The return of the White-headed Duck as a breeding species

By | 12 January 2011

The endangered White-headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephala) went extinct as a breeding species in Morocco in the early 20th century, since then it has been a mere accidental visitor. The Spanish population has also decreased dramatically between the 1950s and 1970s (just 22 birds in 1977). However, the population in Spain has since recovered and increased to over 2500 birds (Hughes et al. 2006) thanks to the conservation measures which were undertaken since years (habitat protection, protection from hunting and captive breeding…). This recovery of the Spanish White-headed Ducks has impacted positively on the occurrence of the species in Morocco. (On a side note, conservation actions in the Iberian Peninsula and especially in Doñana has impacted also the Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) which started to breed all over North Africa in recent years including at Smir heronry).

Since mid-1990s, the White-headed Duck has become more regular at Douiet near Fes; and it has been more or less regularly sighted at various wetlands recently (e.g. Sebkha Fida Ameziane, Sebkha Bou Areg, Oued Moulouya estuary, Merja Bargha and Sidi Boughaba).

Breeding White-headed Ducks and the problem of Ruddy Duck:

The first breeding success of the species in Morocco was recorded at Douiet in spring 2003 (J. Franchimont, F. Touati Malih & B. Dahou). The second Moroccan breeding site for the species is the biological reserve of Sidi Boughaba where 4 juveniles were photographed on 21 August 2009 (B. Maire & S. Rih). Unfortunately the recovery of White-headed Duck in Morocco is accompanied by an increase of sightings of the invasive Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis). The latter species has become so regular at some sites (Douyiet, Merja Bargha and Merja Halloufa) to the point that its observations in these wetlands are no longer to be submitted to the Moroccan Rare Birds Committee. Hybrids btween Ruddy and White-headed ducks were unfortunately also recorded. Cranswich & Hall (2010) numbered 49 cases of these hybrids in Morocco between 1996 and 2009. By comparison, there were only 29 hybrids in Spain during the same period.


Cranswick, P.A. & Hall C. 2010. Eradication of the Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis in the Western Palaearctic: a review of progress and a revised Action Plan 2010–2015. WWT report to the Bern Convention.

Hughes, B., Henderson, I. & Robertson, P. 2006. Conservation of the globally threatened white-headed duck, Oxyura leucocephala, in the face of hybridization with the North American ruddy duck, Oxyura jamaicensis: results of a control trial. Acta Zoologica Sinica 52: 576-578.

White-headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephala - Erismature à tête blanche), Sidi Boughaba Nature Reserve (Said Lahrouz)

White-headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephala – Erismature à tête blanche), Sidi Boughaba Nature Reserve (Said Lahrouz)

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