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  • Akhshigan About Iran
    Code: 30
    Wild life
    Despite the fact that large portions of the country are arid to semi-arid, Iran possesses a very rich and diverse bird fauna; over 490 species are known to have occurred


    1. Description of the Iranian bird fauna.

    Despite the fact that large portions of the country are arid to semi-arid, Iran possesses a very rich and diverse bird fauna; over 490 species are known to have occurred. Two main factors are responsible for this; the great range of habitats—from permanent snows to deep deserts and from lush deciduous forest in the north to palm groves and mangroves in the south—and Iran’s position at a crossroads between three major faunal regions. The bulk of the country lies within the Palearctic faunal region, which stretches from Europe and North Africa across north and central Asia to the Soviet Far East and Japan. Lying along the southern edge of this region, Iran’s bird fauna includes a large Western Palearctic faunal element, reaching its eastern extremity in the central Alborz and Zagros mountains, and a smaller, but still marked, Eastern Palearctic element, which extends into northeastern Iran in the highlands of Khorasan. In a number of cases, western and eastern forms—either closely related species or well differen­tiated subspecies of a single species—come together with a narrow zone of hybridization in the central Alborz; e.g., the wheatears Oenanthe hispanica and O. ples­chanka, the buntings Emberiza melanocephala and E. bruniceps, and the green-backed and gray-backed forms of the great tit Parus major (Haffer). In southern Iran, two other faunal regions have a pronounced influence on the avifauna: the Oriental region in the southeast, and the Afrotropical (Ethiopian) in the southwest.

    Of 324 breeding species, 131 occur widely in the Palearctic region, 81 are Western Palearctic species, reaching the easternmost extremities of their ranges in Iran, while 19 are typically Eastern Palearctic species, reaching the westernmost tip of their ranges in Iran. A further 25 species are characteristic of the great Saharo-­Sindian desert belt which stretches along the southern edge of the Palearctic region from North Africa through the Middle East to Mongolia, while another 24 are Palearctic species with restricted ranges in the Middle East. The bird fauna of southern Persian Baluchistan and the southern Persian Gulf coast is predominantly Oriental, with some 29 breeding species of Oriental origin reaching the northwestern extremities of their ranges in Iran, while in southwestern Iran there is a small Afrotropical influence with six breeding species of African origin. Finally, there are nine species of sea-bird and shorebird of the Indian Ocean, which breed on islands in the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormoz.

    Eight major habitat types may be identified, each with its own characteristic bird fauna:

    True desert and semidesert. The desert environment occurs throughout the central desert basin from the region of Tehran through the great Dašt-e Kavīr and Dašt-e Lūt deserts to the Jāz Mūrīān basin in central Baluchistan and locally along the southern coastal lowlands from northwestern Ḵūzestān to Baluchistan. Rather few species occur in true desert, and densities are very low, but most of those species which have become adapted to this hostile environment have large ranges both in Iran and in the southern Palearctic as a whole. Examples include: Houbara bustard Chlamydotis un­dulata, cream-colored courser Cursorius cursor, spotted and coronated sandgrouse Pterocles senegallus and P. coronatus, desert and bartailed desert lark Ammomanes deserti and A. cincturus, hoopoe lark Alaemon alaudipes, desert warbler Sylvia nana, desert wheatear Oenanthe deserti, hooded wheatear O. monacha, and trumpeter finch Rhodopechys githaginea. Although Iran possesses no true endemic species, one species, Pleske’s ground jay Podoces pleskei, which occurs widely in the deserts of central and eastern Iran, is almost confined to the country, and is known elsewhere only from extreme western Pakistan.

    Semiarid steppe of the desert rim and foothills. Much of Iran’s land surface, lying between 1,500 and 2,000 m in elevation and with an annual rainfall of between 100 and 300 mm, supports a steppe vegetation dominated by the low shrub Artemisia herba-alba. Large tracts have been modified by man, either through the grazing of domestic animals or irrigation and cultivation, particularly for cereals. The resulting patchwork is now the home of many of Iran’s commonest and most widespread birds. Characteristic species include: long­-legged buzzard Buteo rufinus, Eurasian kestrel Falco tinnunculus, black-bellied sandgrouse Pterocles orientalis, roller Coracias garrulus, bee-eater Merops apiaster, several species of lark alaudidae, including the ubiqui­tous crested lark Galerida cristala, isabelline wheatear Oenanthe isabellina, and black-headed bunting.

