Madagascan pochard

The Madagascan pochard or Madagascar pochard (Aythya innotata; Malagasy: Fotsy maso, Onjo[2]) is an extremely rare diving duck of the genus Aythya. Thought to be extinct in the late 1990s, specimens of the species were rediscovered at Lake Matsaborimena in Madagascar in 2006. As of Fall 2017, the population is around 90 individuals. The species was reintroduced to the wild in December 2018.

Madagascan pochard
Madagascar Pochard, Captive Breeding Program, Madagascar 4.jpg
Madagascan pochard, captive breeding program, Madagascar
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae
Genus: Aythya
A. innotata
Binomial name
Aythya innotata
(Salvadori, 1894)
Former range (in red)

Nyroca innotata Salvadori, 1894 (basionym)

The Madagascan pochard feeds mainly on aquatic insects, unlike other diving ducks in the same genus, Aythya. Ducklings begin making short dives at around 14 days old, before which they feed on the surface.


The Madagascan pochard in the Catalogue of the Birds in the British Museum. Volume 27, 1895.

The Madagascan pochard was largely overlooked by scientists in the 19th century, as those that saw it assumed they were seeing ferruginous ducks instead. Even after its description in 1894 little notice was taken of the species, and even numbers are hard to gauge from early accounts of the species. Based on the accounts written by Webb and Delacour's in the 1920s and 1930s it seemed that the bird was still relatively common at Lake Alaotra.[3]

The Madagascan pochard is generally thought to be closely related to the Hardhead, Baer's pochard and ferruginous duck. It is monotypic, having no described or known subspecies.[4]


The pochard is a medium-sized duck between 42 and 56 centimeters in size. Juvenile ducks have brown irises and are a pale, dull brown or chestnut color with a darker stomach. The adults are darker in color, though during a male duck's first winter, its iris will turn white. Breeding males have dark chestnut heads, chins, throats, breasts, and necks, with blackish brown on the top side of the body. Their wings are dark brown with a white bar. The area under the bodies from the stomach to the tail fades to white, as do the undersides of the wings. The beaks and legs are dark grey with black nails.[5]

Vocalizations may include "[when] in display [...] the male utters a cat-like wee-oow and a rolling rrr, while the female gives a harsh squak."[5]

Distribution and ecologyEdit

The species exclusively lives in inland wetlands in Madagascar, where it is endemic.[6] Currently, the only wild populations are at Lake Sofia and Lake Matsaborimena.[7]

Historically, the birds preferred shallow lakes and marshes with dense vegetation; however, the rediscovered population was found in a cold, deep[7] crater lake that had few aquatic plants and was surrounded by heavy forest, and other remote crater lakes may have been inhabitable due to the birds' requirements for shallower water.[8][6] Its previous habitat in the Lake Alaotra basin was disturbed by rice cultivation and invasive introduced fishes.[8]


Madagascan pochards do not migrate, do not usually form flocks, and are usually found in pairs or as single ducks.[6]

Diet and feedingEdit

The Madagascan pochard spends 38% of its day feeding. The diet is dominated by aquatic insects; a study examining their faeces found that caddisflies were the most commonly found insect, followed by dragonfly larvae, bugs (Hemiptera) and flies from the family Chironomidae. Stable isotope analysis and the faecal studies have shown that their diet includes very little plant material, which is unusual when compared to their relatives in the genus Aythya.[3]

The bird dives for much of its food, with a mean diving time of around 24 seconds. Ducklings feed on the surface until they are old enough to dive, at around 14 days, and make shorter dives once they do dive (around 10 seconds).[3]


Observers have noted nesting behavior from July to February, sometimes with multiple attempts at nesting. Nests are found 20–40 cm above water, in the plants along the lake or marsh edges (noted in Cyperaceae), with 6 to 10 eggs per clutch.[6]

Relationship with humansEdit


The duck probably started to decline dramatically sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s. The cause of decline was the introduction of numerous fish species in the lake that killed most of the pochard chicks and damaged nesting sites. Adult birds are also likely to have become victims of introduced fishes. Rice cultivation, cattle grazing on the shores, burning of shore vegetation, introduced mammals (rats), gill-net fishing and hunting are all factors that led to the duck's disappearance from the lake.[9] The last record of multiple birds at Lake Alaotra is from 9 June 1960 when a small flock of about 20 birds was spotted on the lake. Despite the rarity of the species in 1960, a male was shot, and the specimen is now held by the Zoological Museum Amsterdam. There is a very dubious report of a sighting made outside Antananarivo in 1970.[9]

Rediscovery and reintroductionEdit

Before it was rediscovered in 2006, the last confirmed sighting of the species was at Lake Alaotra on the Central Plateau of Madagascar in 1991. The single male then encountered was captured and kept in the Antananarivo Botanical Gardens until it died one year later. Intensive searches and publicity campaigns in 1989–1990, 1993–1994 and 2000–2001 failed to produce any more records of this bird.

