14 February 2022

Arabian Magpie – Billasmer area

Whilst in the southwest on the Kingdom in March I saw a number of Arabian Magpie on a number of occasions. Birds were seen at one location building a nest by collecting fallen twigs and on another occasion eating carrion, in this case a dead Hamadryas Baboon. This is the first time I have seen the species eating carrion but it is not too surprising as most species of corvid do the same. The Arabian Magpie is the only truly endemic species in Saudi Arabia, meaning it is found in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and nowhere else in the world. It has a very restricted range (An Namas to 20 kilometres south of Billasimer) and very low number of birds and is currently listed on the Red Data list as endangered. Arabian Magpies are sedentary and localised and occur especially in the juniper forest zone, often in well vegetated upland valleys and wadis, of the Asir highlands 1850–3000 m asl. Many of these areas are remote and difficult to access so the exact numbers of birds is difficult to assess but the estimated breeding population is around 135 pairs or less. Numbers are decreasing probably because of heavy disturbance by tourism and perhaps changes in climate with warmer and drier weather experienced in the Asir mountains in the last few decades. The areas where Arabian Magpies have been seen in recent years appear to be restricted to three widely spaced areas, one near Abha with numbers in significant decline, one on the isolated Jebal Gaha where numbers are very low and lastly the main stronghold in the Billasmar, Tanoumah and An Numas areas. The good news is that the species is still breeding in its core area at least, and is found in areas near human habitation, sometimes utilizing waste food.