This species is listed as Endangered because it has a very small range, with breeding proven at only three locations, which is believed to be undergoing a continuing decline in extent, area, and habitat quality, owing to the high rate of loss and degradation of its preferred habitat, seasonal marshland (Collar and Stuart 1985).
Dowsett, R. J.; Forbes-Watson, A. D. 1993. Checklist of birds of the Afrotropical and Malagasy regions. Tauraco Press, Li
Sibley, C. G.; Monroe, B. L. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the world. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.
Distribution and populationSarothrura ayresi
14 cm. Tiny rail. Adult male has chestnut head. Both sexes have black-barred chestnut tail and white wing-patches (very obvious in flight, not visible at rest). Similar spp. No other flufftail Sarothrura has white wing-patches. Female paler below than other female flufftails Voice Was believed to make a soft, double-noted hooting, but it has been proposed that these calls may in fact refer to nocturnal calls of Grey Crowned-crane Balearica regulorum. Hints Best chance of seeing this secretive bird is during the wet season in upland marshes in central South Africa and Ethiopia.
occurs in Ethiopia
(currently three sites in the central highlands, the only known breeding area for this species) (Taylor and van Perlo 1998, Taylor 1998, 1999), Zimbabwe
(one record in 1988 [Hustler and Irwin 1995
], two records in the 1970s [Taylor and van Perlo 1998]
, and a possible breeding record in the 1950s [Taylor and van Perlo 1998, Taylor 1999]), and South Africa
(ten sites in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga [De Smidt 2003]). Claimed records from Zambia and Rwanda are unproven (Taylor and van Perlo 1998, F. Dowsett-Lemaire and R. J. Dowsett in litt.
1999, P. Leonard in litt.
1999). The occupied breeding range has been estimated as 250 km2
(Anon. 1999). In South Africa, the total population is estimated to be 235 birds (Taylor and van Perlo 1998). In the Ethiopian highlands, 10-15 pairs have bred at Sululta annually since 1996 (Atkinson et al.
1996a, Anon. 1997c, J. S. Ash in litt.
1999) and c.200 pairs were discovered at a new breeding site (Berga floodplain) in 1997 (Anon. 1997c,
A. Shimelis in litt.
1998, M. Wondafrash in litt.
). In 2005, a small breeding population was discovered at Bilacha in Ethiopia (M. Wondafrash in litt.
, with three adults recorded initially in July, followed by the location of three eggs in August and 19 nests in September (Anon. 2006)
. Whether a single population migrates between Ethiopia and South Africa, or each country hosts its own subpopulation, is still not known (Taylor and van Perlo 1998, Barnes 2000
), although observations from a breeding site in Ethiopia discovered in 2005 show that birds continue to breed into the dry season and may remain in Ethiopia after breeding, rather than migrate (A. Tefera per
anon. 2006) Population justification
The population in South Africa is estimated to be 235 birds, with at least a further 210-215 pairs in Ethiopia (A. Shimelis in litt.
1998), i.e. probably 700 mature individuals in total, which Wetlands International (2002) interpreted to equate to 865-880 individuals.Trend justification
This species's population is suspected to be decreasing in line with levels of disturbance, habitat loss and degradation in Ethiopia and South Africa (Atkinson et al. 1996a, Taylor and van Perlo 1998, P.B. Taylor in litt. 1999, De Smidt and Evans 2003, Taylor and Grundling 2003, M. Drummond in litt. 2005). However, the likely rate of decline has not been estimated.EcologyBehaviour
The movements of this species are not fully understood. Lack of subspeciation has been interpreted to imply that the birds migrate between the two range areas (del Hoyo et al
. 1996, Taylor and van Perlo 1998), and this is supported by the fact that breeding has not been observed in South Africa where it is considered by many to be a non-breeding summer visitor (Urban et al.
