Wintering shorebirds in Oman

A few of the 7,000 crab plovers counted in 2008

Barr al Hikman in the Sultanate of Oman is one of the largest coastal wetlands in the Middle East. The site encompasses a vast 148 square km of inter-tidal mudflats that attract, in winter, up to half a million birds, predominantly shorebirds (waders), gulls, terns, and herons (Birdlife International 2005). Many of these winter visitors are long-distance migrants that have their breeding grounds in northern latitudes, specifically the arctic tundra in Scandinavia and Siberia and the steppes in  Asia. In winter, Barr al Hikman hosts over 200,000 such European-Asian visitors, involving over 50 different species (Green et al. 1992, 1994; Eriksen 1996). Barr al Hikman is also an important wintering site for birds that breed locally in the Middle East, such as the crab plover. Finally, Barr al Hikman is believed to be an important stopover site for (shore) birds wintering in south-east Africa. It is estimated that about one million birds may visit Barr al Hikman on an annual basis, making it the single most important inter-tidal wetland area in the Middle East for migratory birds.

For not less than 16 species of shorebird more than 1% of the flyway population uses Barr al Hikman for wintering or stopover. It is one of the key sites in the Middle East – East African migratory flyway that directly connects arctic breeding grounds with tropical wintering sites. Although Barr al Hikman is recognized as an Important Bird Area (IBA), it has currently no protective status.

In the early 1990's the first count of shorebirds using Barr al Hikman by shorebirds was made (M. McGrady of NR was a member of the team that made that count).  In 2004 NR part funded a re-count of the area by the West Asian Shorebird Survey (WASS) to see if it had remained important and some 97,000 wintering shore birds were counted.
In January 2007 NR again part-funded a pilot visit to Barr al Hikman, supporting a WASS worker, Mick Green, and NRP's Andy Thorpe. They traveled to Oman and worked in conjunction with two Dutch scientists. That visit aimed to inititate more detailed studies of bird numbers, and prey availability and a larger ringing effort.  Following that visit, full-scale expeditions in 2008 and 2009 were undertaken involving Dutch, Swedish and British participants. The main aims of these were threefold: (i) to survey the number of wintering birds, with a special focus on shorebirds, (ii) to study food densities in different feeding habitats, and (iii) to attempt to establish the origin of the birds wintering in Barr al Hikman by ringing studies. A survey in April 2010 has been conducted on a more limited scale to cover the spring migration period.

Reports of those expeditions and further information are available from

van Roomen, M et al. 2014. Population estimate of Haematopus ostralegus longpipes based on non-breeding numbers in January. International Wader Studies 20: 41-46

A book ’Barr Al Hikman - Shorebird paradise in Oman' officially is launched as part of Oman’s 48th National Day celebrations, hosted by Shell Development Oman, Wetlands International  and the Minister of Environment and Climate Affairs.

Please use the link below to digitally read the book.

Photo: A. Thorpe  

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