Winter census of the pigmy cormorant population on the Sava River in Belgrade
Ornithologists with the League for Ornithological Action, the Institute for Nature Conservation of Serbia and WWF Adria organized the winter census of pigmy cormorant and determined that 4000 individuals were wintering along the banks of the Sava River in Belgrade this year, thus representing 4.5 percent of Europe's total population. This year's results were significantly different from last year's, when about 2800 birds were recorded in December 2018, which revealed that the Sava estuary into the Danube, despite all the negative factors, has retained its value and importance as a river habitat within the inner city area and an internationally important habitat of pigmy cormorant.
At the moment, it can be said that there has been an increase in wintering population over the past two years. Two years of harsh winters and the icing of the Danube and Sava, especially in 2012, could be the reason for the previous decrease in the population numbers, in addition to other negative factors such as disturbance, the destruction of willows, and partly due to fluctuations in numbers during the wintering period.
The counting of pigmy cormorant took place on December 12th, 2019 simultaneously at five different points: Sava Lake, near Sporting Center "25. maj", the New Belgrade riparian area of the mouth of the Sava River, Zemun quay and Sava River banks near Block 45 in New Belgrade.
Pigmy cormorant is a strictly protected species in Serbia. It belongs to a group of species of international importance regarding their protection, which in accordance with the European Birds Directive also includes the designation of special areas for their protection. As a species related to aquatic habitats, it is endangered by their destruction and drying up.
Approximately 900-1600 pairs of this species are breeding in Serbia, mostly in Vojvodina. During the winter, the number of pigmy cormorants is increasing, as individuals from Serbia are joined by "neighbors" from central and northern Europe, where they winter in larger flocks. In more than 15 years of pigmy cormorant monitoring conducted by the League for Ornithological Action in Belgrade during the winter, the maximum number of pigmy cormorants was recorded in the winter of 2007/2008 - 6750 individuals. This number accounts for almost 10% of the total European population, which implies the great importance of the Sava riparian area within the inner area of the capital city for biodiversity conservation, the importance of which goes beyond national borders. The distribution of this species is restricted to Southeastern Europe, the Middle East and the Caspian and Black Sea surroundings in Western Asia.
The proposed protected habitat "Pigmy cormorant's wintering site"
The construction of the Ada Bridge destroyed one of the willows where the pigmy cormorants were staying at night. Due to the threat to a few remaining willows used by the pigmy cormorants, their protection has been initiated. In 2012, the Institute for Nature Conservation in Serbia, in cooperation with the Directorate for Construction Land and Construction of Belgrade and the League for Ornithological Action drafted a study prescribing the protection of five sites on the left and right banks of the Sava River near Ada Ciganlija. The study was revised in 2016 and submitted to the Environmental Protection Secretariat of the City of Belgrade, but to date no protection has been declared.
The pigmy cormorants still resist the great pressures and threats they are exposed to in the urban area of Belgrade, but their survival in this area is entirely dependent on the protection of the remaining isolated willows on the banks of the Sava. It should be noted that in this case it is entirely possible to reconcile the simultaneous need for the city development and construction on the one hand, and for the protection of nature on the other. For this reason, we urge the competent city institutions to urgently declare and establish the protection of these pigmy cormorant habitats in order to conserve this exceptional natural value.