Bahrain Bird Report

Socotra Cormorants
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 Al Janubiyah

Socotra Cormorant Phalacrocorax nigrogularis:  Status near-endemic of the Arabian Gulf

Nesting on only a few islands in the Gulf Socotra Cormorants are now regarded as the most vulnerable of any Arabian endemic waterbird species.

The phylogenetic position of the Socotra Cormorant Phalacrocorax nigrogularis

A recent sequence-based phylogeny for the cormorants and shags did not include the Socotra Cormorant Phalacrocorax nigrogularis. To estimate the phylogenetic position of the Socotra Cormorant, sequence data for this species from three mitochondrial genes (12S, ATPase 6, and ATPase 8) was added to the existing data-set. The results of weighted parsimony analyses on the sequence data show that the Socotra Cormorant is sister taxon to a group that includes several species of shags and cormorants (P. carbo, capillatus, capensis, sulcirostris, varius, featherstoniand punctatus). The phylogeny shows, moreover, that the Socotra Cormorant is not particularly closely related to any of the other 22 shags and cormorants in this data-set. Our estimates suggest that this species diverged from the ancestor of its closest relatives over four million years ago, even though the Arabian Gulf, to which, at the present time, it is largely confined, is far younger.

Kennedy M, Aspinall S, and Page RDM. Tribulus, (Journal of the Emirates Natural History Group) 11.2: 5-8 2001

Panoramic picture
made from 5 out of 12 successive prints

Named after the island of Socotra the only report of breeding on the Socotra archipelago are from the outlying islet of Kaal Faroon, north of Abd el Kuri island, in 2001, when some 6000 pairs were nesting.

Extremely sensitive to human pressure, over the last 30 years at least 12 colonies have become extinct, today only 13 colonies are thought to remain of which Suwad Al Janubiyah on Hawar is the largest documented. It is estimated that the total world population for the species has declined to less than half a million birds with the current world population as only 110,000 breeding pairs (Mike Jenning per comm).

The colony of 30,000 breeding pairs (c 20% plus world population) on Suwad Al Janubiyah Hawar is the only Socotra Cormorant colony offered protection under State Laws anywhere in the Gulf. It is also the Gulfs' only Ramsar Site nominated under criteria specific to waterbirds. A criteria requires that – to be considered as Internationally Important the site must regularly support 20,000 or more waterbirds or 1% of a population of one species or subspecies of waterbird. The very name of the island, Suwad meaning blackness, reflects the dominance that this species has on the islands character during the breeding season of September to March, within living memory cormorants have breed on Hawar annually.

Breeding Range

Note-  year last
 record for
colony - soure
Mike Jenning

Considered threatened to endangered, vulnerable by Birdlife International (Birdlife Species Fact sheet, world population 450000 – 750000 decreasing) 12 colonies have become extinct during the last 30 years, representing a potential decline of up to c 80,000 pairs (c 26% of the population).

There appears to be no transfer of birds between the Arabian Gulf and the Arabian Sea populations. In the Arabian Sea, colonies exist on Hasikiyah in the Hallaniyat group, Dhofar Oman and further south in Yemen nesting has been recorded on Baraqa, and Sikha island and in Socotra archipelago on Kaal Faroon. It is rare in the Red Sea. It seems to have almost disappeared from the northern part of the Arabian Gulf but breeding records exist for Kurayn (1992) Arabiyah (extinct), Kuwait on Umm al Maradim (extinct) and Qaru (extinct). There are probably no more than 100 pairs breeding in this zone today. The Gulf of Salwa holds the highest breeding concentration of this species today, representing over half the world population. In Saudi Arabia, the number of breeding pairs is thought to have declined dramatically however birds breeding on the Saudi islands in the Gulf of Salwa seem to switch islands regularly and may breed in large numbers one year and be absent others. Colonies have been sporadically reported on the island of Zakhnuniyah (site of major colonies in the past), Judahm and Unabir. It is also possible that there is some interchange between the Saudi and Bahrain colonies. In the UAE the breeding population is c 33,000 pairs, and spread through seven colonies although devlopment further threatens more of these. Sir Abu Nair (extinct 1987) Arzahnah (extinct 1982), Dalma (extinct 1975), Qarnain (extinct 1989), Zirku (extinct 1981), and Nai’tah (ectinct), of the extant colonies there is little up to date information but records indicate colonies present on Sinaiya (1995), Dayyinah (1997), Ghagha (1995), North Yasat (1995) Dhubaya (1995), Umm Qassar/Ghasha (1995) Qassar Selaha (1995). Reports of other breeding (unquantified) are from South Furayjida (1994) Muhammaliya, (1994) Khardal (1994) and Umm al Kirkum (1992).  On the Qatar east coast were it probably now only breeds sporadically it has bred on four islands in the past Hulul (extinct), Shara’ah, Al Ashat and Al Aliyah island. They occur and probably still breed on the Iranian side of the Arabian Gulf (no data) but do not get as far east as Pakistan.

Michael C Jennings Coordinator Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Arabia and Editor The Phoenix  (ISSN 0268-487X),
Warners Farm House, Warners Drove, Somersham, Cambridgeshire, PE28 3WD England, UK
Tel/Fax 01487 841733,  international  00 44 1487 841733. 
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