However, a flock of nine adults and four recently hatched ducklings were discovered at Lake Matsaborimena, in a remote area of northern Madagascar, in November 2006.[10][11] Though their habitat was "too deep and too cold for the pochards to thrive", it was one of the few wetlands on the island still capable of supporting the remaining few birds due to damage from pollution, invasive species, and agricultural practices in other wetlands.[7] The species was placed in the new "Possibly Extinct" category in the 2006 IUCN Red List; following the rediscovery, its old status of Critically Endangered was restored in the 2007 issue.[9][12] As of 2008, only 25 adult birds had been counted in the wild.[13]


In 2009, a rescue plan involving the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust removed a batch of ready-to-hatch eggs from a lake-side nest and incubated them in a lab that was set up in a tent beside the lake. After hatching, the day-old chicks were taken to a holding facility in a local hotel.[13] By the end of 2009, the organizations, including The Peregrine Fund, collected three clutches for 24 eggs to hatch 23 ducklings in total.[8][6] Reared in captivity, they hatched eighteen ducklings in April 2012 at the captive breeding centre in Antsohihy, bringing the total population to 60.[11][14][15]

2011 marked the first chick to hatch from captive breeding efforts.[6] In April 2013, the population reached 80.[16] In Autumn 2017 the population reached 90, causing the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust to begin preparations for the reintroduction process at a suitable lake in Madagascar, Lake Sofia,[17] including working with the communities surrounding the lake.[7] In December 2018, 21 of the birds were released at Lake Sofia, where floating aviaries were installed to protect the birds.[7]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2008). "Aythya innotata". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2008. Retrieved 14 December 2009.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  2. ^ "Aythya innotata (Madagascar Pochard) - Avibase". Retrieved 2018-12-29.
  3. ^ a b c Bamford, A; Sam, T S; Razafindrajao, F; Robson, H; Woolaver, L; Ren de Roland, L (26 August 2014). "The status and ecology of the last wild population of Madagascar Pochard Aythya innotata". Bird Conservation International. 25 (1): 97–110. doi:10.1017/S0959270914000033.
  4. ^ Carboneras, C; Kirwan, G. M. (2018). del Hoyo, Josep; Elliott, Andrew; Sargatal, Jordi; Christie, David A; de Juana, Eduardo (eds.). "Madagascar Pochard (Aythya innotata)". Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. Retrieved 30 December 2018.
  5. ^ a b Morris, Pete; Hawkins, Frank (1998). Birds of Madagascar: A Photographic Guide. Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300077551.
  6. ^ a b c d e f "The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 2018-12-29.
  7. ^ a b c d e Gill, Victoria (2018-12-28). "World's rarest bird gets new home". BBC News. Retrieved 2018-12-28.
  8. ^ a b c "Madagascar pochard | Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust". Retrieved 2018-12-29.
  9. ^ a b c BirdLife International (2007b): Madagascar Pochard – BirdLife Species Factsheet. Retrieved 26 August 2007.
  10. ^ "Diving duck resurfaces". Birdlife. 20 November 2006.
  11. ^ a b "Rare Madagascar duck successfully bred by Durrell". BBC News. 6 April 2012.
  12. ^ BirdLife International (2007a): [ 2006–2007 Red List status changes Archived 2008-09-14 at the Wayback Machine ]. Retrieved 26 August 2007.
  13. ^ a b Gill, Victoria (6 November 2009). "Quest to save world's rarest duck". BBC News. Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  14. ^ Moore, Andy (6 April 2012). "World's rarest ducklings hatch in Madagascar". BBC News. Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  15. ^ Gill, Victoria (6 April 2012). "World's rarest ducklings Madagascan pochards hatch". BBC News. Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  16. ^ "Critically Endangered Madagascar pochard population has quadrupled". Wildlife Extra. March 2013. Archived from the original on 2018-10-01. Retrieved 2013-04-09.
  17. ^ "Our Work in Madagascar". WWT. 21 September 2017.