Abu Dhabi Birdathon

The Abu Dhabi Birdathon, organised by Etihad Airways and the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, is a unique competitive and educational initiative. Launched in the Year of Zayed (2018), it honours and commemorates the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s deep connection to sustainability and his passion for protecting endangered species.

In November 2018, ten Greater flamingos, each one nominated to a leading organisation in Abu Dhabi, were tagged with a satellite transmitter and released from the internationally recognised Al Wathba Wetland Reserve in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Participating organisations’ staff are being engaged as they watch to see which flamingo flies the farthest, spreading Sheikh Zayed’s passion for protecting endangered species even further.

Established in 1996, the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) is committed to protecting and enhancing air quality, groundwater as well as the biodiversity of our desert and marine ecosystem.
From its Abu Dhabi base, Etihad Airways flies to 91 international passenger and cargo destinations with its fleet of 110 Airbus and Boeing aircraft. Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, was established by Royal (Emiri) Decree in July 2003.

Abu Dhabi Birdathon

Bird Migration:

In 2005, a flamingo, nicknamed Sindbad by experts at the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, was monitored for over seven years. It is believed to be one of the most extensive tracking of an individual Greater Flamingo in the world.

Sindbad traversed more than 20,000 kms, sometimes flying at speeds of over 90 kph. A truly international traveler, he spent summers in Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Saudi Arabia. The information gathered by the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi has been invaluable to the tracking of other birds, which share similar habitats and migratory patterns.

Since then, Abu Dhabi’s globally-recognised bird satellite tracking programme has gone from strength to strength tagging and tracking important and threatened species, some for the very first time in the world. Thanks to the programme, Abu Dhabi has a better understanding of the birds’ ecology, movement, migration routes, stopovers and has led to identifying areas of conservation significance for these birds.


Flamingos with their exotic pink colour, long body, and peculiar bill shape have attracted human attention since time immemorial, and cave paintings of them up to 7,000 years old have been found in Spain.

The Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) continues to act as a flagship species for bird conservation in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. It is the largest species of flamingo, averaging 110 - 150 cm in height and weighing 2 - 4 kg. It feeds on algae and small shrimp and only breeds when conditions are suitable such as at Abu Dhabi’s globally-recognised Al Wathba Wetland Reserve. They may live as long as 30 years.

Success Stories:

Abu Dhabi, through the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, has been tracking birds since 2005. Here is a timeline demonstrating some of the success stories:


Used tracking technology to identify one of the biggest breeding colonies of Greater Flamingos in Abu Dhabi. This led to the site being internationally recognised and protected under law.


Successfully tagged and tracked a Crab Plover, which breeds in Abu Dhabi but also spends time outside breeding in the Seychelles. This was the first-ever tracking of this species in the world.


Tagged and released two Egyptian Vultures and two Greater Spotted Eagles. One of the Egyptian Vultures remained on Jabal Hafit while the second remained in Oman. One of the Greater Spotted Eagles migrated to northern Kazakhstan and southern Russia, before returning to Al Wathba, covering a total distance of 21,000 kms.

Abu Dhabi Birdathon

Al Wathba Wetland Reserve History:

In 1998, after the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan observed the successful breeding of the flamingo for the first time at Al Wathba Wetland Reserve, he established the site as a protected area, to be managed under the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi.

Thanks to his belief in conservation, today the Reserve is the only site in the Arabian Peninsula where flamingos continue to breed regularly, and it has become an internationally recognised wetland around the world as well as a popular sustainable tourism destination locally. Today, the reserve is one of the 19 protected areas within the Sheikh Zayed Protected Areas Network, benefitting from the highest level of legal protection.

In 2013, the reserve was designated as the first Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in Abu Dhabi Emirate, gaining international recognition and protection. This means that the site joins a list of over 2,000 other wetlands around the world.


Things to See:

The reserve consists of several different habitats, including a fresh water lake, saline lakes, tall reed marshes, gravel plains, sand dunes and Sabkha. It covers an area of about 5 km2 and is home to more than 4,000 Greater Flamingo as well as 260 species of birds that rely on the lake and wet areas for feeding and breeding. The 2018 flamingo breeding season saw a record number of 601 Greater Flamingo chicks successfully fledged at Al Wathba Wetland Reserve. It also provides a safe haven for many other species of reptiles, small mammals and insects. Several insect species, which are ‘new to science,’ have been discovered on the Reserve.

The reserve features a Visitor Experience Center, self-guided trails, a bird hide and a rare opportunity for city dwellers to experience nature. The reserve has been diligently kept as close to its natural state as possible to allow threatened species of wildlife to thrive.

Opening Hours

In 2018, the reserve opened to visitors on November 1, 2018. Visitors are welcome every Thursday and Saturday from 8 am to 4 pm (last entry at 2 pm).


Abu Dhabi Birdathon

Frequently asked questions:

No. Participating organisations have already been selected, invited and engaged by the organisers.
Species in the wild, especially migratory birds, face numerous challenges, both locally and along their migratory routes and may be vulnerable to hunting, poaching or natural death. There is also a chance that a tagged flamingo may not migrate at all or a transmitter, just like any technology, may fail. EAD and Etihad have no control over such events.
If the flamingo undertakes migration, it is likely to cross the Arabian Gulf to fly to Iran. It may stay in Iran or continue its migration further north, along the Caspian Sea into Turkmenistan or Kazakshtan.
Flamingos do not fly non-stop. They tend to stopover along their migratory route to rest and refuel.
No. This initiative is not a competition. It is purely about honoring and commemorating the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s deep connection to sustainability and his passion for protecting endangered species.

Abu Dhabi Birdathon


Etihad Airways

New Airport Road,
Khalifa City,
PO Box 35566,
Abu Dhabi, UAE

Tel: +971 2 511 0000

Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi

P.O Box: 45553
Al Mamoura Building (A),
Muroor Road, Abu Dhabi,
United Arab Emirates
Tel: +971 2 693 4444
E-mail: customerhappiness@ead.ae
Official Working hours:
7:30 AM – 3:00 PM, Sunday to Thursday