Gizilagach State Reserve

Site description (2005 baseline):

Site location and context
Gizilagach Bay, an open bay connected to the Caspian, and Kichik (Little) Gizilagach Bay, which is a freshwater reservoir separated from the sea by an artificial dam and is greatly silted-up and overgrown. The relief is characterized by alternating low ridges, open hollows and ancient, silted-up channels. Emergent vegetation includes beds of Phragmites, Scirpus and Juncus. Adjacent, low-lying semi-desert areas with Artemisia, Salsola and dry scrub with Rubus.

Key biodiversity
The IBA holds the largest colonies of Ciconiiformes in Europe, though there has been a decline: from 225,000 pairs of 10 species in 1957 to c.60,000 pairs in the 1980s. Other breeding species include Botaurus stellaris, Ardea purpurea, Tadorna ferruginea, Himantopus himantopus, Chlidonias leucopterus, Merops superciliosus (500-700 pairs), and passerines such as Passer hispaniolensis (colonies of 500-10,000, once 70,000, nests). Until recently, an immensely important stop-over and wintering site, but waterbird numbers (ducks and Fulica atra) have fallen dramatically: from 10 million in 1930, to 5-7 million in the late 1950s, to 1,500,000 by the end of the 1960s, to 338,000-715,000 in the 1970s and to 200,000-400,000 at the beginning of the 1980s. A total of 50,000-170,000 diving ducks were reported during the mid-1980s (see also F. atra in Table), but total (ducks and F. atra) in 1989 only 40,000. In January 1991 there were 628,370 waterbirds (mostly wildfowl, but also 243,250 Fulica atra, 12,970 Phoenicopterus ruber, 1,750 Pelecanus), then in 1996 there were 180,000-362,000 waterbirds. Species of global conservation concern that do not meet IBA criteria: Haliaeetus albicilla, Aquila clanga (both winter). At least 19 species of shorebirds winter (e.g. 1,200 Recurvirostra avosetta in 1996) and large flocks of Alauda arvensis in 1996 contained many Melanocorypha leucoptera.

Non-bird biodiversity: There are more than 360 species of plants, 54 species of important fish species, 14 species of amphibians and reptiles and 23 species of mammals were found in the border of Reserve.

Habitat and land use
The fishing farm activity worked here in the past. Some cereals plantings took place on the territory of Reserve in the past with aim of additional feeding of birds in winter time.All type of land use is prohibited now on the territory of Reserve.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Removal of water for irrigation and regulation of water have created unfavourable conditions for waterbirds, with changes in the aquatic vegetation (submerged vegetation has changed since the 1960s with Potamogeton replacing Zostera). Outflow of water via many channels to the Caspian has led to the drying-out of habitats, causing birds to leave for Iran or the interior of Azerbaijan, while the rising sea-level may kill off freshwater habitats (`Other' threat). Water contaminated with pesticides flowing through the southern part of the reserve causes Tamarix thickets to dry out, thus threatening the colonies of Ciconiiformes, etc. there. Agricultural changes (from rice and grain to vegetables, grapes and cotton) have affected the availability of food for geese, but there are plans to improve the freshwater wintering sites for dabbling ducks, and fields have been sown with barley to attract the geese. The presence of fish-farms has adversely affected the surrounding steppe, which is now criss-crossed by channels, dams, and embankments and is gradually disappearing. In addition, there is disturbance and intensive hunting (several shots per minute in 1989), even involving reserve wardens and including the use of power-boats. This is largely subsistence hunting essential to local people (lots of shot or netted ducks and Fulica atra are sold at the roadside), but complete refuges for waterbirds are urgently needed (Lake Kara Gush in the north of the Zapovednik serves to some extent as such a refuge, its boggy shores making access difficult). There was no indication in the early 1990s that any conservation measures were being taken by the Azeri government to save Gizilagach. Significant spawning grounds of several fish species are situated at this site. The reserve was initially (in 1926) designated as a Zakaznik, then (in 1929) as a Zapovednik (of 180,000 ha, later reduced to 132,500 ha and finally to 88,360 ha); the rest is Sanctuary or unprotected.

Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
One of most studied sites in Azerbaijan in ornithological aspects. Scientific studies conducted since 1830 year. There are hundreds of literature sources for this site. Last years studies of Gizilagach are not regular, especially in breeding season.

Protected areas
National Partial International High88,360 ha of IBA covered by Natural State Reserve (Gizilagach, 88,360 ha): includes larger bay and northern section (5,000 ha) of smaller bay. Southern part of smaller bay partly protected as a Sanctuary (10,700 ha). 132,500 ha of IBA covered by Ramsar Site (Gizilagach Bays, 132,500 ha).

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Gizilagach State Reserve. Downloaded from on 21/09/2023.