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Autumn-winter breeding by Cream-coloured Coursers Cursorius cursor is more common than previously reported



Until the end of the 20th century there were only limited numbers of autumn-winter breeding records of the Cream-coloured Courser Cursorius cursor. Here, we compile several autumn-winter breeding observations obtained mainly by amateur birders (citizen scientists) and we show that this phenomenon is more common when local conditions (especially rainfall) are favourable. These observations are from several parts of the species’ range, as far apart as Socotra Island (Yemen), Oman, and the Canary Islands (Spain), although the majority are from the region of Oued Ad-Deheb, S Morocco.
Autumn-winter breeding by Cream-coloured Coursers Cursorius
cursor is more common than previously reported
Mohamed Amezian1, Patrick Bergier2& Abdeljebbar Qninba3
1Abdelmalek Essaadi University, Faculty of Sciences, Department of Biology, PO Box 2121, Tétouan, Morocco
Corresponding author:
2Go-South, 4 Avenue Folco de Baroncelli – 13210 Saint Rémy de Provence, France
3Université Mohammed V, Institut Scientifique, Avenue Ibn Battouta, BP 703 – 10090 Agdal, Rabat, Morocco
Amezian, M., Bergier, P. & Qninba, A. 2014. Autumn-winter breeding by Cream-coloured Coursers Cursorius
cursor is more common than previously reported. Wader Study Group Bull. 121(3): 177–180.
Keywords: arid regions, Cream-coloured Courser, Cursorius cursor, Western Palearctic, unseasonal breeding
Until the end of the 20th century there were only limited numbers of autumn-winter breeding records of the
Cream-coloured Courser Cursorius cursor. Here, we compile several autumn-winter breeding observations
obtained mainly by amateur birders (citizen scientists) and we show that this phenomenon is more common
when local conditions (especially rainfall) are favourable. These observations are from several parts of the
species’ range, as far apart as Socotra Island (Yemen), Oman, and the Canary Islands (Spain), although the
majority are from the region of Oued Ad-Deheb, S Morocco.
The breeding range of the Cream-coloured Courser Cursorius
cursor is wide and extends from the Atlantic archipelagos
of Cape Verde and the Canary Islands to North Africa and
continues patchily eastwards along the Sahel zone through
the Middle East, Arabia and the Socotra Islands to Central
Asia and NW India (Maclean 1996). Recently, it has also
colonized Europe with four pairs breeding in S Spain in
spring 2001 (Gutiérrez 2001). The closely related Somali
Courser which is resident in Ethiopia, Somalia and E and N
Kenya is now regarded as a separate species, Cursorius
somalensis (Gill & Donsker 2014, Pearson & Ash 1996).
Generally, three subspecies are recognized which differ
in colouration and biometrics, but their breeding phenology
does not differ markedly (Maclean 1996). So far as is
known, the species’ main breeding period extends from
February to September, according to population and
location. It is thought that this extended breeding season
occurs as a result of the laying of second broods or replace-
ment clutches, or laying in response to the occurrence of rain
in arid areas (Heim de Balsac & Mayaud 1962, Maclean
1996, Perrins & Cramp 1998). Breeding outside February to
September is poorly documented in the literature with the
exception of the following cases: one chick between Ndiaye
and Tidem in Senegal on 12 January 1994 (Triplet & Yésou
1994), two small chicks on 29–30 November 1994 at 70 km
east of Akjoujt in Mauritania (Balança 1996) and the obser-
vation of small chicks in NW India in February (Maclean
1996). As the main rainy season is August–October in Cape
Verde, the breeding season of the endemic exsul subspecies
appears to be either prolonged (August–May) or double with
a first clutch between August and October–November during
the monsoon and a second clutch between January and April
(Koch & Hazevoet 2000, Naurois 1983). To our knowledge
these are the only references in the literature to winter
breeding of Cream-coloured Coursers from its entire
breeding range. Moreover, apart from Cape Verde, there is
no other mention of winter breeding in the Western
Palearctic or in the Arabian Peninsula including Socotra.
The region of Oued Ad Deheb (also spelt as ‘Oued
Dahab’) in S Morocco (ca. 23°S, 15°W) used to be one of
the least bird-watched regions in the Western Palearctic. But
since the beginning of the present century, it has become a
favoured birding destination due to the discovery of some
desert and subtropical species that are either absent or
difficult to observe elsewhere in the Western Palearctic (e.g.
Cricket Warbler Spiloptila clamans, Dunn’s Lark Erema-
lauda dunni, and Sudan Golden Sparrow Passer luteus). The
rainfall in this region is extremely low and especially unpre-
dictable, but sometimes a good amount of rain can fall,
mainly in August–September and December–March.
