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A Birdwatchers Guide to: Morocco

Country Facts

This section provides some basic country information. The coverage here is by no means extensive, but the purpose is simply to give a brief overview of the country at a high level. For the interested reader there is a plethora of information to be found on the net and and are two very good sites to start. Much of the text on these 'Country Facts' pages is derived from these two sites.
The first part below describes the natural history of the country with the subsections 'Geography', 'Climate' and 'Wildlife'. The 'Wildlife' section emphasises other aspects than birds with main focus on mammals. For information about birds, please consult the 'Birder's Facts' section.
The second part gives background information about people and society. The information about the people is in the subsections 'People', 'Religion' and 'Languages', while a broad outline of the society is described in subsections 'Economy', 'Tourism' and 'Politics'.

Quick links to the information on this page:

a banner with photo of dry habitat, with the high atlas in the background

The text on this page is partly derived from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; Permanent Link: 'Morocco'

Natural History

In this section I will give some background information about the natural history of Morocco. "Natural History" will here be understood in the broadest sense, thus also including the geography and climate of Morocco.
First is a description of the physical and political boundaries of the country and then some of the main geological features are described. These geological features are mainly the various mountain ranges of the country and the vast Saharan desert that intrudes Morocco in the southeastern parts of the country and all of the Western Sahara region. The combination of the Atlantic, the mountain ranges and the desert regions in effect defines the zoogeography of Morocco and the differences in fauna and birdlife between the regions are a result of this (This is also the logical basis for the division into the specific regions of this site).
The physical features of Morocco is also what defines the climates in the different regions, and these climates are briefly outlined in the next section. But very briefly it is what one could expect: a Mediterranean climate at the coast, more humid and cooler in the western parts of the mountains and (extremely) dry to the east of the mountains.
Finally is a short overview of other wildlife that you might encounter in Morocco. As this website for 99% concentrates on birds, and this group is represented in the main sections, there is only a brief mention of them here. This overview focuses on mammals which I presume many birders will also be interested in finding and that might be identified without extensive knowledge of the subject matter.

a general map of morocco
A map of Morocco, including Western Sahara.

Morocco is a Northern African country, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, between Algeria and the annexed Western Sahara. It is one of only three nations (along with Spain and France) to have both Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines.
Morocco is bordered by Spain to the north (a water border through the Strait and land borders with three small Spanish-controlled exclaves, Ceuta, Melilla, and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera), Algeria to the east, and Western Sahara to the south. Since Morocco controls most of Western Sahara, its de facto southern boundary is with Mauritania. The internationally recognized borders of the country lie between latitudes 27° and 36°N, and longitudes 1° and 14°W. Adding Western Sahara, Morocco lies mostly between 21° and 36°N, and 1° and 17°W. At 446,550 km2 (172,414 sq mi). Morocco is the fifty-seventh largest country in the world.
The geography of Morocco spans from the Atlantic Ocean, to mountainous areas, to the Sahara desert. A large part of Morocco is mountainous. The Atlas Mountains are located mainly in the center and the south of the country. The Rif Mountains are located in the north of the country. Both ranges are mainly inhabited by the Berber people. The Rif mountains stretch over the region bordering the Mediterranean from the north-west to the north-east. The Atlas Mountains run down the backbone of the country, from the northeast to the south west. Most of the southeast portion of the country is in the Sahara Desert and as such is generally sparsely populated and unproductive economically. Most of the population lives to the north of these mountains, while to the south lies the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony that was annexed by Morocco in 1975. Morocco claims that the Western Sahara is part of its territory and refers to that as its Southern Provinces.
Morocco's capital city is Rabat; its largest city is its main port, Casablanca. Other cities include Agadir, Essaouira, Fes, Marrakesh, Meknes, Mohammadia, Oujda, Ouarzazate, Safi, Salé, Tangier and Tétouan.

various temperature ranges for selected moroccan cities
Temperature ranges for selected Moroccan cities.

