The Syrian Serin, a small passerine bird belonging to the finch family, is endemic to parts of the Levant, namely in southwestern Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. It breeds in semi-arid, rocky slopes at high altitudes above 900 m a.s.l. with open woodland containing a mix of conifers (e.g. junipers and/or cedars) and evergreen oak and other shrubs, which are important for nesting and roosting.
It frequents during autumn and winter more open steppe habitats (usually Artemisia steppe) with scattered trees or shrubs. Observations of Syrian Serins apparently migrating and overwintering in northwestern Jordan indicate that some populations (e.g. those breeding in Syria and Lebanon) are short-distance migrants, moving to lower areas for the winter.
The Syrian Serin is a rare species with a restricted geographical range; In Jordan, it breeds solely in the Dana Nature Reserve ( See Dana Biosphere Reserve… ). In 2022, Jordan Birdwatch researchers estimated around 450-490 pairs still remaining in part of the reserve, in an area not larger than 12 sq.km. The population and breeding area thus decreased by c. 30% during the last decades due to habitat destruction and degradation caused by a combination of overgrazing, prolonged drought, unregulated picnicking and wood cutting. Other recent threats include wind farm developments and plans to mine copper and other metals at or near its habitats.
Jordan BirdWatch made a recent assessment of the Syrian Serin in Jordan, and recommends upgrading the species category to “Critically Endangered” according to IUCN / Redlist criteria* (Criteria B1a, B1b) at the national level, and to “Endangered” at the global level (B2a, B2b).
In an attempt to raise awareness among decision makers and stakeholders, meetings and a workshop are being held to discuss the management of the threatened woodland where the species breeds. Posters were also printed and distributed to schools. The activities on Syrian Serin in 2022 in Jordan were supported by Global Greengrants Fund.
Jordan Birdwatch’s statement issued on the 19th of August 2021
“Does a copper mine have priority over nature and world heritage?“
The Dana Nature Reserve is one of the most diverse and important bird areas in the Middle East with breeding populations of globally threatened species like Sooty Falcon and Syrian Serin.
The habitats in the reserve have been suffering locally from droughts and local overgrazing by livestock and woodcutting. However this is nothing compared to the destruction expected from the copper mining being planned in the western side of the Reserve. We urge all who care and who are working in the fields of nature conservation, education and (eco-)tourism to raise awareness about this case.
The reserve is located along the southern rift margins of Jordan with an altitudinal range of 60 below sea level to around 1500 above sea level, and being at the crossroad of three continents, it is no wonder that this reserve holds so much diversity, ranging from deserts and arid acacia stands in the lowlands to mountain steppe and open juniper and evergreen oak woodlands.
We urge all who care and who are working in the fields of nature conservation, education and (eco-)tourism to raise awareness about this case.
Statement issued by Jordan BirdWatch, dated 08/19/2021
Subject: Decision to remove part of the Dana Nature Reserve for mining purposes
The Dana Biosphere Reserve is considered one of the most important areas for biodiversity in the Middle East due to its geographical location between three continents, and the great variation in terrain, climate and habitats within a relatively small area.
It is characterized by a heterogeneous landscape and a great diversity of plant species and resident and migratory birds.
The area of Dana and Feinan is also globally famous for its distinctive archeological sites and historical importance, displaying the development of human civilization that began in the Stone Ages.
The area contains beautiful archaeological and natural sites visited by a large number of tourists. There is still great potential of developing Feinan and its surroundings in a sustainable manner as tourist destination, and to be a source of continuous income for local communities and for future generations.
In fact, the reserve area including the village of Dana were almost deserted before the establishment of the reserve in 1994, but many of the original inhabitants came back, indicating the importance of this reserve from an economic point of view for the local communities.
All activities related to copper exploration and mining in the Dana Reserve will have devastating effects on the natural environment, heritage and the economy of local communities. The previous and current efforts to protect and sustainably develop the area will be totally lost. The decision of the government to change the borders of the reserve, and promises of the authorities to the public about great profits and new job opportunities in copper mines is currently based on assumptions, and not supported by published, professional assessments or scientific studies.
Assessments of the direct and accumulated negative effects on the environment and economic feasibility studies are not known to exist or to have been published.
The decision contradicts the goals of sustainable development and principles of environmental protection, and it also violates some international treaties (Rio conventions) to which Jordan is a signatory. The Dana Nature Reserve will probably lose its title of “Biosphere Reserve” granted by UNESCO if the borders are significantly shifted and the area reduced by a quarter.
Jordan BirdWatch is a specialized environmental society which develops and implements its programs based on scientific knowledge. Accordingly, we would like to inform first and foremost the Ministry of Environment, of our position, refusing to exclude any part of the Dana Nature Reserve, due to the expected detrimental effects of mining activities. We also recommend to strengthen and improve the management system for all nature reserves in Jordan.
We all as members of the Jordanian society bear the responsibility of protecting and preserving the environment for future generations.
Grattan J.P., Huxley S.N., Pyatt F.B. (2003). Modern Bedouin Exposures to Copper Contamination: an Imperial Legacy? Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety 55: 108-115.
Grattan J.P., Huxley S.N., Karaki L.A., Tolund H., Gilbertson D.D., Pyatt F.B., al Saad Z . (2002): “Death more desirable than life ”? The human skeletal record and toxicological implications of ancient copper mining and smelting in Wadi Faynan, southwest Jordan. Journal of Toxicology and Industrial Health 18: 297-307.
The impacts of introduced birds on native species and human economy and health are generally considered weak; however, these impacts e.g. on agricultural crops and on native birds by competing for nest sites or predation of nests, may vary according to the alien species itself and various factors in the area being invaded.
One of the most harmful invasive bird species at the global level is the common myna (Acridotheres tristis Linnaeus, 1766) that is originally native to Central and Eastern Asia (Lowe et al. 2000).
Researchers from Jordan BirdWatch, and the Biology Departments of the American University of Madaba (Jordan) and Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University (Saudi Arabia), are carrying out joint studies on the spread and impacts of invasive species in the region. The results of the first detailed study on the spread and potential distribution of common myna in Jordan is published in the scientific journal “Management of Biological Invasions” (Khoury et al. 2021; https://doi.org/10.3391/mbi.2021.12.3.08).
The common myna spread into the Jordan Valley around 2010, as a result of secondary expansion of an invasive population from a neighboring country. Consequently, the myna expanded throughout many parts of Jordan, driven mainly by anthropogenic factors.
The Common myna, also called Indian Myna, can be seen nowadays in the hotel areas of the Dead Sea and Aqaba, in the streets of most Jordanian cities, in agricultural and semi-urbanized landscapes of the Jordan Valley and NW Jordan including the ruins of Jerash and Um-Qais, desert towns and other facilities along major highways.
Similarly in the case of the highly invasive mesquite shrub Prosopis juliflora which was subject to recent projects and studies by JBW in the Jordan Valley, the rapid expansion of alien invasive species indicate serious ecological disturbance caused by random and extensive urbanization, spread of various infrastructure in the landscape and in some cases (e.g. mesquite) overgrazing by livestock.
The study provides a nationwide baseline about the distribution of the invasive common myna, and potential for further spread, as a baseline for monitoring and prioritizing actions to control spread and impacts.
First proof of breeding of Pallid Scops Owls in Jordan
and other bird news (January – July 2021):
Jordan Bird Records Committee accepted recent records of Egyptian Nightjars that apparently spent the summer 2021 at Azraq. There has not been a breeding proof for the nightjars since over four decades.
A Kurdistan Wheatear was near Madaba and a Yellow-browed Warbler near Wadi Rum last autumn/winter; records of migrating or wintering Yellow-browed Warblers have become almost regular in recent years.
The most significant record was of an adult Pale Scops Owls heard singing and three juveniles calling in the Jordan Valley during July 2021; two fledged chicks / juveniles were observed and photographed. This was around the 5th record for this species and the first proof of breeding in Jordan, an adult was observed at Azraq around the same time, but this record is still being considered by JBRC.
The record on the eastern side of the Jordan Valley was not totally unexpected as the Pale Scops owl started breeding on the western banks of the River Jordan in mature palm orchards, apparently just a few years ago.
Other news include the breeding of several pairs of Ferruginous duck at Azraq wetland reserve during spring – summer 2021, for the second consecutive year.
As part of the “People and Birds of the Southern Levant” project, a study was carried out on illegal trapping of large falcons in eastern Jordan. The results were published in Sandgrouse (Khoury et al 2020). The report provides a much needed counterpoint to recent media outputs that glorify modern falconry in the region as a practice steeped in ancient desert tradition and a ‘heritage sport’.
In reality, modern falconry has evolved into a widespread sport in the Gulf region, stimulating the captive breeding and release programs of species targeted by falconers, such as Macqueen’s Bustard, establishing reserves for falconers, and other novel activities like falcon “beauty contests” and races.
The higher demand for wild falcons has elevated black market prices and thus trapping pressure on large falcons like the Saker and Lanner that are globally or regionally threatened. Illegal falcon trapping in eastern Jordan started in the 1950s and accelerated in the 1980s to meet rising demand for wild falcons due to the rise of modern falconry practices fuelled by growing wealth in the Gulf region.
Trafficking is apparently well organized in the Middle East region, with the help of social media outlets, and much of the falcon smuggling remains undetected at border crossings.
The Jordan Bird Records Committee (JBRC) accepted in 2020 various new reports of rare birds in Jordan including the 10th record of Black Vulture at Azraq last winter. A Crested Honey Buzzard in Aqaba during March was apparently part of a small group that stayed for the winter. Groups of White-cheeked Terns were recorded along the beaches of Aqaba during two successive years (2017-2018); these included fledged juveniles getting food from their parents, although nesting probably occurred on islands further south. A Black bush Robin in April 2019 in the city of Aqaba was the fifth national record; three out of the five records were in Aqaba. The second and third records of Yellow – browed Warbler in Jordan included a bird at Burqu’, eastern Jordan, during September and another in Aqaba in late 2019. For more details see (JBRC).
Significant records of birds include the first two confirmed breeding events of Ferruginous Ducks in Jordan. Several chicks and juveniles were seen accompanying their parents at Azraq and the Aqaba Bird Observatory during May-June 2020. Both breeding reports were located in protected areas. Even after decades of over pumping of ground-water, there is some good news from Azraq, such as the extension of the reserve to include parts of the mudflat close to the wetland reserve. The mudflat or “Qa’” is occasionally flooded in winter, forming a large shallow lake, attractive to a variety of water birds that visit or breed if the water does not completely evaporate before summer. Ferruginous ducks were among the birds apparently benefiting from winter floods and the extra protection this year, and at least two pairs bred in pools surrounded by dense vegetation adjacent to the shallow lake. Other ducks breeding at Azraq this year included Mallard, and for the first time in Jordan, one pair each of Shoveler and Pintail. Further species certainly or probably breeding along the edges of the Qa’ during 2020 were Avocets, Black-winged Stilts, Gull-billed Terns, Greater Sand Plover, Kentish Plover and Collared Pratincoles.
A long-eared owl chick rescued by Al-Weibdah inhabitants and Jordan BirdWatch
Jordan BirdWatch is frequently contacted during the breeding season of birds, to collect and deal with chicks, often fully grown but still not able to fly properly. In one case, a Jackdaw chick was being kept on the roof of a house by people who took the chick from children playing near their home. The chick probably fell from its nest while attempting its first flight. JBW advised to immediately return the chick to the nesting site and place it on a higher place, safe from ground-dwelling predators.
