The white-headed duck (Oxyura leucocephala) is a threatened Eurasian species, with a known population size estimated at 25 000 individuals. It is resident in North Africa, breeds and winters in Turkey and can be found in several EU countries over winter. The main threat to this species is genetic introgression by hybridisation with the ruddy duck (Oxyura jamaicensis), a species introduced from North America. Since 1997, 14 000 ruddy ducks have been killed in Europe. Approximately 400 remain, of which 55 % are in France and 45 % in the Netherlands, Belgium, UK, and occasionally Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and Switzerland. In France, 250 to 350 ruddy ducks are also held in captivity, with a risk of escape into the wild. Actions undertaken in France since 1997 have not eradicated the ruddy duck due to insufficient resources and incoming ducks, particularly from the UK. The near-eradication of the UKs population together with control measures implemented in Belgium and the Netherlands now make the eradication of ruddy duck in France a realistic possibility.
The objective of the Life Oxyura project is to eradicate the invasive non-native ruddy duck in the natural environment in France by 2023. This will stop this introduced species interbreeding with the endangered white-headed duck. Thus, it will prevent the exchange of genes between species and the extinction of the native duck species. The project also aims to prevent any new introductions of the ruddy duck by 2020, and to reduce the captive population to zero by 2030 (with the exception of zoos). In addition, the project team will encourage the rapid detection and destruction of ruddy ducks in the EU countries where they occur most commonly, to prevent their further spread to south and south-east Europe and Northern Africa.
The project implements the Birds Directive, under which the white-headed duck is listed. It also contributes to the Habitats Directive, the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020, and the Regulation on invasive alien (non-native) species.