Watch: Wagtail chicks hatch a historic first in Dubai

The small songbird, native to Europe and Asia, has begun breeding at Al Marmoom Desert Conservation Reserve, also known as Al Qudra Lake


Mazhar Farooqui

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Photos: Supplied
Photos: Supplied

Published: Tue 4 Jun 2024, 6:20 PM

Last updated: Tue 4 Jun 2024, 10:35 PM

These pictures are the first ever of Black-headed Yellow Wagtail chicks in their nests, marking a milestone in the bird's history as it starts breeding in the UAE. In a significant turn of events for bird enthusiasts, the small songbird, native to Europe and Asia, has begun breeding in Dubai’s Al Marmoom Desert Conservation Reserve, also known as Al Qudra Lake.

Dr Reza Khan, 78, a veteran wildlife expert based in Dubai, confirmed this development. “This is the first recorded instance of the Black-headed Yellow Wagtail breeding in the Arabian Peninsula,” said Dr Khan, who is also a conservation specialist at the reserve. “It shows how the Ruler of Dubai’s vision for man-made habitats is attracting a wide variety of wetland birds. It also highlights how adaptable wildlife can be to changes in their environment.”

The Black-headed Yellow Wagtail, known for its striking black head and yellow body, is often seen wagging its tail while foraging for insects in open fields and meadows. This bird is notable for its long migratory journeys, with some populations travelling thousands of kilometres between breeding and wintering grounds.

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Dr Khan shared his excitement about the breeding of the Wagtails, recalling his recent sighting of them at the Pivot Fields Lake in Al Qudra. “It's truly remarkable to see these birds, which were once just passing through, now settling down to breed right here,” he said.

Covering four square kilometres, the reserve’s lush grass fields and reservoirs, nourished by treated sewage water, provide an ideal environment for various waterfowl, including the newly arrived Wagtails.

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Dr Khan has closely observed the breeding behaviours of these birds. “In recent years, I’ve noticed a shift in their behaviour, with sightings of juveniles and parental care activities,” he explained. “This year, I decided to delve deeper into their breeding habits.”

His efforts paid off as he documented courtship displays in late March, observing males showcasing elaborate behaviours to attract females. Following these displays, females collected nesting materials, marking the start of their breeding cycle.

“The nest-building process was fascinating to observe,” Dr Khan recalled. “Starting with a sturdy foundation of dry grass blades and delicate rootlets, they constructed their nests using materials found in the Pivot Fields.” By early April, the first eggs were laid, with a total of five eggs by the following week.

Then came the rains. Heavy downpours in mid-April flooded the area, inundating many nests, including those of the Wagtails. “It was disheartening to see the nests washed away,” Dr Khan admitted. “But I remained hopeful for a comeback.” And comeback they did. Several pairs of Wagtails attempted to nest again in May, overcoming these setbacks.

In the end, two pairs successfully raised a total of five healthy chicks by early June. Before the chicks left the nest, they were ringed to ensure future identification, said Dr Khan.

The UAE welcomes nearly two million migratory birds annually, according to the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD). In the early '90s, the UAE's bird checklist recorded 300 species. Thanks to the country's environmental initiatives, that number has increased to 468. Over 60 percent, or 3 out of 5, of these birds are migratory.


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