First Field Guide to Birds of Iraq Shows No Extinctions

BAGHDAD, Iraq, January 26, 2007 (ENS) - The wildlife conservation movement that has started to emerge in Iraq took off today with the publication of "Field Guide to the Birds of Iraq" in Arabic. Despite ongoing conflict across the country, the unique guide shows that no species has gone extinct in the Mesopotamian marshes since the last assessments were conducted in the 1970s.

Covering the 387 bird species that have been recorded in Iraq, the book is the first comprehensive, fully illustrated field guide to the birds of an Arabic speaking country and first field guide of its kind for Iraq.

The book is published by BirdLife International and Nature Iraq, a newly formed conservation organization. Nature Iraq is based in Baghdad with an office in Amman, Jordan.


A sacred ibis, Threskiornis aethiopicus, wings its way across Iraq. (Photo courtesy Nature Iraq/CIMI/BirdLife)
"For Iraq – a nation that has lost so much of its wildlife in the last twenty years, this book opens the door for the growing conservation movement in this country." said Dr. Ali Douabul of Nature Iraq.

The book is due to be presented to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in the next few weeks.

"Local language field guides are crucial tools for conservation," Dr. Douabul said. "They encourage people to realize, appreciate and get involved in bird conservation, which, because birds are good indicators of the environment, has potential benefits for all of our wildlife."

Funded by the Canadian government, an expert from BirdLife International, based in Cambridge, England, has traveled to the region to train Nature Iraq biologists in conducting bird and other wildlife surveys of the internationally important Mesopotamian marshes.

BirdLife's Middle East Conservation Advisor Richard Porter has been training the biologists doing the surveys.

"This we are doing in Syria," he told ENS. "They have been great to work with - young, keen, enthusisatic and increasingly competent. They have just completed their third winter survey."


Biologists from Nature Iraq document water quality and observe birds in the Mesopotamian marshes. (Photo courtesy Nature Iraq/CIMI/BirdLife)
The training has covered recording techniques, plant identification, habitat monitoring techniques, and practical skills like measuring water quality.

Thought to be the site of the biblical Garden of Eden, the Mesopotamian marshes include 28 of Iraq’s Important Bird Areas, and are home to Iraq’s Marsh Arabs.

Eighteen globally threatened bird species occur in these marshes between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, alongside three birds unique to the marshes - the Iraq babbler, Turdoides altirostris; the Basra reed warbler, Acrocephalus griseldis; and the grey hypocolius, Hypocolius ampelinus.

Drained of water during the Saddam Hussein era, wildlife fled from 90 percent of the marshes. Since the collapse of the regime, a multifaceted rehabilitation program has begun.


A Basra reed warbler perches on a birder's hand. (Photo by A.F.A. Hawkins courtesy BirdLife)
Dr. Douabul works with several organizations on marsh rehabilitation, including the USAID. He says as early as 2003, he found small areas where the marsh dwellers themselves had reflooded the dried earth and were beginning to rebuild.

Some 40,000 people have returned to the reflooded areas to resume their traditional lifestyle and practice their centuries-old culture.

By mid-2004, the marsh dwellers had reflooded about 40 percent of the former marshlands.

Some of the re-flooded areas have experienced lush regrowth, but other areas have not recovered as well.

Still, initial reports show healthy populations of Basra reed warblers. The sacred ibis, Threskiornis aethiopicus; the African darter, Anhinga rufa; and the marbled teal, Marmaronetta angustirostris, are also thriving.


Internationally important numbers of wildfowl winter in the marshes, where they are an important source of food for the inhabitants. (Photo courtesy Nature Iraq/CIMI/BirdLife)
The Mesopotamian marshes are one of the most biodiverse regions in Iraq. One of the largest wetlands in the Middle East, they provide a vital stopover for thousands of waterbirds on migration and during the winter months.

"These are some of the most wildlife-rich sites in the Middle East, but often all we hear about is the conflict," Porter said.

"It’s recognized across the world that biodiversity can enhance quality of life in a region," said Porter.

"By publishing this field guide with Nature Iraq, we are improving the ease with which people can become involved in conservation in the region - a positive step which has potential economic benefits for the nation as a whole," he observed.

Iraq's Ministry of Water Resources has declared restoration of the marshes its highest priority, and has established the Center for Restoration of the Iraqi Marshlands to achieve this goal.


The front cover of the new "Field Guide to the Birds of Iraq" (Photo courtesy Nature Iraq/CIMI/BirdLife)
The field guide was made possible through funding from the Canadian Government via the Canada-Iraq Marshlands Initiative, the World Bank, the Ornithological Society of the Middle East and AviFauna.

The illustrations and text for the field guide were taken from "Birds of the Middle East," in the Helm Field Guide series, which recently has been translated into Arabic.

Nature Iraq was responsible for adapting the text for Iraq, especially the information on conservation status, distribution and habitats of the bird species.

Copies of "Field Guide to the Birds of Iraq" (price £15.00 including postage) can be obtained in the UK from OSME Sales, email: