Common pochard named 2023’s Bird of the Year

The Czech Society for Ornithology has announced that the Bird of the Year for 2023 is the common pochard. A common type of duck in this part of the world, its population has dropped by a third over the past 30 years.

The common pochard is the second most common duck in Czechia after the mallard and can be seen on ponds and lakes across the country.

Photo: Marek Szczepanek,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 3.0

In recent decades, however, its populations have been dwindling, not only here in Czechia, but also elsewhere in the world.

To raise awareness of the problem, the Czech Society for Ornithology decided to name the common pochard 2023’s Bird of the Year, says ornithologist Petr Voříšek:

“It’s a flagship species for the problems we are facing with wetlands. It helps us to indicate and to understand what is going on with the wetlands.

“The other reason is that the species itself is threatened. Since 2015, it has been listed on the IUCN’s global red list of threatened species. So the species itself deserves conservationists’ attention.”

Unlike the mallard, the common pochard is a diving duck, which means it searches for food under water. Another distinguishing feature is its bright plumage, says Mr. Voříšek:

“What is remarkable about the common pochard is that the male has a kind of reddish head, which is quite distinctive. The females are not that colourful; they are just grey-brown and much more difficult to determine.

Petr Voříšek | Photo: Czech Television

“It’s a partially migratory bird. The Czech breeding population goes to the Mediterranean, but we also have some birds staying here for wintering and some birds coming here to winter.

“So there are between 7,000 to 14,000 breeding pairs and around 3,000 individuals wintering here.”

The pochard population in Czechia started to decline in the 1980s as a result of changes in pond management, and also due to excessive use of chemical fertilizers in agriculture:

“Fishponds today are very intensive water pools, to produce as much carp as possible. The problem is that the carp eat all the food that the pochard needs, especially the young ones.

“The other thing is that to make the carp production as effective as possible, fishponds lack shallow waters, this kind of transitional habitat between the water and land, which is very important for the pochard as well as for the other water birds.”

But intensive pond farming is not the only factor posing a threat to the common pochard. Just like other birds, it is also endangered by hunting and the risk of poisoning by lead bullets:

“It is kind of ridiculous that the species which is listed on the global red list is still allowed to be hunted, and is still hunted, in the Czechia. This is why we are trying to use the Bird of the Year 2023 campaign to push the government to remove the species from the hunting list.”

The good news for pochard and other water birds is that a new EU law has just come into force in Czechia, prohibiting the use of lead bullets in wetlands.