Madagascar pochard (Aythya innotata)

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Male Madagascar pochard
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Madagascar pochard fact file

Madagascar pochard description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderAnseriformes
FamilyAnatidae
GenusAythya (1)

Believed extinct until its rediscovery in 2006 (4) (5), the Madagascar pochard has the unfortunate distinction of being the world’s rarest duck species (6). A medium-sized diving duck, the male is dark chestnut-brown, with reddish-brown flanks which grade into a whitish belly. The undertail-coverts are white, and the wings bear a white bar that extends for the length of the wing. The beak, legs and feet are greyish, and there is a conspicuous white iris. Outside of the breeding season, the male is duller and browner in colour, while the female is duller brown than the male, and lacks the white eye. The juvenile Madagascar pochard resembles the female, but is paler brown and lacks a chestnut tone (2) (3) (7).

Also known as
Madagascan white-eye.
French
Fuligule de Madagascar.
Size
Length: 45 - 56 cm (2)
Wingspan: 63 - 72 cm (3)
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Madagascar pochard biology

Little is known of the life history of this rare bird. Usually now occurring singly or in pairs, it is not known to form flocks (4) (7). Breeding occurs between September and January, the nest being sited amongst vegetation at the lake edge. Six to nine eggs are laid (7) (8) (10), hatching after an incubation period of about 26 to 28 days, and the young are dark brown above and yellowish on the face and underparts (2). The Madagascar pochard feeds by diving in shallow water for aquatic plants and possibly aquatic invertebrates (2) (7) (8), and often remains underwater for one to two minutes at a time (4).

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Madagascar pochard range

As its common name suggests, the Madagascar pochard is endemic to Madagascar, where it was historically known only from a single location, at Lake Alaotra in the northern central plateau (2) (3) (5) (7) (8) (9). The species is presumed to have once occurred throughout the central plateau, diminishing in numbers and range after human colonisation and extensive modification of wetlands (5). The rediscovery of the Madagascar pochard in 2006 occurred at a small volcanic lake 330 kilometres to the north of Lake Alaotra (4) (7) (8). The birds breeding at this site may also visit other nearby lakes (7) (8).

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Madagascar pochard habitat

The Madagascar pochard is believed to have originally inhabited shallow freshwater lakes and marshes with areas of open water and nearby areas of dense vegetation (2) (3) (5) (7). The site of its rediscovery is less well vegetated, but the vegetation that does grow around the lake edge may provide suitable nesting habitat, while a lack of human disturbance and an absence of fish are thought to have helped the species’ survival at the site (4) (7) (8).

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Madagascar pochard status

Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Critically Endangered

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Madagascar pochard threats

The Madagascar pochard was considered relatively common at Lake Alaotra in the 1930s, but declined dramatically throughout the following decades (5). The last observation at Alaotra was in 1960, and the last anywhere in 1970, until in 1991 a lone male was captured at Alaotra (11) and kept in captivity until its death a year later (2) (3) (4) (5) (7) (9). Intensive searches and publicity campaigns during the 1990s failed to find any more birds (4) (7) (9), and the Madagascar pochard was feared extinct until the rediscovery of 25 individuals at a new site in 2006 (4) (7).

The final catastrophic decline in the Madagascar pochard has been attributed to a range of environmental changes at Lake Alaotra that had presumably already occurred throughout Madagascar’s other wetlands, including conversion of surrounding land to agriculture, pollution and siltation of the lake due to deforestation, and the burning of aquatic vegetation. Introduced species have also had damaging effects, through the spread of invasive exotic plants, probable nest predation by introduced mammals, and, in particular, competition and predation from introduced fish. In addition, the increasing use of fishing nets in the wetlands has threatened all diving birds, and the Madagascar pochard too may have become entangled in these nets (2) (5) (7) (9) (12) (13). Although a lack of human disturbance is believed to have protected the species at the site of its rediscovery, possibly through the lack of fish there, the remaining population is tiny, making it particularly vulnerable to extreme events or to inbreeding (4) (7) (8) (14).

