Migratory Eastern imperial eagles spotted in Al Marmoom Desert Conservation Reserve. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Dubai has upgraded itself from being a “stopover” point to “winter home” for thousands of migratory birds, thanks to the lush greenery in its deserts and lakes surrounding trees.

A leading wildlife specialist in Dubai has captured the presence of a large number of migratory birds throughout the winter season and believes that these birds have chosen to move from “transit visa to winter visa” in Dubai.

Sharing pictures and videos of thousands of migrant feathered friends, Dr Reza Khan, principal wildlife specialist, Dubai Safari Park, told Gulf News that Dubai has become a long-term resting place for long-distant migratory birds as a “result of Dubai Ruler’s vision of greening the deserts”.

“That has made Dubai a home for not only indigenous plants and wildlife, but also a winter home of migratory birds,” said Dr Khan.

Under the direction of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, Dr Khan said hundreds of thousands of trees have been planted and nearly a hundred lakes have been created over the past decade. According to Dubai Municipality, millions of square metres of green areas are added every year to the city by planting trees in various locations.

“This greening of the desert and creating freshwater lakes appear to be boon for the migratory birds from the Siberia and north of the continents of Asia and Europe. These long-distance migrants use West Asia-East Africa Flyways to make migratory journeys to and from northern parts of the Eurasia towards the East Coast of Africa and even up to South Africa,” he explained.

Dr Khan pointed out that the UAE, part of the Arabian Peninsula, used to be stopping over stations for these migratory birds. “However, the UAE, in particular Dubai, has made its desert green with freshwater supplies from the sewage treated water. So, instead of making stop overs, many migrant birds are staying here for the whole of winter.”

Special lake

In particular, he said the Houbara breeding forest reserve lake, covering nearly 10 hectares and encircled by a forest of nearly 10,000 trees, is now attracting an unprecedented population of about 6,000 Mallards with a few Northern Pintail and Green-winged Teals.

“These migratory ducks spend most part of the day in this lake, sleeping, resting, swimming, bathing and feeding. By sundown, they may be out to other lakes in Al Marmoom Desert Conservation Reserve for gathering food from lake water, mostly algae, insect larvae, fish larvae, snails, etc. They also take a share of the food offered by an office of the Ruler at the Reserve for all desert birds, oryx and gazelles.”

Spanning 10 per cent of Dubai’s total area, the Al Marmoom Reserve project is the largest unfenced nature reserve in the UAE. It hosts one of the largest populations of Arabian oryx in Dubai and the highest concentration of large flamingos in the UAE.

Enjoying over 40 hectares of shrub and fertile land, the desert sanctuary is home to over 158 species of migratory birds, 204 species of native birds, many other endangered species and over 10 square kilometres of lakes, encompassing the Al Qudra Lakes.

Preys and predators together

Dr Khan pointed out that migratory birds also attract Central Asian birds of prey, especially the Greater Spotted Eagle, Eastern Imperial Eagle and Steppe Eagle.

“These large birds of prey hunt the migratory birds like Mallards and other ducks, and local pigeons and doves. This is part of the natural balance because predators usually prey on weaker or sick animals that are easy to hunt. This is a healthy sign that both the prey species in thousands and their predator species in dozens come concurrently to the Al Marmoom Desert Conservation Reserve or other reserves and sanctuaries in Dubai and other emirates.”

Although members of the public are not allowed entry in the Houbara breeding forest reserve lake, Dr Khan said they can see hundreds of mallards, other ducks, herons, egrets, moorhen, swamphen, waders, over 500 greater flamingos and cormorants in dozens in lakes by the Al Qudra Cycling Roundabout. “People visiting these lake banks for camping and cycling can now have a visual treat of these birds,” he said.

Seagulls swarm skies

This winter, residents have spotted thousands of seagulls swarming the skies in Dubai, Sharjah and other emirates.

Sharjah resident, Brendyn M, shared a video of hundreds of seagulls in Sharjah skies on Monday morning. “I really enjoyed the awesome view of these large flocks of birds swarming the skies above Al Majaz Park,” he said.

Dr Khan said the UAE’s coastal areas, coastal towns, fishing villages, fish landing harbours and fish markets as well as open expanse of grassy lawns in metropolis, in golf courses and other fields attract hundreds of thousand seagulls between November and February.

“These are colonial birds. Hence hundreds of thousands congregate when there is a source of food as in from fish markets, fishing villages or organic sewage treatment facilities. During windy days, many thousands rest in open areas such the Sharjah University City Road islands and road verges in areas such as Al Garhoud in Dubai or the Sewage Treatment Plant in Al Warsan and all the sewage dumping sites in major cities.”

Thousands of gulls huddle together in grassy lawns to avoid windy coastal areas or for the night roost, said Dr Khan. They also love soaring in hot air blowing from heated surface or when weather is windy.

He said the species of gulls most seen in human habitation or markets is the black-headed gull that is present in the thousands.

“We see the smaller of the two gull species in our neighbourhoods. The larger species is the lesser black-backed gull. Almost all gulls visit the UAE from Central Asian coastal areas and wetlands. Their sojourn in the UAE lasts for about four months. They are the most numerous sea bird species seen in the country during winter,” Dr Khan added.