feed during their spring migration.

The Sea of Marmara may be the smallest sea in the world, but it is now home to a very big discovery for bird lovers – a major stopover spot for more than 15,000 Great White Pelicans breaking up their epic spring migration journey. The site at the Karacabey Floodplain, in Turkey’s north-western region of Marmara, is of global significance because it holds at least half of the species European population during spring migration – and five percent of the world population. The wetland is now also considered important for other waterbird species such as Dalmatian Pelican and Glossy Ibis.

The discovery was made recently by Doğa Derneği (BirdLife Turkey) in the context of their ongoing work to safeguard migratory birds passing over the country along the Africa-Eurasia flyway. As part of their education and community outreach work on illegal bird killing – boosted in the last year thanks to funding by the 2017 Champions of the Flyway race – Doğa Derneği had been working in cooperation with the municipality of Karacabey and other local groups to co-organize a migratory bird monitoring event. Over these three days of systematic counting, the great pelican discovery was made!

The small wetland at the Karacabey Floodplain had gone unnoticed up until this point, but it is now recognized as an important roosting and feeding site used by massive groups of Great White Pelicans for a period of about a week during their flyway journey. Local bird experts observed that the pelicans start using this area by mid-March and peaking during the first week of April, when the count took place. The actual size of the population using this area is therefore thought to be much larger than the 15,000 counted and could even be as much as the entire European flyway population of the species.

This is only the beginning. As Dicle Tuba Kilic, general manager of Doğa points out, this discovery “raises several new conservation challenges for us as a catastrophic event at this fragile area may cause severe decline of this species in Europe and globally.’ Doğa will therefore continue its work to secure a favorable conservation status for Karacabey Floodplain as the site currently lacks any form of formal protection.


Burak Özkırlı - Communciations Officer, Doğa Derneği (BirdLife Turkey) 

Gui-Xi Young - Editor & Campaigns Officer, BirdLife Europe & Central Asia 

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