Haur Al Hammar

Country/territory: Iraq

IBA criteria met: A1, A2, A4i, A4iii, B1i, B2, B3 (1994)
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Area: 1,350,000 ha

Nature Iraq
IBA conservation status
Year of assessment (most recent) State (condition) Pressure (threat) Response (action)
2013 not assessed very high negligible
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Site description (1994 baseline)
The Haur Al Hammar, its surrounding marshes and neighbouring haurs and areas of temporary inundation comprise some 3,500 km2 of almost contiguous wetland habitat. The haur itself is the largest lake in the lower Euphrates, approximately 120 km long by up to 25 km wide. It is bordered in the north by the River Euphrates, in the west by the Southern Desert and in the east by the Shatt Al Arab. The lake is eutrophic, and generally shallow with a maximum depth of about 1.8 m at low-water levels in early winter and about 3.0 m at high-water levels in late spring. Large parts of the littoral zone dry out during periods of low water and banks and islands appear in many places. The hydrology of the lake is not clear: its main source of water re-charge appears to be the Euphrates, but it may also receive a very substantial amount of water from the Tigris via the Central Marshes (see site 038), and there is presumably also some re-charge from groundwater. The Euphrates flows through the marshes and joins the Tigris at Qarmat Ali, where the combined flow becomes the Shatt Al Arab. Habitats include open, fairly shallow water, vast reedbeds, broad muddy shores, sedge marsh and marsh-edge vegetation, moist arable land, irrigation ponds, rainwater pools, communication dams, artificial islands with villages, rice and sugar-cane polders and date-palm groves. Emergent vegetation is dominated by beds of Phragmites and Typha with some Cyperus papyrus and Arundo, as well as many other aquatics, both floating (Nymphoides, Nymphaea, Nuphar, Pistia, Lemna) and submerged (Vallisneria, Potamogeton, Myriophyllum, Ceratophyllum, Chara, Najas, Salvinia). The marshes are rich in fish, and an estimate of the annual catch, published in 1966, was 30,000 tonnes, of which 70% were Cyprinidae. The local people, the Ma'dan (Marsh Arabs), are ethnologically and culturally distinct, and have lived in the area for at least 5,000 years. Fishing and wildfowl hunting are a major part of the local economy, and there is considerable dependence on reeds for forage for domestic buffalo, for house building and for the construction of floating islands for villages.

Key biodiversity
Haur Al Hammar and its associated marshes comprise one of the most important areas for waterfowl in the Middle East, both in terms of numbers of birds and diversity of species. The vast reedbeds provide breeding habitat for a wide variety of resident species, while in winter the haur attracts huge numbers of migratory waterfowl. Koning and Dijksen (1973) visited the wetland at various points in December 1972 -- near the villages of Hammar and Fuhud and at three localities east of Nasiriya -- and confirmed that this was the most important wintering area for waterfowl in Iraq. Carp visited the east end of the haur and Haur Aluwez in January 1972, while Carp and Scott visited the east end, the south-western shore, Haur Aluwez, the west end near Nasiriya and the Fuhud and Hammar areas in January 1979. P. Ctyroký made some waterfowl counts in the area in 1979. The entire area was listed by Carp (1980) as a wetland of international importance.

In general, the large open areas of water are too deep for most species of wintering waterfowl other than pelicans, diving ducks, Fulica atra, gulls and terns. The vast and almost unbroken reedbeds of Typha and Phragmites probably support large breeding populations of species such as Nycticorax nycticorax, Ardeola ralloides, Ardea purpurea, Gallinula chloropus, Porphyrio porphyrio and Fulica atra, as well as smaller numbers of Anser anser, but there is very little information on breeding species, and that which exists dates mostly from the 1920s or before. The broad, muddy shoreline along the southern edge of the main Haur Al Hammar provides excellent habitat for shorebirds, while sedge marshes and marsh-edge habitat to the east and west of the main haur are particularly suitable for herons, egrets, Platalea leucorodia, Plegadis falcinellus, dabbling ducks and some shorebirds. Moist arable land, irrigation ponds and rain-water pools on the surrounding plains provide excellent feeding areas for geese, dabbling ducks, Grus grus and many shorebirds. The site supports large numbers of wintering birds of prey, including Circus aeruginosus (185) and Aquila clanga (8). Passerines wintering in large numbers include Anthus spinoletta, Luscinia svecica, Lanius isabellinus and Passer hispaniolensis. There is almost no ornithological information from spring and autumn, but the site is likely to be equally as important for migratory waterfowl in these seasons as in winter. Flocks of up to 800 Phalaropus lobatus have been seen on Haur Al Hammar in late spring.

Portions of this vast wetland which are or were of special importance for waterfowl include the following (comments on present status are based on study of a Landsat image from August 1992).

Eastern end of Haur Al Hammar (30°35'N 47°45'E) The eastern end of Haur Al Hammar near its outlet comprised a vast expanse of shallow, open water with fringing reedbeds and reed islands. This area was especially important for ducks and Fulica atra: over 30,000 were present in January 1979. Much of this area has now been drained.

Haur Aluwez (30°30'N 47°35'E) This comprised the vast marshlands and open water areas in the south-east. Haur Aluwez was especially important for pelicans, diving ducks and coots. The 1975 survey recorded 1,300 pelicans in this area; the 1979 survey found over 40,000 ducks, mainly Aythya fuligula, and 73,000 Fulica atra, as well as large numbers of shorebirds and gulls. Much of this area has now been drained.

South-west shore of Haur Al Hammar (30°40'N 46°55E) The extensive mudflats which stretch for over 50 km along the south-western shore of the haur provide excellent habitat for shorebirds. Over 8,000 shorebirds, mainly Charadrius alexandrinus, Calidris minuta and C. alpina, were recorded along a short stretch of this habitat in January 1979. Of particular interest were six Numenius tenuirostris. Some of this area has now been drained.

Fuhud and Hammar area (30°57'N 46°46'E) The extensive reedbeds and open water areas in the region of Fuhud and Hammar villages in the north-west are especially important for pelicans and dabbling ducks. The 1979 survey recorded over 1,500 pelicans and 30,000 dabbling duck in this area, along with a day roost of about 1,000 Nycticorax nycticorax.

Nasiriya Marshes (31°00'N 46°25'E) These permanent and temporary marshes in dead branches of the Euphrates near Nasiriya are a continuation of the main Haur Al Hammar marshes to the east. They are important for a wide variety of waterfowl, notably herons, egrets and dabbling ducks.

Non-bird biodiversity: Mammals: Canis lupus (V), Lutra perspicillata (K; the subspecies L. p. maxwelli is endemic to the marshes and endangered), Gerbillus mesopotamiae (endemic), Erythronesokia bunnii (endemic).

Data-sheets compiled by Dr Hanna Y. Siman, Dr D. A. Scott and Pavel Ctyroky.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Haur Al Hammar. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/site/factsheet/haur-al-hammar-iba-iraq on 22/09/2023.