    High mountains. The alpine zones of the Alborz and Zagros mountains and the higher peaks of mountain ranges in Azerbaijan, Khorasan, Kermān, and Baluchistan provinces support a montane fauna—the so-­called Paleomontane fauna—typical of all high moun­tain ranges from the Pyrenees and Alps in western Europe to the Himalayas. Characteristic species include: golden eagle Aquila chrysaetos, bearded vulture Gypaetus barbatus, alpine swift Apus melba, crag martin Hirundo rupestris, horned lark Eremophila alpestris, alpine chough Pyrrhocorax graculus, alpine accentor Prunella collaris, rock thrush Monticola saxatilis, black redstart Phoenicurus ochruros, wall creeper Tichodroma muraria, and snow finch Montifringilla nivalis. The Caspian snowcock Tetraogallus caspius, which is con­fined to high mountain ranges in Turkey and Iran, is still locally common on the highest peaks in the Alborz and Zagros.

    Forests and woodland. Although of rather limited extent, Iran’s forested regions possess a very rich bird fauna, which is largely Western Palearctic in affinities. The luxuriant forests of northern Azerbaijan and the south Caspian region have a bird fauna scarcely different from that of a central European woodland, with common species including: wood pigeon Columba pa­lumbus, green woodpecker Picus viridis, great spotted woodpecker Dendrocopos major, tree pipit Anthus trivialis, red-backed shrike Lanius collurio, jay Garrulus glandarius, wren Troglodytes troglodytes, dunnock Prunella modularis, blackcap Sylvia atricapilla, icterine warbler Hippolais icterina, robin Erithacus rubecula, nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos, several species of thrush Turdus sp., several species of tit Parus sp. and chaffinch Fringilla coelebs. The drier and more open oak woodlands of the western Zagros lack some of the true forest species and have a Mediterranean element which includes species such as Syrian woodpecker Dendro­copos syriacus, masked shrike Lanius nubicus, black-­eared wheatear, somber tit Parus lugubris, and cin­ereous bunting Emberiza cineracea. In the even drier mixed pistachio, sycamore, and almond woodlands of the eastern Zagros, the Kermān highlands, and isolated mountains in northern Baluchistan, only a handful of Western Palearctic species occur. Characteristic birds here include a mixture of Middle Eastern specialties ­e.g., white-throated robin Irania gutturalis and plain leaf warbler Phylloscopus neglectus, Eastern Palearctic species, e.g., isabelline shrike Lanius isabellinus and Hume’s lesser whitethroat Sylvia (curruca) althaea, Oriental species, e.g., bay-backed shrike Lanius vittatus, and Western Palearctic species at the extreme edge of their ranges, e.g., wood pigeon, nightingale, and blackbird Turdus merula. Finally, throughout the remoter mountain ranges of Iran there still exist good stands of juniper forest with specialties such as gold-fronted serin Serinus pusillus and, in the northeast, white-winged grosbeak Mycerobas carnipes.

    The hot southern lowlands. The arid tropical climate of the southern coastal lowlands supports a flora and fauna quite unlike that of the rest of Iran. From northwestern Ḵūzestān to eastern Persian Baluchistan, open park-like stands of Acacia, Prosopis, and Tamarix and extensive date-palm groves provide suitable habitat for a variety of Oriental/Afrotropical species, such as palm dove Streptopelia senegalensis, indian roller Coracias benghalensis, little green bee-eater Merops orientalis, white-eared bulbul Pycnonotus leucotis, graceful prinia Prinia gracilis, common babbler Turdoides caudatus, purple sunbird Nectarinia asiatica and yellow-throated sparrow Petronia xanthocollis. A num­ber of species of Oriental origin, such as Indian sand lark Calandrella raytal, common mynah Acridotheres tristis, and Sind jungle sparrow Passer pyrrhonotus, are confined to extreme southeast Persian Baluchistan, while several others extend only as far west as the Bandar-e ʿAbbās region, e.g., white-eyed buzzard-eagle Butastur teesa, Indian gray partridge Francolinus pondicerianus, and Sind pied woodpecker Dendrocopos as­similis. In the west, the riverine poplar thickets and marsh edge habitat of Ḵūzestān hold several specialties, such as gray hypocolius Hypocolius ampelinus, Iraq babbler Turdoides altirostris, and Dead Sea sparrow Passer moabiticus.