In another case the chick of a Long-eared Owl was found grounded in a garden in Al-Weibdah in Amman, probably after attempting to leave the nest. The habitants contacted JBW and kept it in a safe place for a day or two. JBW personnel then placed the seemingly healthy bird on the branch of a tall tree. It was evident that the nest was located nearby and the parents were present and still feeding the chick after it left the nest. The young owl was spotted in the days following its rescue, perching on the branches of the trees in the same garden.
“Unfortunately, most “grounded” Owls, Birds of Prey and other birds are mistakenly deemed orphaned – they’re actually just in the process of testing their wings. Many young birds disperse from their nests long before they can fly – this prevents overcrowding in the nest as the chicks grow. This is nature’s way of helping to minimise any threat to the entire clutch from predators. Many young birds lose their footing during these first explorations and fall to the ground”. A grounded chick may look lost and vulnerable, but the parents are likely to know where it is and will continue to feed it. Owl chicks can climb up bushes and trees to stay safe https://www.owlpages.com/owls/articles.php?a=81.
The risks and advices
What JBW observed and the measures to take in a rescue situation
Healthy owl chicks that would still have a chance to survive in the wild are often taken to local conservation or animal welfare societies or facilities in Jordan with the good intension of “saving its life”. In some cases people take things into their own hand and attempt to feed and care for the bird themselves, then give up after the bird becomes a “nuisance”, or so weakened it would be difficult to save. It is usually impossible for non-specialists to determine the age and physical condition of a chick, and thus its chances to survive in the wild; in many cases the chicks are deemed “orphaned” or even injured because they still are not able to fly well. That is why we advise calling JBW to get appropriate advice and assistance and before taking the birds into what often turns out to be a life-long captivity. Evidently, some of the birds brought to these facilities are kept in captivity indefinitely and are sometimes used as additional attraction for visitors.
Some of the owl species are still threatened or rare in Jordan (see our Bird list), due to habitat destruction, disturbances at nesting sites, persecution and deliberate collection of owls from the wild and offering them for sale on social media platforms. Eleven species of owls have been recorded in Jordan including nine that breed in the country, one of which became extinct a few decades ago. Although considered by some Jordanians as “bad luck”, these magnificent birds provide humans with a lot of “services” when in the wild and thus deserve more appreciation and protection in Jordan.
The authors have combined their expertise in ornithology, ecology, archaeology and cultural heritage to produce this guide of the birds of Faynan, SW Jordan, and some of the ways they have inspired artists, poets and story-tellers throughout the history of Jordan.
The book also presents the results of archaeological excavations at a 12,000–10,000 year old Neolithic settlement in Wadi Faynan, which have shown that there were once even more species of birds in Faynan than today. The climate was apparently more humid and much more trees were growing on the mountain slopes 10,000 years ago.
Mithen, S., Khoury, F., Greet, B., White, J. and Masalamani, N. 2019. The Birds of Faynan: Past & Present. Reading, UK: The University of Reading.
Solid waste is one of the main and ever-growing environmental issues in the Jordan Valley, others being depletion of water sources, overgrazing of native vegetation, invasion of alien shrub species and unregulated hunting.
JBW is carrying out projects in one site to tackle the root causes for such local problems and present a model of best practices and for integrated management of ecosystems and natural resources in the Jordan Valley area.
Moreover, JBW organizes birding trips to spread awareness and to monitor birds and their habitats.
this context, Jordan BirdWatch
together with Ahl El-Balad
initiative carried out a clean-up event in Wadi Gharaba Special
Conservation Area, which is located in Ghor Rama north of the Dead
Sea on Saturday 7th
December 2019. Large amounts of waste were collected, including
mainly plastic water bottles and cans.
JBW members also
enjoyed watching a variety of birds in and around Wadi Gharaba in the
early morning including Herons and Egrets, two Black-winged Kites
Kingfishers (three species), Little Green Be-eaters, Bluethroat,
Robin, Stonechat, Indian Silverbills and Spanish Sparrows.