Acrocephalus griseldis 

Scope: Global

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Aves Passeriformes Sylviidae

Scientific Name: Acrocephalus griseldis
Species Authority: (Hartlaub, 1891)
Common Name(s):
English Basra Reed-warbler, Basra Reed-Warbler, Basra Reed Warbler
French Rousserolle de Basra
Taxonomic Source(s): AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: # _the_WP15.xls#.
Identification information: 18 cm. Large, rather dull reed-warbler. Upperparts dark brown and underparts mostly whitish, flanks creamy yellow. Head pattern strong with whitish supercilium and contrasting dark eyestripe. Similar spp. Best told from Great Reed-warbler A. arundinaceus by more slender, Long pointed bill, lower mandible is paler and often pinkish contrasting with the upper mandible, shorter less graduated tail, lack of rufous tones in plumage and paler underparts. Best told from Clamorous Reed-warbler A. stentoreus by its greater primary extension and the fact that the exposed primaries have pale fringes. Voice Male's song is kaka-kee, kaka-kee, kaka-kee. Call is a harsh chaarr.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered A2c+3c+4c ver 3.1
Year Published: 2012
Date Assessed: 2012-05-01
Assessor(s): BirdLife International
Reviewer(s): Taylor, J. & Butchart, S.
Contributor(s): Backhurst, G., Callaghan, D., Evans, M., Pearson, D. & Scott, D.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Benstead, P., Capper, D., Evans, M., Mahood, S., O'Brien, A., Shutes, S., Symes, A., Temple, H.
This species is listed as Endangered because it has a small population which is estimated to be undergoing very rapid and continuing declines owing to extensive, and recently accelerating, drainage of its breeding habitat. Population declines are corroborated by an apparent decline in numbers trapped on migration at a ringing station.

Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Acrocephalus griseldis breeds in the Mesopotamian marshes of south-east Iraq (between Baghdad and Basra, though also observed in 2006 close to the Tigris north of Baghdad) (Maltby 1994; O. Fadhel in litt. 2007) and probably in south-west Iran in the Hawr Al Hawizeh marsh complex of Khuzestan (D. Scott in litt. 2003), two pairs have recently been found breeding in the Hula Valley, Israel (Shanni and Labinger 2007). It winters in Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, south Somalia, south-east Kenya (Urban et al. 1997), east Tanzania, south Malawi (few records) and Mozambique. It is regular on passage in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait (where it may breed) (Porter et al. 1996), and one in Syria in April 2006 was most likely a migrant (Yésou et al. 2007). Although presumably still common in the breeding habitat that remains (Maltby 1994), and thought now to be common locally due to re-flooding of the marshes following the fall of Saddam's government, there was massive loss of its shallow, marshy wetland habitat within its breeding range since the 1950s. The maximum area of suitable habitat that is estimated to remain within the main Mesopotamian marshlands is 759 km2 (c.7% of the original marshland area, as of the mid-1970s) (UNEP 2003). At Ngulia ringing station (Kenya), the average decadal ringing total for this species has been declining over the last three decades relative to the average decadal total for all Palearctic passerine migrants (by c.20% per decade) (D. Pearson in litt. 2003). This suggests that a decline of up to 70-80% may have taken place since the 1970s (D. Scott in litt. 2003; M. Evans in litt. 2003). However, the ringing methodology has changed somewhat during this period (D. Pearson verbally 2000, in litt. 2003) and even fewer birds might be expected in Kenya given the very high rate of destruction of the Mesopotamian marshes (D. Pearson in litt. 2003). Following the regeneration of habitat in southern Iraq, surveys indicate that the species increased between 2006 and 2007 (O. Fadhel in litt. 2007), and a total of 180 birds ringed at Ngulia in November-December 2005 was the second highest annual total at the site (R. Porter in litt. 2006), however it is as yet uncertain  whether the species has undergone a genuine recovery.

Countries occurrence:
Ethiopia; Iran, Islamic Republic of; Iraq; Israel; Kenya; Kuwait; Malawi; Mozambique; Saudi Arabia; Somalia; South Sudan; Sudan; Tanzania, United Republic of; Uganda
Botswana; Egypt; Syrian Arab Republic
Additional data:
Continuing decline in area of occupancy (AOO):Yes
Extreme fluctuations in area of occupancy (AOO):NoEstimated extent of occurrence (EOO) - km2:90800
Continuing decline in extent of occurrence (EOO):YesExtreme fluctuations in extent of occurrence (EOO):No
Continuing decline in number of locations:Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in the number of locations:No
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:The population is estimated to number 2,500-9,999 individuals based on an assessment of known records, descriptions of abundance and range size. This is consistent with recorded population density estimates for congeners or close relatives with a similar body size, and the fact that only a proportion of the estimated Extent of Occurrence is likely to be occupied. This estimate is equivalent to 1,667-6,666 mature individuals, rounded here to 1,500-7,000 mature individuals.

