Spanish Marbled Ducks migrate to Africa to escape hunters’ guns

By MaghrebOrnitho | 14 January 2020

Of 27 Marbled Ducks satellite-tracked in Spain, only three birds that migrated to Algeria have survived.

Marbled Duck (Marmaronetta angustirostris) fitted with a satellite transmitter at El Hondo, south-east Spain (Oscar Aldeguer).
Marbled Duck (Marmaronetta angustirostris) fitted with a satellite transmitter at El Hondo, south-east Spain (Oscar Aldeguer).

The most threatened duck in Europe

With a decreasing population, the Marbled Duck (Marmaronetta angustirostris) is classed globally as ‘Vulnerable’ in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In Spain, where the population is very small, the species is categorised as ‘Endangered’ in the National Catalogue of Endangered Species (Royal Decree 139/2011) and ‘Critically Endangered’ in the Red Book of Birds of Spain (Green et al. 2004). 

In 2018, the Marbled Duck population in Spain was composed of between 68 and 71 breeding pairs located in 13 wetlands (Ministerio para la Transición Ecológica, 2019). The largest number of breeding females were recorded in four areas: Doñana (16 breeding females), the marshes of Trebujena in Cádiz (12), Natural Park of El Hondo in Alicante (6) and S’Albufera Natural Park in the Balearic Islands (between 4 and 6).

The conservation of the species in Spain is of high priority, and a number of projects have been initiated in order to avoid the extinction of the species.

Population reinforcement at El Hondo

One of these projects is the population reinforcement at the Natural Park of El Hondo in the Valencian Community. Marbled Ducks were raised in captivity and then released at El Hondo using the hacking technique (‘hacking’ is an old method first developed in falconry and now used in reintroduction projects for many species especially raptors, see some examples here). The released birds were fitted with GPS transmitters to track their movements.

The monitoring project is carried out by the Department of Ecology at the Miguel Hernández University of Elche in collaboration with the Generalitat Valenciana (the regional government), and is financed by the Ministry for Ecological Transition (of the central government) through the Fundación Biodiversidad.

Between 2018 and 2019, the project team marked a total of 27 Marbled Ducks. Among these, 25 birds were successfully released at El Hondo.

In December 2019, only three birds have managed to survive by crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Algeria (two of them reached Algeria in late September). The birds that stayed in Spain are dead or missing. The causes of death are the following:

  • Collision with power line (1 bird),
  • Predation (2 birds confirmed + 1 probable)
  • Hunting (4 birds confirmed + 8 probable). The shooting of the four confirmed birds took place in game reserves inside El Hondo.
  • Unknown cases (6 birds).

Because the Marbled Duck is not a huntable species in Spain, so the killed birds were either mistaken with other duck species that are legally hunted or deliberately shot (outright illegal hunting).

If you read this until the end, then you understood that the title was not a clickbait, hunting was indeed the main cause of mortality. Of course, the three birds haven’t literally escaped the guns. The species is a partial migrant (only a part of the population migrates whereas the rest stay locally year around).

References

Green, A.J. Echevarría, J.L. & Ferrández, M. 2004. Cerceta pardilla Marmaronetta angustirostris. In: Madroño, A. González, C. & Atienza, J.C. (Eds.). Libro Rojo de las Aves de España. Dirección General para la Biodiversidad-SEO/BirdLife. Madrid.

Ministerio para la Transición Ecológica,, 2019. El grupo de trabajo de la Cerceta pardilla acuerda nuevas acciones de conservación para abordar el elevado riesgo de extinción de la especie. Fundación Biodiversidad, published 3 April 2019.

Three Marbled Ducks satellite-tracked from El Hondo, south-east Spain, are in central Algeria. These are the only surviving birds out of a total of 27 Marbled Ducks.
Three Marbled Ducks satellite-tracked from El Hondo, south-east Spain, are in central Algeria. These are the only surviving birds out of a total of 27 Marbled Ducks.

4 thoughts on “Spanish Marbled Ducks migrate to Africa to escape hunters’ guns

  1. Colin Slator

    What chance of long term survival has the species got when intense hunting pressure takes place inside protected areas ? It begs belief that a vulnerable species can be under so much hunting pressure from within the EU. It would be a good start to make all registered hunters within the EU to take a wildfowl identification test when they apply for a shotgun certificate.
    Its just a waste of money to establish protected areas when once birds leave the confines of a protected site they are blown out of the sky.

    Reply
  2. Les Easom

    Marbled ducks in a National Park in Spain, hen harriers on grouse moors in the UK. The answer is to ban shooting. No-one is going to starve if they can’t hunt ducks or kill raptors take take game birds that only exist because they are bred to be shot for money.

    Reply
  3. Steve Duffield

    The vast majority of hunters can’t identify what they’re shooting unless you go to basics such as goose, duck or self in the foot.

    Reply
  4. Michele

    The Guidance Document of Birds Directive at paragraphs 2.6.10. 2.6.12, 2.6.13 state that education and training of hunters are solutions. Hunting bans are not useful because take away hunters from habitat management.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *