Protecting the Asir magpie

Promoting biodiversity

A rescue mission is underway to save the highly-endangered Asir magpie.

Within the Asir region's rich sprinkling of juniper forest, a rescue mission is underway to save one of its residents - the highly-endangered Asir magpie, whose estimated numbers have dwindled to just 100 breeding pairs.

Ecological stewardship

Chapter 1

In Saudi Arabia’s exquisite south-west Asir region, misty clouds silently wrap themselves around steep peaks of spectacular mountain ranges.

It’s the highest, coldest and wettest part of the Kingdom and the Asir magpie nests exclusively among its rich sprinkling of juniper forest.

Saudi Aramco—as part of its commitment to preserve and protect the natural environment—is working with the Saudi Wildlife Authority and Smithsonian Institution on a rescue mission aimed at conserving this sleek jet-black and white bird.

Saudi Aramco is working with the Smithsonian Institution and the Saudi Wildlife Authority to study the highly endangered Asir magpie, which thrives only in the high mountains of the Asir region in Saudi Arabia.

There’s little recorded scientific information on the highly-endangered magpie. To find answers to the mystery of the magpie’s perilous declining population, scientists commenced a research project in the early summer of 2018.

Very little is known about what the Asir magpie eats, its breeding patterns, how far it moves or its family group composition. 

Found only in Saudi Arabia

Chapter 2

The Asir magpie is Saudi Arabia’s only endemic bird.

Saudi Aramco’s Environment Protection Department identified it as a high conservation priority from the 505 species of bird recorded in the Kingdom.

A striking mid-sized bird, the Asir magpie is renowned for its high intelligence and known locally as the ‘Ack-Ack ‘- a name reflective of the bird’s series of charismatic calls.

Stunning turquoise-tinted feathers adorn the jet-black and white plumage of the bird and its nest is a massive dome, usually built four to seven meters high in a juniper or acacia tree.

Beyond this, very little is known about what the Asir magpie eats, its breeding patterns, how far it travels, or the composition of its family group.

Key to the bird’s conservation is finding out this missing information.

Initial research study

Chapter 3

The Asir magpie research project is the first joint In-Kingdom initiative between the Saudi Wildlife Authority, Smithsonian Institution and Saudi Aramco.

The project commenced with a 12-month research study to estimate magpie population size, density, habitat use and distribution.

Work started with the capture and immediate release of 12 Asir magpies. The basic measurements taken of the 12 captured birds are the first known scientific notes on the bird.

Measurements were taken of 12 captured and released Asir magpies. 

Each of the 12 magpies were tagged with a state-of-the-art tracking system—the first step towards understanding where the Asir magpie lives and where it goes.

Through tracking the Asir magpie’s movements, the researchers will better understand and mitigate factors impacting their dwindling population. According to Smithsonian ornithologist Evan Buechley, the trackers will deliver three sets of key information: "First, the trackers will let us know whether the Asir magpie migrates seasonally from lower to higher ground. Second, how and when their offspring disperses from the family home. Third, we can find out what habitats they like to use."

Based on what the 12-month initial study finds, the research team aspire to tailor a conservation plan to ensure a long-term viable population.

A state-of-the-art tracking system will help build a picture of the Asir magpie population. 

The Asir magpie 12-month research study will estimate magpie population size, density, habitat use and distribution.

Genetic markers
DNA from tiny 0.5 milliliter blood samples from 12 magpies will assess population genetics
GPS tracker
Using a leg-loop harness, each research bird was tagged with a GPS tracker, the combined weight of which is no more than four percent of the magpie's body mass
Vital measurements recorded
Initial research shows the Asir magpie weighs an average of 240 grams and reaches a length of 46cm

Preserving the balance

Chapter 4

Partnering with the Saudi Wildlife Authority and the Smithsonian Institution to protect the highly-endangered Asir magpie is just one part of Saudi Aramco’s larger effort to preserve biodiversity and their habitats in the Kingdom and abroad.

The world recognizes the magpie’s home, the Asir Mountains, as a unique and globally important area for biodiversity conservation.

Saudi Arabia is a key country on one of the world’s largest migratory flight-paths, where birds from Europe, Asia, and Africa congregate in large numbers.

Reversing the decline of the Asir magpie is helping preserve the balance and integrity of both the Kingdom and the planet’s natural ecosystem.

How you can help

Chapter 5

Do you live in Asir? Here’s how you can help #SaveTheAsirMagpie:

  1. If you see the Asir Magpie, photograph it and then send the photo to us with its location. This will help us model the range and habitat needs of the bird.
  2. If you see the nest, photograph it. Be sure not to disturb the nest and to leave it alone. Send the photo to us with its location.
  3. Do not leave food out for magpies or other animals. Magpies need a healthy diet. Food scraps are junk food to magpies. They eat it because it is easy to find, but it does not contain all of the nutrients they or their chicks need to survive. Chicks raised on a diet of scrap foods usually do not survive.
  4. Do not use poison in places that magpies occur. If an Asir magpie eats this poison, it will die. If you use poison bait to control pest species, then they should be concealed traps.
  5. Do not litter. Magpies are attracted to litter as possible sources of food. Not only is this food unhealthy, but it reduces the amount of time the birds have to forage for healthy food. It also changes their natural behavior.
  6. Do not cut down any juniper trees. Magpies rely heavily on juniper forests for food, nest sites, and shelter. Without junipers, this bird cannot survive.

Do you live outside Asir? Here’s how you can help #SaveTheAsirMagpie and other species:

  1. Minimize off-road driving and do not drive over desert plants. These small plants help prevent sand storms and provide vital food and shelter for birds and other wildlife.
  2. Use a gas stove when you are camping, instead of a camp fire. The wood and plants in the desert are precious and take decades to grow back.
  3. Plant native plants and trees in your homes. Saudi birds and animals need Saudi trees and plants for nesting, food, and shelter. Foreign trees attract city birds, like sparrows and pigeons.
  4. Do not litter. Birds and animals eat scrap food, which is harmful to them. Plastic also gets caught in their stomach, around their necks and legs, and can cause terrible injuries and sometimes death.
  5. If you see a bird’s nest, enjoy it from a distance but do not disturb it or the adult birds. Nesting in Saudi Arabia is extremely challenging, and disturbing a bird’s nest can cause the hatchlings to die.
  6. Do not use poison to control pests, such as mice or rodents. Instead, trap them. Otherwise, birds might eat the poisoned bodies and die.
  7. Learn more about your environment. Find a national park nearby and visit it. Study the traditional uses of native plants. Use a field guide to go bird watching. The more you learn about your environment, the more likely you are to appreciate it and want to protect it.