Bird Notes -- Observations in Abu Dhabi Between 4th March and 5th April 1984

Bird Notes -- Observations in Abu Dhabi Between 4th March and 5th April 1984

by Mike Crumbie


The area under observation during this period was not freely chosen, but as a result of outside influences. First impressions were less than inspiring but, as is often the case, the results proved rewarding.


Positioned to the north of the island in the proximity of the new eastern ring road, the locality comprises the refuse tips within the Defence Area.

A few years ago it was a pleasant sandy area dotted with scrub, mainly Halopeplis pefoliata, sloping gently to the tidal creek (subject of observations in Bulletins 20 and 22) of which it was originally an integral part; until, that is, progress was thrust upon it in the shape of sewage drains, roads and refuse tips. Yet despite man's efforts to enhance the beauty of the area, nature still clings with a tenacity that is hard to believe.

The area is less than a kilometre in length and using the ring road as the northern limit, the width at its widest point is less than two hundred metres, tapering to about seventy five metres in places.

General Observations

The bulk of the refuse is hard core or rubble, wrecked vehicles, packing cases, chopped down trees etc. At times the water table rises sufficiently in some places to create stagnant pools which mix with discarded lubricating oils to form beautiful areas of glutinous mud.

In spite of this, amongst the debris wild life abounds, especially in the form of very numerous lizards, and rats, generally only seen at night; the number of tracks seen during the day would indicate that large packs are resident. Some tracks found could be of a smaller rodent, possibly a gerbal, but unfortunately one could not be found to permit positive identification. Cats as would would be expected breed and hunt there and packs of five semi wild dogs are occasionally in residence.

Flies of course thrive there, along with various types of flying insects, small moths, butterfilies and beetles. It is interesting to note that many of the dried-out limbs of trees have been attacked quite vigorously by a number of wood-boring insects.

Observations in detail

The species of birds observed fall into two categories, residents and migrants. The total number of species mentioned includes both categories, but total numbers of birds refers only to the migrants. Three species nested and bred in the area during the period under review, one, the sparrow, continuing beyond this period. Although pigeons in the concrete jungle of Abu Dhabi have reached plague proportions very few were seen at the refuse tip.


House sparrows formed the largest group of residents far outnumbering any other species. Al least twenty nests were in use on the perimeter of the area, all of them built in the tops of hollow metal poles that support floodlights. They are probably the most prolific of breeding birds in Abu Dhabi, after pigeons. It is impossible to calculate the number of times that these nests are used, or whether they are used by the same pairs for more than one brood or by successive breeding pairs. Certainly the nests were used actively between the beginning of March and the beginning of June.

Palm Doves

A total of nine nests were found; although only eight were built this year, the ninth was mentioned in an earlier newsletter. It had been built on the top wire of a barbed wire fence, but this proved not to be an isolated case as another one was found further along on the same fence. The two on the fence were more substantially built than most of the others Ifound in the chopped down trees.

Of the eight built this year, three were abandoned but in the remaining five broods were successfully raised; of the three abandoned, two were left with eggs and one without. The majority of nests were found in the cut-down trees and assorted piles of branches but as mentioned two were on the fence and one in a tangle of metal reinforcing bars.

One of the abandoned nests had two eggs in it originally but as it was so precariously built one egg had rolled out, probably the factor contributing to the abandonement. Another one was abandoned for no apparent reason, with one egg left in the nest. The third, in perfectly good condition, had had no egg laid.

When it comes to selecting the nesting sites palm doves do not appear to be particularly intelligent, as all the nests were easy to find and readily accessible.

Constructed of lightly woven, fine twigs, with a depression in the middle the nests appear hardly big enough to accommodate the young. Two eggs are laid over a period of two days; pure white in colour they are incubated by the parent birds and hatch after approximately two weeks. For the first four or five days after hatching a parent bird remains covering the young, obviously to protect them from the direct heat of the sun. The young grow fairly rapidly and leave the nest after about three weeks. Palm Doves spend a lot of time on the ground and their staple diet in this area would appear to be the seeds of the Halopeplis plant.

Kentish Plovers

Amazingly enough, three nests were found again this year and it is almost certain that there was a fourth in the vicinity. Also found was a discoloured egg from a last year's nest.

In Bulletin No. 20 in observations of the Kentish Plovers, it was stated that although birds were seen in regular attendance at the nest sites during the day, none had actually been found sitting. Fortunately this year it was possible on several occasions to approach the nests without a warning being given and confirm that the parent birds do spend a lot of time incubating the eggs, of which there were the normal three in each nest. The first nest was found complete with three eggs on March 31st, indicating that nesting starts earlier than the first week in April as assumed in Bulletin No. 20.

Unless you are lucky, it takes a little patience and a lot of methodical searching to find a Plover's nest. Unwittingly, the plovers indicate that there is a nest in the proximity of an intruder by giving alarm calls and flying around in large circles. The closer to the nest the intruder approaches the more frantic become the calls and the smaller the circle flown. Eventually one or two of the birds will land and flutter, as if injured, all over the place, dragging a wing to try and attract the intruder away from the nest. Don't be fooled, carry on with a methodical search and the nest will be found.


One particular Osprey qualifies as a resident of the refuse tip as it first appeared in early March and put in regular attendances ever since. An interesting aspect is that it never appeared during the day but arrived just before dark in the evening and left at first light the next day. It roosted during the night on an electric pylon, normally the same one but occasionally it selected another. It was still appearing on a regular but noncontinuous basis in June.


As will be seen from the graph, the, migration started gradually from the beginning of March and peaked out between the 17th and 20th, thereafter going into rapid decline. Although the total number of birds seen during the migration was small the variety covered a fairly wide spectrum. Dominating the field were the. Insect eaters led by 7 varieties of wheatears followed by three varieties of the warbler and shrike families. The Great Grey Shrike can claim the honour of being the longest resident migrant. Sizes varied greatly from the minute Desert Warbler (4 1/2") to the long legged Stone-curlew (16"). The attraction of an abundant supply of insects as food obviously encouraged the majority of migrants to stay a while. As the birds appeared on an irregular basis and for short times it was not possible to carry out any detailed observations. The following is a list of all the confirmed sightings throughout the period. As always a few get away.

Wheatears Shrikes Warblers
Great Grey
Wood Chat


It was hoped to make a comparison with the next migration later in the year but now that work is in hand to clear the site it will not be possible. However, the period of observation proved rewarding and enlightenning in an area which at first sight appeared to be another barren monument to man's march of progress.

General Observations at Hatta 17th - 18th April 1984

The observations at Hatta took in two completely opposing environments, the first being the lake, which owing to the lack of rains was in a particularly sad state of demise. In spite of this a wide variety of waders and waterfowl were seen. Little Grebes accounted for the largest group and one was seen to be sitting on its nest, which was built on floating water weed. The largest lake side resident spotted was the Great White Egret in company with a flock of twelve Wattle-necked Plovers.

The second area surveyed encompassed the immaculate grounds of the Hatta Fort Hotel and the surrounding rocky hills, dotted with small trees, grasses and shrubs. Possibly, if it were not for the lushly cultivated gardens there would not be such a variety of birds.

Within the grounds of the Hotel several Purple Sunbirds were living and breeding; young ones being fed by parent birds were noticed in the bushes. The mature birds could be seen gathering nectar from the flower of the Vitex bush, which is the Middle East equivalent of the European Buddleia, so beloved by butterflies. Reports of the birds hovering in front of the flowers to collect nectar were received but not actually witnessed. It is not beyond the realms of probability that they do hover in order to feed as they are distantly related to the humming bird. A nest was found, which could have belonged to a Sunbird, in a thorn tree among the rocky outcrops. It was bottle-shaped and very neatly woven. Pale Crag Martins found it rewarding to fly low over the swimming pool, taking insects on the wing and not at all disturbed by the bathers.

A waste pipe from the hotel water treatment plant provided a watering hole for a variety of birds, and was an ideal observation spot. A pair of Common Bulbuls and a Long-billed Pipit were seen taking liquid refreshment.

The grounds were alive with toads and after an early and unsuccessful attempt to exterminate them they are now roaming unimpeded. A few complaints are recieved about them, mainly when they manage to get into a room.

It is not unusual in the evening to see a grey Fox come into the grounds to feed off the insects which are attracted to the lights in the grounds. On a previous occasion three were seen at one time.

A sighting was made one night of what could have been a bat. It made several silent passes with the characteristic flight pattern, but as it was only seen in silhouette it can only be classed as a 'possible'.

Wattle-necked Plover 12
Black-necked Grebe 3
Little Grebe (numerous)
Great White Egret 1
Mallard 3?
Ringed Plover
Little-ringed Plover
Bartailed Godwit

Purple Sunbird
Common Bulbul
Long-billed Pipit
Pale Rock Sparrow
Pale Crag Martin
Humes Wheatear
Graceful Warbler


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