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One of World's Rarest Ducks Nearly Extinct

August 28, 2014

If you’re a diving duck from Madagascar that feeds on the bottom of lakes, a wetland habitat in the northeastern part of that country should be a good place to live, right? Not so, according a new study published in Bird Conservation International

The Madagascar pochard, one of the world’s rarest birds with a population of just 25 wild adults, could soon be extinct. As habitat for this medium-sized brown diving duck disappears from deforestation and to make room for rice and fish farming, the bird has been pushed to a single set of lakes too deep for its young to dive. Ninety-six percent of chicks die before fledging, the research found, because they starve before they’re able to get to food.

“The last refuge of the Madagascar pochard is one of the last unspoiled wetlands in the country, but it’s simply not suited to [the bird’s] needs,” Andrew Bamford, senior research officer for Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust and lead paper author, said in a news release. “Something similar happened in the UK when the lowland red kite became confined to upland Wales, and in Hawaii, where the last nenes survived only on the upper slopes of volcanoes because introduced predators had occupied their favored grassland habitats.”

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These birds have a storied history. Early European travelers to the area ignored them, thinking they were ferruginous ducks, which have similar coloring. Then back in the 1960s, the pochard was actually declared extinct until in 2006, The Peregrine Fund, a nonprofit focused on saving birds of prey, found a group of 13 of them living at volcanic wetlands. “Its rediscovery provided the opportunity to study this species in the wild for the first time and to assess the viability of this last remaining population,” the journal article reads.

Today, their situation is grave: “The small size and extremely low fledging success recorded in this last population of Madagascar pochard clearly indicate the perilous situation this species is in,” the Bird Conservation International article states. Though the adults in the small population seem healthy, nearly every newborn chicks is dying.

So what needs to happen to help the Madagascar pochard? Bamford states it plainly: “For the species to survive, we need to start another population in a large, shallow wetland.” Easier said than done, of course. Some of the nearby wetlands with potential need restoring. And creating shallow spots in the current lake where the ducklings could feed could negatively affect the lake and its surroundings.

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