Following good rains in early autumn 2010, two of us
participated in an expedition to the region of Oued Ad-
Deheb in late October. One purpose was to search for and
record any evidence of breeding by desert birds, and many
species were found to be in different phases of the breeding
cycle (alarming adults, adults collecting nesting materials,
nests with eggs, broods, fledged juveniles). Some of these
autumn-breeding records had never before been documented
in the Western Palearctic (Amezian et al. 2011, Qninba et
al. 2011). Among the birds recorded were several Cream-
coloured Coursers, with at least three pairs noticeably
alarming at two different locations (Qninba et al. 2011).
Several very young juveniles were recorded by other birders
the following January and February (2011), thus confirming
that breeding had occurred in the autumn-winter of 2010.
In late December 2012, following another exceptionally
rainy autumn in the same region, members of the Associa-
tion ‘Nature-Initiative’ photographed almost fully grown
Wader Study Group Bulletin 121(3) 2014: 177
Wader Study Group Bulletin 121(3) 2014
juvenile Cream-coloured Coursers near Negjir, ca. 130 km
east of Dakhla.
These observations encouraged us to search for other
winter-breeding records of Cream-coloured Coursers, of
which we found several. The aim of this paper is therefore
to bring together this information and to show that winter-
breeding in what is one of the world’s least-studied waders
(Thomas et al. 2003) is more widespread that previously
We list all records of autumn-winter breeding by Cream-
coloured Coursers that we have been able to find and that
have not hitherto been documented in the scientific literature
(Table 1). Most are from the Oued Ad-Deheb region of S
Morocco; others are from the region of Tafilalt, SE Morocco
(Fig. 1), one from the 1960s near Marrakech (central
Morocco), as well as the Canary Islands, Senegal, Socotra
Island (Fig. 2) and Oman (Table 1).
We present the 11 records for the Oued Ad-Deheb region
of Morocco in chronological order (Table 1). Five were
recorded in the winter of 2010/2011 and five in the winter of
2012/2013. The records from other parts of the species’ range
were obtained between 2001 and 2011 and are listed from
east (Socotra Island) to west (Canary Islands) (Table 1).
The data collected here, in addition to the limited number
of previously published records cited in the introduction,
show that autumn-winter breeding by Cream-coloured
Coursers is not limited to a particular part of its breeding
range, despite the fact that most of the reports come from
the Oued Ad-Deheb area of S Morocco. This observation
bias can probably be attributed partly to the popularity of
the region among the birders who visit it to search for
charismatic species that cannot be found elsewhere in the
Western Palearctic, and partly to the fact that the authors
are more familiar with the birding scene in this region than
The majority of the autumn-winter breeding records
obtained for Oued Ad-Deheb were made during 2010/2011
and 2012/2013. This region received an unusually large
amount of rain during the late summer and autumn of both
seasons (to be precise in late September and again in the first
week of October of 2012), with most breeding records being
obtained during the following months (December–February,
Fig. 3).
In arid regions, many bird species are opportunistic
breeders, nesting in response to usually rare and unpre-
dictable rainfall and subsequent abundance of food
resources, irrespective of the season (Lepage & Lloyd 2004,
Lloyd 1999, Maclean 1970, Qninba et al. 2011). Generally
breeding begins after a lag period between rainfall and egg-
laying that differs in length between species, as has been
observed in different arid regions in S Africa (Maclean 1984,
Lloyd 1999) and in the Sahara desert, S Morocco (i.e. on
similar dates different species have been recorded at
different phases of the breeding cycle: Qninba et al. 2011).
Also, rainfall has to reach a certain threshold in order of
trigger breeding (Lloyd 1999). This phenomenon has been
observed in several species belonging to different families
in different arid regions of the world (Maclean 1984, Qninba
et al. 2011); and with the data gathered here, the Cream-
coloured Courser can now be added to that list. Other wader
Fig. 1. Juvenile Cream-coloured Courser at Oum el Hajj, near Mer-
zouga, SE Morocco, on 14 December 2010 (photo: Alexandre
Beauquenne /
Fig. 2. Adult Cream-coloured Courser feeding a small chick at
Hadibo, Socotra Island, Yemen, on 13 January 2006 (photo: Hanne
& Jens Eriksen /
Fig. 3. Number of autumn-winter breeding observations of Cream-
coloured Courser per month for all regions combined (n=19). In
February, with the exception of one record (eggs on 2 February 1966
near Marrakech), all other recent records involved juveniles that
resulted from egg-laying in January or before. Note that each record
may involve one or more individuals as shown in Table 1.
No. of breeding records
Amezian et al.: Autumn-winter breeding by Cream-coloured Coursers is more common than previously reported 179
species are known to breed opportunistically, such as Black-
winged Stilts Himantopus himantopus which breed after
rainfall in tropical regions (Pierce 1996). Similarly, the
colonial Banded Stilt Cladorhynchus leucocephalus travels
several hundred kilometres to inland salt lakes in Australia
in order to exploit highly unpredictable ephemeral resources
which become available after infrequent rains (Pedler et al.