The climate is Mediterranean in the northern parts of the country. The coastal plains experience remarkably moderate temperatures even in summer, owing to the effect of the cold Canary Current off its Atlantic coast. The terrain is such that the coastal plains are rich and accordingly they comprise the backbone for agriculture, especially in the North. Forests cover about 12% of the land while arable land accounts for 18%; 5% is irrigated. In the Atlas (Middle Atlas), there are several different climates: Mediterranean (with some more humid and fresher variants), Maritime Temperate (with some humid and fresher variants too) that allow different species of oaks, moss carpets, junipers, atlantic cedars and many other plants, to form extensive and very rich humid cloud forests. The climate changes when moving east of the Atlas mountains due to the barrier, or shelter, effect of the mountain system, becoming very dry and extremely warm during the long summer, especially on the lowlands and on the valleys facing the Sahara. The Sahara Desert begins here, and it is perfectly visible, for example, near Erg Chebbi or on the Draa Valley, where it is possible to find oases, sand dunes and rocky desert landscapes.


Approximately 105 species of mammals live in Morocco and Morocco’s native mammal species include foxes, Golden Jackal (Canis aureus), Common Genet (Genetta genetta), Striped Hyena (Hyaena hyaena), gazelles, Barbary Macaque (Macaca sylvanus) and Barbary Sheep (Ammotragus lervia). Mammals that are most frequently seen by visiting birdwatchers at the sites describe in include Barbary Macaque, Barbary Ground Squirrel (Atlantoxerus getulus), Sand Rat (Psammomys obesus), Cape Hare (Lepus capensis), Egyptian Mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon) and Wild Boar (Sus scrofa).
The wildlife in Morocco has been under attack from humans for many years. Deforestation for pastures and agricultural use, pollution of the water sources and overgrazing by livestock, have each played a role in the decrease of wildlife species in Morocco. Morocco for the past several years has been trying to stop the deforestation of their lands by creating a number of bio reserves and national parks in the Ait Bougmez Valley, Rif Mountains and High Atlas Mountains. For anyone who is visiting Morocco the best places to witness wild animals are the national parks and reserves.
Of the 105 species of mammals currently 17 are on the endangered species list (classified as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable). Sadly this include the Barbary Leopard (Panthera pardus panthera) and the Northwest African Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus hecki ), which has not been recorded with certainty in Morocco for years (but there are some undocumented sightings). Species classified as Endangered include the Barbary Macaque and Cuvier's Gazelle (Gazella cuvieri). Other Endangered wildlife species in Morocco include the Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus) and Striped Hyena. The Addax (Addax nasomaculatus), Scimitar Oryx (Oryx dammah) and the Bubal Hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus buselaphus) have already become extinct.
Most of Morocco’s wild animals are nocturnal and may only be glimpsed at dawn or dusk or in the headlights of a car ('spotlighting'). Aousserd road in Western Sahara See that section for details.
Birds are of course among the most impressive and visible part of Morocco’s wildlife. The country has over 450 species on record, including many rare birds such as the critically endangered Northern Bald Ibis. See 'Morocco Birders Facts' for more information about the impressive avifauna of Morocco.

People and Society


The population of Morocco currently stands at about 33.6 million with an annual growth rate of about 1.06%.
Most Moroccans are of Arab, Berber or mixed Arab-Berber descent. There is a significant minority of Sub-Saharan African and European people. Arabs and Berbers together make up about 99.1% of the Moroccan population. Berbers are the indigenous people and still make up the bulk of the population, although they have been largely Arabized. A sizeable portion of the population is identified as Haratin and Gnawa (or Gnaoua), black or mixed race descendants of slaves, and Moriscos, European Muslims expelled from Spain and Portugal in the 17th century.
Morocco's once prominent Jewish minority has decreased significantly since its peak of 265,000 in 1948, declining to around 5,500 today. Most of foreign residents in Morocco are French or Spanish. Some of them are descendants of colonial settlers, who primarily work for European multinational companies, while others are married to Moroccans or are retirees. Prior to independence, Morocco was home to half a million Europeans. Morocco is also home to more than 20,000 sub-Saharan African immigrants.

the koutoubia mosque in Marrakesh
The Koutoubia mosque in Marrakesh with the Atlas mountains as a beautiful backdrop.

