Just one more expat

Is the presence of a rare waterbird a boon for ornitholigists or a defiance of Darwinism?

The rare watercock, Gallicrex cinerea, was spotted in Dubai, making it the 460th bird species found in the UAE. Photo courtesy of Tommy Pedersen
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How should we treat the geographically embarrassed waterbird that has made an unexpected home in Dubai? The country's only known representative of Gallicrex cinerea – known to its friends as the watercock – has recently been added to the 459 bird species that have been previously spotted in the UAE.

That is good news to keen birders like Tommy Pedersen, of the Emirates Bird Recording Committee, who had spent 11 years travelling to Singapore, Bangladesh and the Philippines in the hope of spotting one, only to find one had arrived here.

But is this interfering in natural selection? The bird was near exhaustion when it landed, fortuitously, in the Nad Al Shiba Avian Reproduction Research Centre rather than among a gang of hungry street cats. The temptation is to anthropomorphise this incident, noting that many birds – and people – from far off places have landed in the UAE almost by accident and liked it so much that they stayed.