email a friend
printable version
Southern Black Bustard Afrotis afra
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
Please email us with any relevant information

This small bustard has been uplisted from Least Concern to Vulnerable as it is suspected to be undergoing rapid population declines owing to the loss and fragmentation of its habitat to agricultural conversion.

Taxonomic source(s)
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

Taxonomic note
Afrotis afra (del Hoyo and Collar 2014) was previously placed in the genus Eupodotis.

(Eupodotis) afra and E. afraoides (Sibley and Monroe 1990, 1993) are retained as separate species contra Dowsett and Forbes-Watson (1993) who included afraoides as a subspecies of E. afra.

Eupodotis afra (Linnaeus, 1766)

Distribution and population
This species is endemic to southwestern South Africa, where it occurs in Northern Cape, Western Cape and Eastern Cape provinces from Little Namaqualand south to Cape Town and then east to Grahamstown. It was historically very common but appears to have become scarcer and its distribution more fragmented (Hofmeyr 2012).

Population justification
The global population size has not been quantified, but the species has been described as 'uncommon to common' (Hockey et al. 2005).

Trend justification
Comparison of data from the first and second Southern African Bird Atlas Projects (SABAP1, 1987–1992 and SABAP2, 2007–) indicates that the species declined in abundance in c.80% of its range between 1992 and 2010, and by over 30% during the study period, although the decline may have decelerated from 2008 onwards (Hofmeyr 2012). Occupancy modelling using the same data confirmed this, showing declines in abundance and range across most of its range. Comparison of results from an extensive terrestrial road census in the Karoo with those from a similar study in the 1980s also found a marked population decline (Shaw 2013), and data from the Coordinated Avifaunal Roadcounts project also indicate declines between 1997 and 2010 in Overberg and Swartland (S. Hofmeyr and D. Young in litt. 2013). Subsequent analysis of the SABAP data to April 2013 indicates the situation may be more serious, with slight declines in the Eastern Cape population and declines in the Northern Cape and especially the Western Cape appearing to be more significant than previously suspected (S. Hofmeyr in litt. 2013). On-going population declines within the range 30-49% in 31 years (three generations) are suspected based on these analyses.

The species is restricted to the non-grassy, winter rainfall or mixed winter-summer rainfall Fynbos and Succulent Karoo biomes, and the extreme south of the Nama Karoo biome, in a narrow strip along the southern and western coastlines of South Africa (Hofmeyr 2012). It also occurs in semi-arid scrub and dunes with succulent vegetation, and extends into renosterveld scrub and semi-arid karoo (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Hockey et al. 2005). It occurs occasionally in cultivated fields with nearby cover (Hockey et al. 2005). The diet consists of insects, small reptiles and plant material, including seeds and green shoots (Hockey et al. 2005).

Conversion of natural vegetation to agriculture is likely to be the primary threat. In Overberg and Swartland, where the species has declined, the intensity of agricultural cultivation has increased in recent years (D. Young in litt. 2013). Coordinated Avifaunal Roadcounts project data show that, whilst the species can use farmland where little else is available (especially in the Overberg, where c.80% of land is transformed), in general they prefer natural veld (Hofmeyr 2012). Patches of indigenous vegetation have probably not only decreased in size but also become more isolated (D. Young in litt. 2013). Increasing agricultural activity is likely to not only cause a decrease in suitable breeding territories, but also decreased breeding success as a result of increased disturbance related to farming activities and increased chick and egg predation because of a general decrease in cover and an increase in predators such as Pied Crows (Hofmeyr 2012). It is also possible that adults have suffered increased predation rates and even increased starvation because of the decline in cover and suitable habitat (Hofmeyr 2012). Climate change may aggravate the threat of habitat loss (Hofmeyr 2012).

Conservation and research actions underway
CITES Appendix II.

Conservation and research actions needed
Conduct more detailed studies with the aim of improving our understanding of the status of the population, the causes of its decline, and any possible mitigation measures that may be taken (Hofmeyr 2012).

del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J. 1996. Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Hockey, P. A. R.; Dean, W. R. J.; Ryan, P. G. 2005. Roberts birds of southern Africa. Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town, South Africa.

Hofmeyr, S. 2012. Impacts of environmental change on large terrestrial bird species in South Africa: insights from citizen science data. PhD thesis. University of Cape Town.

Shaw, J. M. 2013. Power line collisions in the Karoo: Conserving Ludwig"s Bustard. PhD thesis. University of Cape Town.

Further web sources of information
Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

View photos and videos and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J. & Symes, A.

Shaw, J., Hofmeyr, S. & Young, D.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Afrotis afra. Downloaded from on 21/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 21/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Vulnerable
Family Otididae (Bustards)
Species name author (Linnaeus, 1766)
Population size Unknown mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 173,000 km2
Country endemic? Yes
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- Projected distributions under climate change