The Saharan-Sindian biome covers much of the north and centre of the country whilst the southern third of the country falls within the Sahel biome. 14 species belonging to each of these biomes has been recorded. In addition, small elements of the Sudan-Guinea Savanna biome are found in the extreme south of the country and 12 species of this biome have been recorded. The most important site ornithologically is the Banc d’Arguin which periodically supports the largest concentration of migratory waders in Africa, more than 2 million birds. There are other significant wetlands in the Sahel zone, many associated with the Senegal river. Recent surveys have shown that the range of scattered wetlands in the east of the country (tamourts) may hold as many birds as the coastal sites. The number and distribution of waterbirds found inland is largely dependent on rainfall and therefore varies considerably from year to year.
There are 24 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) which cover some 18,000 km2 or 1.7% of the area of the country. Only 4 of the sites have protection although there are proposals for others to be included as nationally protected areas or Ramsar sites. 14 of the IBAs are principally wetlands.
The following 11 IBAs hold species which are restricted to the Sahara-Sindian biome: Tamreïkat; Chegga; El Mréiti; Kediet ej Jill; El Ghallâouîya; Banc d’Arguin National Park; Ibi (Graret el Frass); Arâguîb el Jahfa; Wagchogda; Tinigart and Wad Initi. Species include Crowned Sandgrouse Pterocles coronatus, Pharaoh’s Eagle Owl Bubo ascalaphus, Greater Hoopoe-Lark Alaemon alaudipes, Bar-tailed Lark Ammomanes cincturus, White-crowned Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucopyga, Trumpeter Finch Bucanetes githaginea and Desert Sparrow Passer simplex.
The following 6 IBAs hold Sahel biome restricted range species: Banc d’Arguin National Park; Arâguîb el Jahfa; Wagchogda; Wad Initi (all in addition to the Sahara-Sindian species) and Aftout es Sâheli and Diawling National Park. Sahel species include Nubian Bustard Neotis nuba, Black Scrub-Robin Cercotrichas podobe, Cricket Warbler Spiloptila clamans, Sudan Golden Sparrow Passer luteus and Chestnut-bellied Starling Lamprotornis pulcher.
Banc d’Arguin National Park was established in 1976 and protects 40% of the Mauritania coastline between Nouakchott and Nouâdhibou. It covers a total area of 12,000 km2 and includes shallow open sea and seagrass bed (60-80,000 ha), intertidal flats (55,000 ha), channels and creeks as well as coastal desert habitats. It holds possibly the world’s largest concentrations of non-breeding waders and it is estimated that over 30% of all waders using the East Atlantic flyway winter here. There is more information on this site in the hotspots and news sections.
Other IBAs are important for seabirds and waterbirds. Cap Blanc is a coastal site with significant numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus, Caspian Tern Sterna caspia and Sandwich Tern S. sandvicensis. Gabou is a wetland site with large numbers of Ruff Philomachus pugnax, Garganey Anas querquedula and White-faced Whistling Duck Dendrocygna viduata in the years it receives adequate rainfall. Lac d’Aleg and Lac de Mâl in the south-west had records of 116,000 and 33,690 waterbirds respectively in 1987. More than 20,000 waterbirds have been recorded at Tâmourt en Na'âj and 43,600 by aerial survey at Rkîz in November 1999. Chott Boul is a coastal wetland which holds along with the southern parts of Aftout es Sâheli the only probable breeding colony of Lesser Flamingo Phoeniconaias minor in West Africa as well as large numbers of Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata, Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta and Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa. The following sites are in the south-east of the country: Gâat Mahmoûdé which periodically holds large numbers of Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus, Knob-billed Duck Sarkidiornis melanotos, Black Crowned Crane Balearica pavonina and Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus; Tâmourt de Chlim; Sawana-Oum Lellé; Rkîz and Kankossa with at least 20,000 waterbirds recorded at each site.
For further details, download the country IBAs from BirdLife International.