Iraq Babbler Argya altirostris


Justification of Red List Category
Although this species may have a restricted range, it is not believed to 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 stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size has not been quantified, but it is not believed to 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.

Population justification
The global population size has not been quantified, but the species is described as locally common; common in Basra and Baghdad provinces of Iraq (del Hoyo et al. 2007). The European population is estimated at 50-100 pairs, which equates to 100-200 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015).

Trend justification
The population is suspected to be in decline due to the loss of marsh habitat as a result of flood-control, drainage and irrigation projects, and owing to increasing human settlement of the area. The tiny European population is estimated to be increasing (BirdLife International 2015).

Distribution and population

This species occurs from far southeastern Turkey across central Syria to southeast Iraq and adjacent southwest Iran.


This species occurs in the reedbeds of the Mesopotamian marshes, and is also found in rural habitats along rivers and irrigation canals (Stattersfield et al. 1998). It prefers dense reedbeds, palm groves, date gardens and poplar trees (Populus euphratica) lining waterways, adjacent cultivated fields and thickets. In Europe, it breeds from May and in central Iraq mainly between April and June. It is monogamous, with occasional cooperative breeding. The nest is a rather untidy deep cup of stems, lined with grass, dead leaves, rootlets, fibres, reeds and feathers. It is set in a leaf-sheltered fork of a tree (poplar, tamarisk) or in reeds. Clutches are three or four eggs. It feeds on invertebrates, mostly insects and spiders (Araneae). The species is resident (Collar and Robson 2016).


There has been considerable loss of wetlands within its range due to large-scale projects for flood control, drainage and irrigation (Maltby 1994). These apparently prevented water from entering up to two-thirds of the marshes during 1992-1993, and satellite images show huge areas drying up (Evans 1993, Pearce 1993). The Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) resulted in extensive burning, heavy bombing and the use of chemical weapons in the marshes (Stattersfield et al. 1998). The increase in settlement and improvement in access to the region has resulted in further disturbance, with levels of pollution increasing substantially through the use of insecticides (Stattersfield et al. 1998).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
Present in Mesopotamian Marshes EBA.

Conservation Actions Proposed
This species would likely benefit from the protection and preservation of its marshland habitat, including the restriction of access to important areas. In addition a ban on the widespread use of insecticides would assist recovery.


Text account compilers
Butchart, S., Fisher, S., Harding, M., Ashpole, J, Ekstrom, J.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Argya altirostris. Downloaded from on 06/12/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 06/12/2022.