In 2010, the religious affiliation in the country was estimated as 99.9% Muslim, with all remaining groups accounting for just 0.1% of the population. Sunnis form the majority at 67% with non-denominational Muslims being the second largest group of Muslims at 30%.
There are an estimated 3,000 to 8,000 Shia Muslims, most of them foreign residents from Lebanon or Iraq, but also a few citizen converts. Followers of several Sufi Muslim orders across the Maghreb and West Africa undertake joint annual pilgrimages to the country. The Baha’i community, located in urban areas, numbers 350 to 400 persons.
The most recent estimates put the size of the Casablanca Jewish community at about 2,500, and the Rabat and Marrakesh Jewish communities at about 100 members each. The remainder of the Jewish population is dispersed throughout the country.
The predominantly Roman Catholic and Protestant foreign-resident Christian community consists of approximately 5,000 practicing members, although some Protestant and Catholic clergy estimate the number to be higher. Most foreign resident Christians reside in the Casablanca, Tangier, and Rabat urban areas.


Morocco's official languages are Arabic and Berber. The country's distinctive group of Moroccan Arabic dialects is referred to as Darija. Approximately 89.8% of the whole population can communicate to some degree in Moroccan Arabic. The Berber language is spoken in three dialects and the 2004 population census reported that 28.1% of the population spoke Berber.
French is widely used in governmental institutions, media, mid-size and large companies, international commerce with French-speaking countries and often in international diplomacy. French is taught as an obligatory language at all schools. In 2010, there were 10,366,000 French-speakers in Morocco, or about 32% of the population.


Morocco's economy is considered a relatively liberal economy governed by the law of supply and demand. Since 1993, the country has followed a policy of privatization of certain economic sectors which used to be in the hands of the government. Morocco has become a major player in the African economic affairs and is the 5th African economy by GDP. Morocco was ranked the 1st African country by the Economist Intelligence Unit' quality-of-life index, ahead of South Africa. However, Morocco has since then slipped into fourth place behind Egypt, but ahead of Angola.
Government reforms and steady yearly growth in the region of 4–5% from 2000 to 2007, including 4.9% year-on-year growth in 2003–2007 helped the Moroccan economy to become much more robust compared to a few years ago.
The services sector accounts for just over half of GDP and industry, made up of mining, construction and manufacturing, is an additional quarter. The industries that recorded the highest growth are tourism, telecoms, information technology and textile.


Tourism is one of the most important sectors in Moroccan economy, it is well developed with a strong tourist industry focused on the country's coast, culture, and history . Morocco attracted more than 10 million tourists in 2013. Tourism is the second largest foreign exchange earner in Morocco after the phosphate industry. The Moroccan government is heavily investing in tourism development, in 2010 the government launched its Vision 2020 which plans to make Morocco one of the top 20 tourist destinations in the world and to double the annual number of international arrivals to 20 million by 2020, with the hope that tourism will then have risen to 20% of GDP. Most of the visitors to Morocco continue to be European, with French nationals making up almost 20% of all visitors.
Tourism is increasingly focused on Morocco's culture, such as its ancient cities. The modern tourist industry capitalizes on Morocco's ancient Roman and Islamic sites and on its landscape and cultural history. 60% of Morocco's tourists visit for its culture and heritage. Since 2006, activity and adventure tourism in the Atlas and Rif Mountains are the fastest growth area in Moroccan tourism.


The Moroccan Constitution provides for a monarchy with a Parliament and an independent judiciary. With the 2011 constitutional reforms, the King of Morocco retains few executive powers whereas those of the prime minister have been enlarged.
The constitution grants the king honorific powers; he is both the secular political leader and the "Commander of the Faithful" as a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed. He presides over the Council of Ministers; appoints the Prime Minister from the political party that has won the most seats in the parliamentary elections, and on recommendations from the latter, appoints the members of the government.
Since the constitutional reform of 1996, the bicameral legislature consists of two chambers. The Assembly of Representatives has 325 members elected for a five-year term, 295 elected in multi-seat constituencies and 30 in national lists consisting only of women. The Assembly of Councillors has 270 members, elected for a nine-year term, elected by local councils (162 seats), professional chambers (91 seats) and wage-earners (27 seats).
The Parliament's powers, though still relatively limited, were expanded under the 1992 and 1996 and even further in the 2011 constitutional revisions and include budgetary matters, approving bills, questioning ministers, and establishing ad hoc commissions of inquiry to investigate the government's actions. The lower chamber of Parliament may dissolve the government through a vote of no confidence.