Europe and Central Asia
20 Aug 2020

The Nubian Nightjar: worrying trends in Israel and beyond

A scientific article from our partner in Israel

By Dr. Yoav Perlman, science director, BirdLife Israel
 
The Nubian Nightjar (Caprimulgus nubicus) is a small nocturnal aerial insectivore. The subspecies tamaricis, that inhabits Israel, Jordan and Arabia, favours Tamarix and Suedea saltmarshes. In Israel, the Nubian Nightjar suffered serious declines during the 1980's and 1990's (Shirihai 1996), following the expansion of cultivation along the Rift Valley, and construction of huge evaporation ponds for mineral production south of the Dead Sea, decimating around 90% of the saltmarshes. As a result, it received a Red List classification of Critically Endangered (Mayrose and Alon 2002), mentioning a census carried out by Hadoram Shirihai in spring 2000 that found only three breeding pairs.
 
Since the mid-2000's, more intensive research on the breeding biology and spatial ecology of Nubian Nightjars in Israel discovered a larger population, 21 territorial males, concentrated mainly in the remaining sections of the Sdom saltmarsh, south of the Dead Sea (Perlman 2008). The Sdom saltmarsh was once planted with landmines, so actively searching for nests remains impossible. Therefore, vocal, territorial males are used as an index for the size of the breeding populations.
 
 
During the 2010's, advanced methods to monitor Nubian Nightjars at night increased the number of males counted in the Sdom saltmarsh. Four censuses in the Sdom saltmarsh during 2013-2017 discovered a mean of 59.75 vocal males (range=53-68). Additionally, small numbers were discovered elsewhere along the Rift Valley, up to 20 pairs, possibly associated with the regeneration of saltmarsh patches (Haviv and Perlman 2016). In 2014, a major conservation campaign achieved important benefits for the protection of Sdom saltmarsh, till then threatened by further agricultural development. Intensive conservation efforts led by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) evolved into an agreement between conservation organisations and the local authority to protect the remaining sections of Sdom saltmarsh. These encouraging developments led to a revised downgrade in threat category to VU (Mayrose et al. 2017).
 
In Jordan, very little was known about the status of the Nubian Nightjar until 2014. (Qaneer 2014) reported of 45 vocal males in 2014 in their stronghold, Fifa Reserve that lies across the Rift Valley from Sdom saltmarsh in Israel. (AlOshoush 2019) reported of 63 males there in 2019.
 
In summer 2020, Nubian Nightjars were monitored again at the Sdom saltmarsh by a BirdLife Israel team accompanied by INPA personnel. Amazingly, 121 vocal males were located in incredible density. This unprecedented number at first seemed like positive news. However, fears were raised that this number might represent a disaster elsewhere, in the adjacent Fifa Reserve or in other parts of the Rift Valley. Indeed, in July 2020 worrying news came from partners in Jordan, revealing that large parts of the Fifa Reserve including some of the best habitats holding the largest concentration of Nubian Nightjars in the reserve were bulldozed for unknown reasons in December 2019 or January 2020. This worrying news confirms our fear that the high count in Israel was a result of nightjars escaping from the devastated Fifa Reserve. The long-term effects of 'overpopulation' of Nubian Nightjars in the Sdom saltmarsh can only be speculated.
 
While there is hope that the saltmarsh of Fifa Reserve regenerates, and Nubian Nightjars return to breed there in former numbers, the current conservation status in Israel and Jordan is worrying. The subspecies tamaricis has muted as a separate species from nubicus and other African races (Jackson 2002; Kirwan 2018). Whether this is the case or not, the global conservation status of this taxon might be negatively affected by the actions in Fifa.
 
We will continue monitoring Nubian Nightjars in Israel. We hope that Jordan wildlife authorities will do the same, and better protect the unique saltmarsh habitat and its Nubian Nightjars.

 

References

AlOshoush, Abdullah. 2019. Status of the Nubian Nightjar (Camprimulgus nubicus) in Fifa Nature Reserve (Ramsar Site). Jordan Journal of Natural History 5: 67–74.

Haviv, E., and Y. Perlman. 2016. Nubian Nightjar monitoring results, Summer 2015. Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (in Hebrew).

Jackson, H. D. 2002. Primary emargination as a Guide to Afrotropical Nightjar relationships. Ostrich 73: 69–71.

Kirwan, Guy M. 2018. Brief remarks on the status, distribution and taxon of Nubian Nightjar Caprimulgus nubicus in Ethiopia. Bulletin of the African Bird Club 25(62–64).

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Mayrose, A. et al. 2017. The Red List of Breeding Birds in Israel. https://aves.redlist.parks.org.il/ (July 23, 2020).

Mayrose, A., and D. Alon. 2002. The Red List of Birds in Israel. In The Red Book of Vertebrates in Israel, eds. A. Dolev and A. Pervolotzky. Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and Israel Nature and Parks Authority, 123–200.

Perlman, Yoav. 2008. The natural history of the Nubian Nightjar Caprimulgus Nubicus in Israel. Sandgrouse 30: 117–24.

Qaneer, Tareq. 2014. Ecological study on the Nubian Nightjar, Caprimulgus nubicus, at Fifa Nature Reserve, southern Jordan. Jordan Journal of Natural History 2: 51–57.

Shirihai, H. 1996. The Birds of Israel. London: Academic Press.

 



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