x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Flamingo flies high as top bird

The Greater Flamingo is the most abundant waterbird species in the nation, according to a new study, the country's first contribution to a global census of waterbirds in more than a decade.

ABU DHABI // The Greater Flamingo is the most abundant waterbird species in the nation, according to a new study, the country's first contribution to a global census of waterbirds in more than a decade. More than 15,000 flamingos were recorded at 15 sites during the research undertaken by the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD). The International Waterbird Census is taken annually and focuses on nearly 150 species, 82 of which were spotted in the UAE during the census. Collecting data from multiple countries is key, since many birds are migratory and can travel thousands of kilometres between their breeding grounds and wintering areas.

The UAE is one such vital route for migratory birds. "Until 1999, the UAE was participating actively in this," said Dr Salim Javed, the deputy manager of bird conservation at EAD and co-ordinator for the survey in the UAE. After an 11-year absence, the country is rejoining the effort, he said, sending in survey results carried out at 40 sites. Conducting during a two-day period in January, the survey was done by 14 scientists who recorded more than 53,000 birds.

Some of the surveyed areas include Al Wathba Wetland Reserve, the Bu Al Syayeef area in Abu Dhabi, Khor Kalba in Sharjah and Ras al Khor in Dubai. The largest number of birds, ranging from 9,000 to 13,000, was recorded at Umm al Qaiwain's Khor al Beidha, an area under pressure from development. However, said Dr Javed, until data is collected over time, the figures will be hard to interpret. "You need to have long-term data in order to determine trends," he said.

He added that as the data is accumulated year over year, it will allow scientists to identify what is happening with populations of rare birds. "This census is a tool to help us conserve our wetlands and protect our waterbirds," said Dr Javed. "When undertaken regularly, this census can help us better understand trends in the numbers of birds and also assess the status of sites on which they depend,"

Internationally, the census has informed decisions to set aside nearly half of the 1,369 wetlands of international importance recognised by the Ramsar Convention, the most important global treaty on waterbirds. EAD collaborated with Emirates Wildlife Society-World Wide Fund for Nature, the Emirates Bird Record Committee and Fujairah Municipality. vtodorova@thenational.ae