The entire valley of the River Euphrates (Al-Furat), from its entry from Turkey at 36°49'N 38°02'E to its exit into Iraq at 34°29'N 40°56'E, apart from Buhayrat al-Assad (see site 007) and Baath Lake (see site 008). The valley lies 80–250 m below the surrounding plains, varying in width from 2 to 12 km. The river still flows in its original bed and is rich in islands, meanders, pools, oxbow lakes, alluvial cliffs, gravel pits and silted old water courses where the river has shifted, many of these being covered in Phragmites reedbeds. The water level used to flood 3–4 m higher in spring than in autumn, due to snow-melt in the Turkish uplands, but the completion during the last decade of several large dams in Turkey has now greatly reduced this annual flood. Natural vegetation includes riverine thickets of Populus euphratica, Tamarix, Salix and Typha. Intensive agriculture is carried out along its banks in 'mazara', vast areas of irrigated cotton and cereals with orchards and plantations of Populus and Pinus halepensis. The heavily cultivated steppe of the Jazirah region lies to the east and the Syrian Desert to the south-west. Gravel extraction occurs locally.
See box for key species. An excellent diversity of breeding, wintering and passage waterfowl occur. Only three small sites in this huge area have recently been investigated ornithologically in any detail: (1) Shumaytiyah (35°28'N 39°59'E, 50 ha), an oxbow lake c.20 km north-west of Dayr al-Zawr, sandwiched between the Al-Raqqah to Dayr al-Zawr road and a 50 m cliff; (2) Mayadin Pool (35°00'N 39°28'E, 300 ha), a shallow pool between the Euphrates and the Dayr al-Zawr–Abu Kamal road, 2 km south-east of Mayadin; and (3) Halabiyat Zulbiyat, c.40 km north-west of Dayr al-Zawr, on the right bank of the river. Breeding species include Tachybaptus ruficollis (c.500 birds at Shumaytiyah), Tadorna ferruginea, Porphyrio porphyrio (possible), Vanellus spinosus, V. leucurus, Chlidonias hybridus, Pterocles alchata, Merops superciliosus, M. apiaster and Riparia riparia. Important wintering species include Tachybaptus ruficollis (c.2,000 at Shumaytiyah), Ciconia nigra (c.30 at Shumaytiyah), Anser albifrons (350 at Mayadin); 3,500 and 2,375 waterfowl were recorded at Shumaytiyah and Mayadin respectively in the January 1993 International Waterfowl Census. There are good numbers of wintering birds of prey such as Circus macrourus and Asio flammeus on the surrounding steppe. Passage migrants in large numbers include Ciconia ciconia, Himantopus himantopus, Glareola pratincola, Charadrius dubius, Philomachus pugnax, Tringa stagnatilis, T. hypoleucos, Sterna hirundo and Chlidonias hybridus. The few observations indicate that the valley is also a very important migration route for several non-waterbird species, including Streptopelia turtur (hundreds of thousands gather on the islands in the river in spring and autumn) and Lanius minor (abundant, May). The site was listed as a wetland of international importance by Carp (1980).
Non-bird biodiversity: Mammals: Canis lupus (V) and Gazella subgutturosa (rare).
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The river flow has been reduced during the last decade as newly completed large dams upstream in Turkey continue to fill, and further dams are under construction. Once the associated irrigation projects planned for these dams are constructed and begin functioning, the river flow will be diminished further. Other problems (despite the efforts of the authorities) include illegal tree-cutting (for fuelwood), agricultural expansion into semi-natural riparian habitats, and illegal and irresponsible hunting. There is much human disturbance of birds locally.
Data-sheets compiled by: Dr Ibrahim Hanna and Dr Amer Majid Agha (Shumaytiyah; Halabiyat Zulbiyat; Huwaijat al-Mayadhin) (translated by S. Zaiane); Dr Marco Masseti (Raqqa; Deir ez Zor).
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Euphrates valley. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 31/03/2023.