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Madagascar pochard conservation

Lake Alaotra was declared a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance in 2003 (15), and efforts have been underway at the site to conserve and restore the last remnants of unmodified habitat, which should also benefit other threatened species. Other conservation measures have included education and awareness programmes, involving local communities in environmental monitoring, and continuing the search for any remaining Madagascar pochards. However, the region’s huge economic importance for agriculture and fisheries can make implementing conservation policies difficult (7) (12). It may also be important to establish reserves and prohibit hunting in the area (2) (9).

The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, together with The Peregrine Fund, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) and the Government of Madagascar, are conducting further surveys at the rediscovery site, which is now permanently guarded, and are seeking formal protection for the area (7) (8). Unfortunately, all the young from the 2008 breeding season were lost, and after an expedition in July 2009 found fewer than 20 adult birds, including just 6 females, a specialist team undertook a rescue mission to bring eggs from the 2009 breeding season into captivity. The eggs were successfully hatched, and it is hoped that this will mark the start of a long-term captive breeding and conservation programme, not only to bring the Madagascar pochard back from the brink of extinction, but also to help restore the region’s wetlands for the benefit of both wildlife and people (6) (10) (14).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

To find out more about conservation efforts for some of the world’s most endangered species see:

For more information on conservation in Madagascar see:
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Authentication

Authenticated (17/12/09) by Dr H. Glyn Young, Conservation Biologist, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.
http://www.durrell.org/
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Glossary

Coverts
Small feathers concealing the bases of larger flight feathers, usually on the wings or tail.
Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Inbreeding
The breeding of closely related individuals. An inbred population usually has less genetic variability and this is generally disadvantageous for its long-term survival and success.
Incubation
The act of incubating eggs; that is, keeping them warm so that development is possible.
Invertebrates
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones), echinoderms, and others.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2009)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1992) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 1: Ostrich to Ducks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Ogilvie, M.A. and Young, S. (2002) Photographic Handbook: Wildfowl of the World. New Holland Publishers, London.
  4. René de Roland, L.A., Sam, T.S., Rakotondratsima, M.P.H. and Thorstrom, R. (2007) Rediscovery of the Madagascar pochard Aythya innotata in northern Madagascar. Bulletin of the African Bird Club, 14(2): 171-174.
  5. Young, H.G. and Kear, J. (2006) The rise and fall of wildfowl of the western Indian Ocean and Australasia. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club, 126: 25-39.
  6. Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust: Durrell News, 4th November 2009: Plan to save world's rarest duck successfully hatched (November, 2009)
    http://www.durrell.org/About-Durrell/Durrell-News/
  7. BirdLife International (November, 2009)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=477&m=0
  8. Hirschfeld, E. (2008) BirdLife International: Rare Birds Yearbook. MagDig Media Limited, Shrewsbury.
  9. Wilmé, L. (1994) Status, distribution and conservation of two Madagascar bird species endemic to Lake Alaotra: Delacour's grebe Tachybaptus rufolavatus and Madagascar pochard Aythya innotata. Biological Conservation, 69: 15-21.
  10. Young, G. (2009) Pers. comm.
  11. Wilmé, L. (1993) A recent record of the Madagascar pochard Aythya innotata on Lake Alaotra, Madagascar. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club, 113(3): 188-189.
  12. Andrianandrasana, H.T., Randriamahefasoa, J., Durbin, J., Lewis, R.E. and Ratsimbazafy, J.H. (2005) Participatory ecological monitoring of the Alaotra wetlands in Madagascar. Biodiversity and Conservation, 14: 2757-2774.
  13. Young, H.G. (1996) Threatened Anatinae and wetlands of Madagascar: a review and evaluation. In: Birkan, M., van Vessem, J., Havet, P., Madsen, J., Trolliet, B. and Moser, M. (Eds.) Proceedings of the Anatidae 2000 Conference, Strasbourg, France, 5-9 December 1994. Gibier Faune Sauvage - Game and Wildlife, 13: 801-813.
  14. Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) (November, 2009)
    http://www.wwt.org.uk/
  15. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (November, 2009)
    http://www.ramsar.org/
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Image credit

Male Madagascar pochard  
Male Madagascar pochard

© Olivier Langrand / Biosphoto

Biosphoto
16 rue Velouterie
Avignon
84000
France
Tel: +33 (490) 162 042
Fax: +33 (663) 208 434
http://www.biosphoto.com/

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