Trend Justification:  A very rapid and ongoing population decline is estimated from declines in ringing records of migrating birds, as well as the loss of the species's marshland breeding habitat.
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Number of mature individuals:1500-7000Continuing decline of mature individuals:Yes
Extreme fluctuations:NoPopulation severely fragmented:No
No. of subpopulations:1Continuing decline in subpopulations:Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in subpopulations:NoAll individuals in one subpopulation:Yes
No. of individuals in largest subpopulation:100

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Acrocephalus griseldis breeds in aquatic vegetation in or around shallow fresh or brackish water, still or flowing, mostly in Typha beds, although it forages extensively in adjacent dense reedbeds Phragmites austoralis (O. Fadhel in litt. 2007). Newly fledged birds are often observed feeding in Typha along the dry edge of marshes and also in adjacent Tamarix scrub (O. Fadhel in litt. 2007). It is found in low reeds above water, mangroves and gardens on migration, whilst in winter it has been recorded in dense Typha beds, coastal dense Suaeda monoica saltbushes, moist dense green thickets with tall rank grass and sedges near or over wet or drying ditches, swamps, lakes and flood pools and occasionally in herbaceous woodland undergrowth Walther et al 2004). It occurs mostly singly or in pairs, but during migration it has been recorded in loose groups (Baker 1997).

Systems:Terrestrial; Freshwater
Continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat:Yes
Generation Length (years):4.4
Movement patterns:Full Migrant

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Since the 1950s there has been considerable loss of its shallow, marshy wetland habitat due to large-scale hydrological projects throughout the Euphrates and Tigris river-basins (Maltby 1994). The Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) resulted in extensive damage to reedbeds in the main Mesopotamian marshes in southern Iraq (Maltby 1994). In the 1980s, the construction of upstream dams smoothed out the annual flood pulse from the Zagros Mountains snow-melt which until then was probably an important factor affecting reedbed distribution and growth from year to year (D. Pearson in litt. 2003; M. Evans in litt. 2003; G. Backhurst in litt. 2003). Large-scale hydrological engineering works in the main Mesopotamian marshes had, by 1993, prevented water from entering up to two-thirds of the area, with huge expanses of lake drying up (Evans 1993; Pearce 1993). Improvement in access to the region, with consequent increases in settlement, has resulted in increased disturbance and water pollution (Maltby 1994). Until 1997 perhaps as much as one third of the original extent of suitable habitat remained on the Iran-Iraq border where the dominant water supply to the area (unregulated rivers from Iran) had not yet been controlled or reduced (Maltby 1994). By 2000, however, the main Mesopotamian marshes had been reduced to just 1,294 km2 (UNEP 2003), and by 2003 a further third of this area had been drained, leaving a maximum of 759 km2 of wetland extant (UNEP 2003). The amount of suitable reedbed habitat within this wetland area is probably significantly smaller (M. Evans in litt. 2003). Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq a major project aiming to restore the marshes began, and as of late 2006 58% of the original marshes had been reinundated. However, recent drought and continued upstream dam construction and operation in Turkey, Syria and Iran have reduced the marshes to around 30% of their original size by 2009 (Anon. 2012). The 130,000 ha Tana River Delta in Kenya, a key wintering site, is threatened by large-scale conversion for agriculture (food and biofuels), including Kenyan based organisations wanting to establish huge sugar cane plantations on over 70,000 ha of land, companies from Canada and the UK wanting to grow oil seed crops on over 60,000 ha, possible mining in the sand dunes and prospecting for oil and gas. Kenya's National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) approved these projects after considering their Environmental Impact Assessments, and if they go ahead they will convert an area of over 110,000 ha into plantations (RSPB 2012). In 2011 a high level meeting resulted in the launch of the Tana Delta planning initiative, with the process to take place ofver the forthcoming 18 months and the output to be a long-term strategic land use plan representing a 'truly sustainable' future to the Delta, informed by Strategic Environmental Assessment (RSPB 2012).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Conservation Actions Underway
CMS Appendix II. The population in Israel is being monitored intensely and the population in the Lower Marshes of Iraq is also subject to a monitoring program. A large-scale restoration of the Mesopotamian marshes began following the 2003 invasion and successfully reinundated large areas of habitat, however these successes are now threatened by drought and upstream dam projects.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Confirm whether Acrocephalus griseldis breeds in the marshes of Khuzestan, Iran (D. Scott in litt. 2003; M. Evans in litt. 2003). Continue to monitor migrating birds at Ngulia (Kenya) to assess population trends (D. Scott in litt. 2003; D. Pearson in litt. 2003); M. Evans in litt. 2003. Conduct surveys to assess whether the species now breeds in sub-optimal habitats, e.g. further up the Euphrates/Tigris north of Baghdad (M. Evans in litt. 2003). Investigate possibilities for habitat restoration.

Classifications [top]

2. Savanna -> 2.1. Savanna - Dry
suitability:Suitable season:non-breeding major importance:No
3. Shrubland -> 3.6. Shrubland - Subtropical/Tropical Moist
suitability:Suitable season:non-breeding major importance:Yes
5. Wetlands (inland) -> 5.1. Wetlands (inland) - Permanent Rivers/Streams/Creeks (includes waterfalls)
suitability:Suitable season:breeding major importance:No
5. Wetlands (inland) -> 5.5. Wetlands (inland) - Permanent Freshwater Lakes (over 8ha)
suitability:Suitable season:breeding major importance:Yes
5. Wetlands (inland) -> 5.7. Wetlands (inland) - Permanent Freshwater Marshes/Pools (under 8ha)
suitability:Suitable season:breeding major importance:No
5. Wetlands (inland) -> 5.9. Wetlands (inland) - Freshwater Springs and Oases
suitability:Suitable season:passage major importance:No
5. Wetlands (inland) -> 5.13. Wetlands (inland) - Permanent Inland Deltas
suitability:Suitable season:breeding major importance:Yes
5. Wetlands (inland) -> 5.16. Wetlands (inland) - Permanent Saline, Brackish or Alkaline Marshes/Pools
suitability:Suitable season:breeding major importance:No
15. Artificial/Aquatic & Marine -> 15.1. Artificial/Aquatic - Water Storage Areas (over 8ha)
suitability:Suitable season:passage major importance:No
15. Artificial/Aquatic & Marine -> 15.6. Artificial/Aquatic - Wastewater Treatment Areas
suitability:Suitable season:passage major importance:No
15. Artificial/Aquatic & Marine -> 15.9. Artificial/Aquatic - Canals and Drainage Channels, Ditches
suitability:Suitable season:breeding major importance:No
2. Land/water management -> 2.3. Habitat & natural process restoration

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
  Action Recovery plan:No
  Systematic monitoring scheme:Yes
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
  Conservation sites identified:Yes, over entire range
  Occur in at least one PA:Yes
  Invasive species control or prevention:No
In-Place Species Management
  Successfully reintroduced or introduced beningly:No
  Subject to ex-situ conservation:No
In-Place Education
  Subject to recent education and awareness programmes:No
  Included in international legislation:Yes
  Subject to any international management/trade controls:No
1. Residential & commercial development -> 1.1. Housing & urban areas
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Majority (50-90%) ♦ severity:Slow, Significant Declines  
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

3. Energy production & mining -> 3.3. Renewable energy
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Majority (50-90%) ♦ severity:Rapid Declines  
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

6. Human intrusions & disturbance -> 6.3. Work & other activities
♦ timing:Past, Unlikely to Return ♦ scope:Majority (50-90%) ♦ severity:No decline  
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.2. Species disturbance

7. Natural system modifications -> 7.2. Dams & water management/use -> 7.2.1. Abstraction of surface water (domestic use)
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Majority (50-90%) ♦ severity:Rapid Declines  
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

1. Research -> 1.2. Population size, distribution & trends

Bibliography [top]

Anon. 2012. Mesopotamian Marshes. Available at: (Accessed: 22/3/2012).

Baker, K. 1997. Warblers of Europe, Asia and North Africa. Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Evans, M. I. 1993. Iraq marshes doomed. Ornithological Society of the Middle East, Bulletin 31: 28-29.

IUCN. 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (ver. 2012.1). Available at: (Accessed: 19 June 2012).

Maltby, E. 1994. An environmental and ecological study of the marshlands of Mesopotamia. AMAR Appeal Trust, Exeter, U.K.

Pearce, F. 1993. Draining life from Iraq's marshes. New Scientist 138(1869; 17 April 1993): 11-12.

Porter, R.F., Christensen, S. and Schiermacker-Hansen, P. 1996. Poyser, London, UK.

RSPB. 2012. Tana River Delta. Available at: (Accessed: 22/3/2012).

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). 2003. Environment in Iraq: UNEP Progress Report. .

Urban, E. K.; Fry, C. H.; Keith, S. 1997. The birds of Africa vol. V. Academic Press, London.

Walther, B. A.; Wisz, M.S.; Rahbek, C. 2004. Known and predicted African winter distributions and habitat use of the endangered Basra Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus griseldis) and the near-threatened Cinereous Bunting (Emberiza cineracea). Journal of Ornithology 45: 287-299.

Yésou, P.; Flohart, G.; Murdoch, D. 2007. First record of Basra Reed Warbler Acrocephalus griseldis for Syria. Sandgrouse 29(2): 214-215.

Citation: BirdLife International. 2012. Acrocephalus griseldis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T22714757A38006885. . Downloaded on 05 December 2016.
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