Ferruginous Duck Breeding and Reintroduction Program

To re-establish a viable and self-sustaining population of ferruginous ducks in Israel


The ferruginous duck (Aythya nyroca), sometimes called the fudge duck or diving duck, is a dark, chestnut coloured duck, with the males having a distinctive pale iris (hence it is also often called the common white-eye). They eat mainly aquatic plants, but also some molluscs, insects and small fish, collected or caught by diving or dabbling, and they are capable of diving down to depths of 10 m. Their natural habitat is well-vegetated wetlands where they nest in low platforms of reeds and other vegetation placed on the ground in thick shoreline vegetation. Their breeding range extends from southern and eastern Europe to southern and western Asia and they are chiefly migratory. These are gregarious birds, forming large flocks in winter, often mixed with other ducks, such as tufted ducks and pochards.


Ferruginous ducks are threatened by the degradation and destruction of well-vegetated shallow pools and other wetland habitats as a result of excessive drainage; reed cutting and burning; covering of water reservoirs; extensively managed fishponds; and the introduction of non-native species. Hunting is a serious threat and disturbance by fishing boats and anglers alongside fringe vegetation can cause nest abandonment and disruption of the breeding cycle. Other lower-level threats include fires; drowning in fishing nets; and hybridisation with native species. The species has declined markedly in Europe where there have been declines of more than 20% in eight European countries. Small numbers occur in various Middle Eastern countries. The species is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List. Although it is already fully protected in 15 European countries and protected from hunting in six more, it has received little international conservation action, but a number of national initiatives have been developed recently, notably habitat management in Bulgaria and reintroduction schemes in Italy.


Ferruginous ducks have all but disappeared from Israeli wildlife as nesters because of the loss of wetland habitats. In 2010, Jerusalem Zoo began an ex situ breeding programme with a core group of four captive-born individuals. This group has continued to produce eggs every year. Over the last two years, a pilot reintroduction programme was conducted by releasing nine individuals into the zoo's central lake - an open area where the birds are not prevented from flying away. However, all nine individuals chose to remain in the lake and did not venture further afield (probably because of the readily available food source). In June 2013, 21 eggs hatched (inexplicably, all males!). The chicks were allowed to mature until mid-October when they were identified and banded in preparation for release into the wild.


Most birds are banded on the leg using a numbered or coloured band to enable conservationists to watch from a distance and readily identify the bird. This does not work with aquatic birds, however, because their legs are hidden in the water most of the time, so a special technique developed in Portugal is used to band their bills. They are individually sized to the birds' bills and threaded through their nostrils with a fine nylon thread. The nylon does not bother the bird and does not interfere with breathing, eating or breeding. The bands are easily read from a distance. Because ferruginous ducks are more sensitive than most ducks and prone to sudden stress-induced heart attacks, a special protocol was developed at Jerusalem Zoo to fit the bands as quickly as possible with minimal stress to the birds. A few days later, the ducks were taken to the north of Israel where 15 males and two females were released into the Hula Valley Nature Reserve, in conjunction with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. This is the beginning of a multi-year breeding and release programme. Coupled with raising public awareness of wetland habitat preservation, we hope to see a population recovery in Israel.


WAZA Conservation Project 13010 is implemented by the Tisch Familiy Zoological Gardens Jerusalem, in conjunction with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.


Visit www.jerusalemzoo.org.il.


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  • Ferruginous Duck Conservation

    Ferruginous Duck Conservation

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