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

By MaghrebOrnitho | 12 January 2011

The endangered White-headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephala) went extinct as a breeding species in Morocco in the first half of 20th century. It also disappeared as a wintering visitor. The Spanish population has also decreased dramatically between the 1950s and 1970s to just 22 birds in 1977. However, the population in Spain has since recovered and increased to over 2500 birds in the beginning of 2000s thanks to the conservation measures which were undertaken since years (habitat protection, protection from hunting,…). The recovery of the Spanish population impacted positively on the occurrence of the species in Morocco. (On a similar case, conservation actions at Doñana have led to a great increase of the Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) population at the site. This in turn became the source for the colonization of several sites in Northwest Africa in recent years including the Smir heronry, northern Morocco).

The return of the species and first breeding success

The first sighting of the White-headed Duck in Morocco in modern times was in December 1996 at Merja Bargha. And the first observation at Douiet near Fes was in April 1998, and the species is regularly observed at this site since then. Recently the species became more or less regular at various other wetlands (e.g. Sebkha Fida Ameziane, Sebkha Bou Areg, Oued Moulouya estuary and Sidi Boughaba).

The first breeding case of the species in Morocco was recorded at Douiet in July 2000. 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).

Ruddy Duck problem

Even before the reappearance of the White-headed Duck in Morocco, the invasive Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) was already observed at three sites since 1992 (at Merja Bargha and Merja Halloufa and 1993 (at Douyiet). The Ruddy Duck has become so regular at these three sites to the point that its observations in there are no longer to be submitted to the Moroccan Rare Birds Committee. Fortunately breeding of Ruddy Duck has never been observed with certainty in Morocco. Hybrids between Ruddy and White-headed Ducks were also observed. 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.


Bergier, P., Franchimont, J. & Thévenot, M. 2003. Évolution récente de la population d’Érismature à tête blanche Oxyura leucocephala au Maroc. Alauda 71: 339-346.  PDF

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. PDF

White-headed Duck / Érismature à tête blanche (Oxyura leucocephala), Sidi Boughaba (Said Lahrouz)

White-headed Duck / Érismature à tête blanche (Oxyura leucocephala), Sidi Boughaba (Said Lahrouz)

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