Justification of Red List Category
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be increasing, thus it is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
The global population is estimated to number c.7,950,000-9,750,000 individuals (Wetlands International 2016). This roughly equates to 5,300,000-6,500,000 mature individuals. The European population is estimated at 945,000-1,550,000 pairs, which equates to 1,890,000-3,090,000 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015).
The overall population trend is increasing, although some populations are decreasing, stable, fluctuating or have unknown trends (Wetlands International 2016). In Europe, the population size is estimated to be decreasing and, although there is high uncertainty in the reported trends, the rate of decline is likely to approach 30% in 21 years (three generations) (BirdLife International 2015).
Behaviour Most populations in warm and temperate regions are resident, often making nomadic dispersive movements according to changing water levels and seasonal rainfall (Urban et al. 1986, del Hoyo et al. 1996). Populations in northern Eurasia are fully migratory however, migrating on a broad front through continental Europe and across the Sahara (Taylor and van Perlo 1998). Southward movements occur from mid-August to November, with the return passage occurring from late-February to May (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Taylor and van Perlo 1998). The species nests in dispersed solitary pairs, although it is largely gregarious with flocks (sometimes of several thousand individuals) frequently forming during the winter (Urban et al. 1986, del Hoyo et al. 1996, Snow and Perrins 1998, Taylor and van Perlo 1998). Adults undergo a post-breeding flightless moult period, with flocks of moulting birds congregating from June-September (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Snow and Perrins 1998, Taylor and van Perlo 1998). The species is diurnally active and roosts at sunset solitarily or in flocks (Taylor and van Perlo 1998). It may feed in flocks on land, especially when winds cause high waves on water (del Hoyo et al. 1996).
Habitat The species inhabits large, still or slow-flowing waters and shows a preference for shallow water with adjacent deeper water (e.g. > 2 m) for diving, and muddy substrates, marginal, emergent, floating or submergent vegetation (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Snow and Perrins 1998, Taylor and van Perlo 1998). Habitats include eutrophic and mesotrophic lakes, pools, ponds, reservoirs, barrages, gravel-pits, canals, drainage ditches, dykes, oxbow lakes, fish ponds, creeks, rivers and river deltas, as well as open marshes, freshwater meadows, flood-lands, freshwater and saline lagoons, salt-pans, clay-pans and sewage ponds (Urban et al. 1986, del Hoyo et al. 1996, Snow and Perrins 1998, Taylor and van Perlo 1998, Musil 2006). It frequently exploits temporary pools and seasonally inundated marshes when breeding (Africa), and may extend to quiet estuaries or inshore waters in the winter (Urban et al. 1986, del Hoyo et al. 1996). It generally avoids closely overgrown, narrowly confined and very shallow waters, and those overshadowed by trees or cliffs (Taylor and van Perlo 1998). If solitary, the species roosts at sunset on small islets, mudbanks, sandbanks, rocks in water, floating mats of vegetation, floating logs, or branches of trees over water, preferring to roost on open water, in shore vegetation or in meadows adjacent to water if in flocks (Taylor and van Perlo 1998).
Diet This species is omnivorous, although its diet consists primarily of vegetable matter such as algae (e.g. Chara, Cladophora, Spirogyra), the vegetative pasts of aquatic and terrestrial plants (e.g. waterweeds, bulrushes, reeds and grasses), the seeds of waterweeds, sedges, water-lilies, grasses and cereal crops, clubmoss Selaginella and aquatic fungi (e.g. Leptomitus) (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Taylor and van Perlo 1998). Animal matter in its diet includes molluscs, adult and larval insects (especially flies, caddisflies, Odonata, Lepidoptera, beetles and bugs), worms, leeches, shrimps, spiders, small fish, fish eggs, frogs, birds and bird eggs, and small mammals (Urban et al. 1986, del Hoyo et al. 1996, Taylor and van Perlo 1998).
Breeding site The nest is a platform of vegetation that may be resting on the bottom of shallow water, floating or on a foundation of trampled plant matter in emergent vegetation (del Hoyo et al. 1996). The species may also nest on artificial platforms, islands, rafts, tree stumps, tree forks or in bushes up to 3 m above the water (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Taylor and van Perlo 1998).
Management information A study in the Czech Republic found that fish ponds with a fish stock density of less than 400 kg/ha, water transparency of more than 50 cm, mixed fish stocks (e.g. tench and pike or perch) rather than monospecific stocks (e.g. of carp), and systems that include ponds with fish fry (to provide areas with low fish competition and high invertebrate availability) are more successful in supporting breeding pairs of this species (Musil 2006). The cyclical removal of adult fish from an artificial waterbody (gravel pit) in the UK (leaving small fish for piscivorous birds) resulted in increased winter use of the habitat by the species as result of an increase in the growth of submerged aquatic macrophytes (Giles 1994). The removed fish (dead or alive) were sold to generate funds (Giles 1994).
This species suffers disturbance and mortality (Azerbaijan) from hunting (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Evans and Day 2002), and is poisoned by ingesting lead shot (France) (Mondain-Monval et al. 2002). It is also threatened by oil and petroleum pollution (Azerbaijan (del Hoyo et al. 1996) and the Kaliningrad region, Russia (Grishanov 2006)), and by habitat degradation and loss due to agricultural drainage schemes (Pakistan) (Taylor and van Perlo 1998), wetland drainage, peat-extraction, changing wetland management practices (decreased grazing and mowing in meadows leading to scrub over-growth) and the burning and mowing of reeds (Grishanov 2006). The species is often drowned in freshwater fishing nets with mesh sizes greater than 5 cm (China) (Quan et al. 2002), and suffers predation from American mink Neovison vison (Slonsk Reserve, Poland (Bartoszewicz and Zalewski 2003) and UK (Ferreras and MacDonald 1999)). It is also susceptible to avian influenza, so may be threatened by future outbreaks of the virus (Melville and Shortridge 2006).
Utilisation The species is hunted for sport in the Mediterranean (Taylor and van Perlo 1998), Denmark (Bregnballe 2006), Northern Ireland (Evans and Day 2002) and Iran (Balmaki and Barati 2006), and for food in the Mediterranean (Taylor and van Perlo 1998), Iran (Balmaki and Barati 2006), India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and neighbouring countries (Taylor and van Perlo 1998), especially when it is flightless during the post-breeding moult (Taylor and van Perlo 1998).
Conservation Actions Underway
EU Birds Directive Annex II and III. The Mediterranean and Black Sea populations are on CMS Appendix II. The species is legally protected in Britain.
Conservation Actions Proposed
No conservation measures are currently needed for this species within its European range, although monitoring and research on the impacts of hunting, pollution and habitat alteration would help inform any future conservation measures.
Text account compilers
Ashpole, J, Malpas, L., Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J., Elliott, N.
BirdLife International (2019) Species factsheet: Fulica atra. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 16/12/2019. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2019) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 16/12/2019.