    The wetlands. Although much of Iran is extremely dry, there are several very extensive wetland systems of great importance for a wide variety of waterfowl species. The south Caspian Sea, its 700 km of sandy shoreline, and the fresh-water lakes, marshes, and brackish lagoons in central Gīlān, the Gorgān Bay area, and the Turkoman steppes provide a complex of breeding and wintering areas for waterfowl almost unequaled in the Western Palearctic. The region is best known for its wintering waterfowl and the traditional commercial duck-harvesting which this has supported (Savage, pp. 30-46). Regular censuses in recent years have estimated the mid-winter population of ducks, geese, swans, and coots at well over a million birds, with perhaps as many birds again occurring on passage in spring and autumn. In addition, there are large winter­ing populations of Dalmatian pelicans Pelecanus cris­pus, greater flamingos Phoenicopterus ruber, grebes Podicipedidae, herons and egrets Ardeidae, shorebirds Charadriidae and Scolopacidae, and gulls Laridae. During the spring and autumn migration seasons, large numbers of shorebirds pass through the south Caspian on their way between breeding grounds in the Arctic and wintering grounds in the Persian Gulf and East and South Africa, and in summer the marshes teem with breeding cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo, herons, egrets, gallinules including purple gallinule Porphyrio porphyrio, and whiskered terns Chlidonias hybrida.

    The other major wetland areas in Iran are hardly any less spectacular. The wetlands of the Reżāʾīya (Urmia) basin in Azerbaijan, centered on the very large and highly saline Lake Urmia, support large breeding colonies of waterfowl, notably greater flamingo (20,000 to 25,000 pairs), white pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus (1,000 to 1,600 pairs), spoonbill Platalea leucorodia, glossy ibis Plegadis falcinellus, white stork Ciconia ciconia, shelduck and ruddy shelduck Tadorna tadorna and T. ferruginea, avocet Recurvirostra avosetta, black-­winged stilt Himantopus himantopus, and herring and slender-billed gulls Larus argentatus and L. genei. The wetlands are extremely important for passage shore­birds and in mild winters can hold over 50,000 winter­ing ducks and geese.

    The flood plains of the Dez, Kārūn, and Karḵa rivers in Ḵūzestān, the complex of fresh, brackish, and saline lakes at the inland delta of the Helmand river in Sīstān, on the Afghan border, and the network of fresh and saline lakes in central Fārs, particularly Lake Baḵtagān, Lake Tašk, Lake Mahārlū, Lake Parīšān, and the Dašt-e Arjan marshes all provide habitat for many hundreds of thousands of wintering waterfowl. In addition to a wide range of ducks, geese, and shorebirds, these wetlands are particularly important for wintering white pelican (Fārs and Sīstān), sacred ibis Threskiornis aethiopicus (Ḵūzestān), white stork (Ḵūzestān and Fārs), greater flamingo (Fārs), and common crane Grus grus (all three areas). In years of good rainfall, wetlands in all three regions can be of great importance for breeding waterfowl, particularly herons, egrets, spoon­bill, glossy ibis, red-wattled lapwing Vanellus indicus, white-tailed plover Vanellus leucurus, and collared pratincole Glareola pratincola.

    Coastal habitats of the Persian Gulf and Makrān coast. The tidal mud-flats, mangrove swamps, sandy beaches, rocky shores, and sea-cliffs of Iran’s south coast support a variety of breeding and wintering waterfowl and sea-birds. Breeding species include crab plover Dromas ardeola, great stone plover Esacus recurvirostris (only in the east), several species of herons and egrets such as Indian pond heron Ardeola grayii, western reef heron Egretta gularis and goliath heron Ardea goliath (in mangroves), and several species of terns Sterna sp. Wintering species include Dalmatian pelican, cormorant, spoonbill, osprey Pandion haliaetus, white-tailed eagle Haliaeetus albicilla, many shorebirds notably oyster-catcher Haematopus ostra­legus, bar-tailed godwit Limosa lapponica, curlew Numenius arquata and plovers of the genus Charadrius, and a variety of skuas Stercorarius sp., gulls Larus sp., and terns Sterna sp.

    Offshore islands. The many small and uninhabited islands in the Persian Gulf and straits of Hormoz provide ideal breeding grounds for large colonies of sea­birds. The main species are great crested tern Sterna bergii, lesser crested tern S. bengalensis, white-checked tern S. repressa, and bridled tern S. anaethetus, but small colonies of red-billed tropic-bird Phaethon aethereus, socotra cormorant Phalacrocorax nigrogularis, and saunders’ little tern Sterna saundersi have been found, and the Persian shearwater Puffinus lherminieri persicus probably breeds.

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