LIFE Oxyura

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The LIFE Oxyura is a European program contributing to the protection of an endangered diving duck native to Eurasia: the white-headed duck (Oxyura leucocephala).

The white-headed duck is a small Eurasian diving duck breeding in Spain and North Africa and frequently reported in Russia and Kazakhstan. It is the only species belonging to the genus Oxyura in Europe.
The ongoing decline of its populations as led the International Union for Conservation of Nature to rate the species as “endangered” in the Red List of Threatened Species (BirdLife International & UICN, 2012).
Several international action plans have thus been settled successively to face the extinction risk threatening the species.

One of the main threats identified by these conservation plans is the genetic introgression by hybridization of the white-headed duck with the ruddy duck (Oxyura jamaicensis).
Imported for captive breeding in the United Kingdom seventy years ago, the ruddy duck spread in Europe after the escape of few individuals and mated with white-headed duck individuals in Spain, where fertile hybrids have been observed.

Pair of white-headed ducks. Credits: wikicommons

To manage this threat, the involved European countries signed in 1997 an international eradication plan led by the European Council and issued by the Berne Convention. Eradication of the ruddy duck from the European territory is now a prime objective of the conservation plan of the white-headed duck.

Female ruddy duck and its breeding. Credit: Eric Médard /
Male ruddy duck with breeding plumage. Credit: Eric Médard /
Fight between a male ruddy duck (left) and a male white-headed duck (right). Credit: Eric Médard /

This LIFE project, conducted since October 2018 by the French Biodiversity Agency (OFB), a public institution, and issued for five years, aims at regulating the ruddy duck population in France, into the wild and in captivity. It is an application of the European and national eradication plans of the species reinforced by the new legal dispositions adopted by the European regulation 1143/2014 on invasive alien species.

The National Society for Nature Protection, in charge of the National Nature Reserve of the Grand-Lieu lake, the main wintering site of the ruddy duck in France, is the associated beneficiary of the project.

Ruddy duck observations in France since 1974 – data from the French Biodiversity Agency.

Select all years and click on the target to observe the population size evolution in the wintering sites.
Click on a circle to see monthly details. Last update: 01-15-2024


Agent employed thanks to the LIFE project, in prospection on the Grand-Lieu lake. Credit: Alexis Laroche / OFB

3 objectives and 9 actions:


Objective 1: Eradicate the wild ruddy duck population in France before 2023.

Objective 2: Prevent any introduction in the wild from commercial or recreational activities before 2020. Eradicate the captive population before 2030 (excepted for authorized zoos).

Objective 3: Encourage the early detection and destruction of the ruddy duck in other European countries where it is the most frequently observed and where it may transit to reach North Africa, South and South-Eastern Europe: Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and Switzerland.

Actions on the wild population:

Action 1: Implement and coordinate a French network of observers

Action 2: Locate more transit and breeding sites by increasing prospection time

Action 3: Increase the number of culling operations and adapt intervention periods

Action 4: Optimize eradication technics

Action 5: Monitor the wild ruddy duck population

Actions on the captive population:

Action 6: Apply temporary captivity dispositions of the European regulation N°1143/2014

Action 7: Implement a communication plan

Action 8: Develop an educational project in authorized ex-situ breeding establishments open to public

Action 9: Involve Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and Switzerland in the eradication plan.

For more information

Annual report :

Communication :

General report :

The LIFE program is the European Council funding instrument to support environmental and climatic projects. It is designed for public or private project leaders and aims at promoting and funding innovative projects.