2014, and references therein).
In view of the number of records presented here, we
suggest that winter-breeding in Cream-coloured Coursers
may have been under-reported by both amateur and profes-
sional ornithologists for several reasons: (1) the remoteness
of most breeding areas, (2) many breeding areas are in
regions that are seldom visited during the autumn and winter
months, and (3) the species is less studied by ecologists
(Thomas et al. 2003), most likely as a result of the first two
factors. These factors become less important when a region
holds other sought-after species (e.g. Amezian et al. 2011,
Lees & Moores 2006) which generate a lot of interest from
the birding community. This is the case in the Oued Ad-
Deheb region of S Morocco which has recently become a
birding hotspot for Western Palearctic birders.
In view of the observations gathered here from different
regions (of which most occurred after a rainy summer/
autumn), with the addition of the records cited in the litera-
ture, we can conclude that the phenomenon of autumn-
winter breeding in Cream-coloured Coursers is more
common than previously supposed, when local conditions,
particularly high rainfall, are favourable.
Table 1. Summary of autumn-winter breeding records of Cream-coloured Coursers.
Location Date Description Observers/References
Observations from Oued Ad-Deheb region, S Morocco
Aousserd road 22 February 2009 Two juveniles with two adults Dan in Bergier et al. 2010
Adrar Settouf 26 October 2010 Three pairs alarming Qninba et al. 2011
Aousserd road 10 January 2011 Small chick with adult B. Carlsson & C. Brostam
Derraman, near Aousserd 16 January 2011 An adult protecting two
recently hatched juveniles
M. Aymerich in
Bergier et al. 2012
Aousserd road 14 February 2011 A pair with two juveniles
and 14 other birds
T.A. Olsen et al. in
Bergier et al. 2012
Aousserd road 18 February 2011 A big juvenile road-killed and an
adult with a fully fledged juvenile
P. & F. Bergier in
Bergier et al. 2012
Track to Bougouffa, Adrar Settouf 16 September 2012 A pair with two young F. Chevalier in
Bergier et al. 2013a
Aousserd road 29 December 2012 Two juveniles recently fledged
among three adults
H. Dufourny in
Bergier et al. 2013a
Negjir (130 Km east of Dakhla) 31 December 2012 Two fully grown juveniles
with adults
Association ‘Nature Initiative’
(Dakhla) in Bergier et al. 2013b
Imlily 10 January 2013 Two fully grown juveniles
and two adults
T. Pettersson & K. Mild in
Bergier et al. 2013a
Aousserd road 12 January 2013 Three families with fully
grown juveniles
T. Pettersson & K. Mild in
Bergier et al. 2013a
Observations from other Moroccan regions
Guémassa, near Marrakech 02 February 1966 Eggs P. Robin in Barreau &
Bergier 2000–2001
Oum el Hajj, near Merzouga (Tafilalt
region) 14 December 2010 A juvenile not yet fully
fledged with adults A. & M. Beauquenne
Observations from other regions
Hadibo, Socotra Island (Indian
Ocean) 13 January 2006 One pair with three small chicks
among nine other adults H. & J. Eriksen
Jiddat Al Harasis, Oman 23 February 2001 One small chick H. & J. Eriksen
Richard-Toll, Senegal 22 January 2008 One small chick N. Borrow & G. Einon
NW of La Oliva, Fuerteventura,
Canary Islands 19 January 2004 One bird on the nest J. & J. Bowler
South of El Cotillo, Fuerteventura,
Canary Islands 20 January 2004 One bird with a tiny chick J. & J. Bowler
Fuerteventura, Canary Islands late January 2011 Juveniles T. Pettersson & K. Mild
in Bergier et al. 2013a
Wader Study Group Bulletin 121(3) 2014
We would like to thank Alexandre Beauquenne and Hanne
& Jens Eriksen for sharing their photographs and commu-
nicating more details about their observations. Our thanks
go also to all birders (citizen scientists) for collecting the
observations and making them available online in image-
hosting websites and trip reports. We would like to thank
also the editors Humphrey P. Sitters and José A. Alves and
a reviewer for their helpful remarks.
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... Au Maroc, l'espèce présente le double statut phénologique de nicheur sédentaire et de nicheur migrateur (Bergier et al. 2017b) ; son aire de reproduction couvre le Nord-est, l'Est et le Sud-est du pays, la région du Souss et de l'Anti-Atlas ainsi que toute la partie saharienne du Maroc (Thévenot et al. 2003, Qninba et al. 2013, Amezian et al. 2014, Bergier et al. 2017a ; une population existe néanmoins au nord du Haut Atlas, dans les régions du Haouz, des Sraghna, du Tadla et, localement, dans celles des Rehamna et Doukkala (Thévenot et al. 2003). ...
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