Until recently, there was scant information on the surviving numbers of Sociable
Lapwings, their preferred habitat, migration routes and on the main threats to their
survival. The species is currently classified as Critically Endangered by BirdLife
International: the world population was estimated to number only 1200 individuals
(Delany & Scott 2006).
Between 18 February - 5 March 2007 a team consisting of Dutch and Syrian birdwatchers
surveyed wetlands and fields in approximately the northern half of Syria
on the presence of this species. Here, many hundreds were found. After this date,
two team members stayed in the area holding the highest numbers until 26 March,
when all Sociable Lapwings had left.
Sociable Lapwings were encountered in four natural steppe areas in northern
Syria: three situated in the central-northern agricultural area (Eiwa, Al Aumair and
Ar Ruweira) and one further south (Al Fedha), between Deir ez-Zor and Palmyra. Altogether,
1579 Sociable Lapwings were counted prior to 5 March, while a week later,
on 8-9 March, the highest estimate numbered 2000 birds. None of the birds checked
Information was collected on numbers, behaviour, plumage and diet. All birds
were exclusively seen in natural steppe habitat, except for a small flock that left the
steppe to rest in an arable field. No birds were observed near water, with the exception
of 12 Sociable Lapwings that briefly stayed near a sabkha (temporary pool) near
Local people, mainly shepherds, were interviewed to find out more about Sociable
Lapwings, such as the timing of migration, numbers, hunting pressure, protection of
the area, et cetera. Many people knew the birds: they could point them out in a field
guide depicting five species of lapwing. As became clear from the interviews, Sociable
Lapwings arrive yearly around mid-February and leave by late March. In autumn
the birds arrive ‘when the barley is sown’ and leave after a couple of weeks. Some
shepherds herding their sheep even in cold winters insisted they had seen a few
Sociable Lapwings in mid-winter in the past. Thus only few, if any, Sociable Lapwings
seem to spend the winter in the steppe in Syria.
At the time of this survey, a Qatari hunting party was visiting Ar Ruweira, the
area holding the highest numbers (exactly 1000 Sociable Lapwings counted). Local
authorities were notified, international attention was sought and two team members
stayed in the area to observe until the hunting party left, on 18 March. During
this period, no Sociable Lapwings were seen being shot, but feathers of a presumed
Sociable Lapwing were found in the Qatari camp.
The present state of knowledge is reviewed and recommendations for further
research are presented.
The report finishes with a full list of birds observed during this survey and gives a
short overview of the wetlands visited.
A Google Earth satellite image of northern Syria, indicating the three main areas
in which Sociable Lapwings were seen, can be found on www.syria.renevos.net
Apart from these, the report contains:
- a list of mammals, amphibians, reptiles and insects seen betweern 18 February and 5 March 2007
- Some publications resulting from the Syrian Sociable Lapwing Survey