2005). However the fact that there are overlaps in occurrence has prompted suggestions that strict migration is unlikely (Taylor and van Perlo 1998). One suggestion is that long-distance dispersal occurs when numbers are high (del Hoyo et al
. 1996, Taylor and van Perlo 1998), with local movements being predominant at other times. In Ethiopia birds that breed in the central highlands in June-September may move to lover-level habitats during the non-breeding season when the highland areas becomes unsuitable (del Hoyo et al
. 1996, Taylor and van Perlo 1998). In South Africa the species is thought to be nomadic, moving in search of its transient habitat (del Hoyo et al
. 1996, Anon. 1997c, J. S. Ash in litt.
1999). Birds in Ethiopia are present between June and October (J. S. Ash in litt.
, while non-breeding birds in South Africa are present from November to March (P. B. Taylor in litt.
, with a few records in May, August and September (Urban et al.
2005). Breeding occurs in July-August (Taylor et al.
. Breeding birds occur at a density of 2-4 pairs per hectare (Taylor and van Perlo 1998). Non-breeding birds occur in loose associations (Taylor and van Perlo 1998). Habitat Breeding
The species breeds in high-altitude seasonal marshes (between 2,200 and 2,600 m) with dense, rapidly growing vegetation dominated by sedges, grasses and forbs (Taylor 1996, Taylor and van Perlo 1998). It occurs here when vegetation has reached 20-40 cm in height and the ground has not yet become entirely flooded (Taylor et al.
2004). Very soon after hatching, it appears to move its chicks to areas of denser vegetation where the ground is more deeply and continuously flooded (Taylor et al.
In South Africa it inhabits moist to flooded peat-based habitats (Urban et al.
2005) (mostly at 1,100-1,900 m) where vegetation is dense and dominated by sedges (Carex
(Urban et al.
2005), although it is occasionally found in pure stands of Bulrush and reeds (Urban et al.
2005). It forages in mud at the edges of reed beds, in shallow water, in floating mats of aquatic vegetation and occasionally on dry ground (Urban et al.
2005). Of the 10 important sites for the species in South Africa, 9 are within the Eastern Uplands, Great Escarpment Mountains and Highveld peatland ecoregions, emphasising the importance of peat-based habitats (Taylor and Grundling 2003)
. In 2002, a new site was discovered in northern coastal KwaZulu-Natal following speculation that the species no longer occurred in coastal areas (Taylor and Grundling 2003)
It feeds on seeds and vegetation (De Smidt 2003) as well as insects, spiders, earthworms, small frogs and small fish (Urban et al.
The stomach contents of a deceased chick included coleoptera (Dystiscidae) imagines, Diptera larvae (Tipulidae and Tabanidae), and the remains of small crustaceans. Breeding site
Nests found in Ethiopia are described as a ball of woven live sedge, Eleocharis
, and other plant stems and vegetation, with clutches of 4-6 eggs (Allan et al.
2006, Taylor et al.
2004). Observations at a nest found in August 1999 resulted in an estimated incubation period of 15-16 days. Threats
Seasonal marshes are threatened by drainage (for cultivation and forestry), flooding by dams, catchment erosion, water abstraction, human disturbance, too-frequent burning, and excessive trampling and grazing by livestock and cutting of marsh vegetation for fodder (Atkinson et al.
1996a, Taylor and van Perlo 1998, P. B. Taylor in litt.
. Observations in Ethiopia suggest that it moves its chicks very soon after hatching to areas of denser vegetation and deeper flooding before the vegetation at nest sites has grown enough for cutting by local people (Taylor et al.
2004). Grasses and sedges are cut for the culturally important Ethiopian coffee ceremony (De Smidt 2003). In Ethiopia, a serious problem is the rapid growth in the numbers of livestock at around 2.4% per annum, and the resultant grazing of breeding habitat to a very short sward length (M Drummond in litt.
2005). The peatlands of South Africa are threatened by cultivation, afforestation, grazing, water abstraction, horticulture, peat fires, draining, headcut and donga erosion, siltation, fences and developments such as roads and dams (Taylor and Grundling 2003)
. The construction of the Braamhoek pumped storage scheme at Bedford Chatsworth marsh in eastern Free State, South Africa, may have caused disturbance and damage to habitat (De Smidt 2003). Conservation actions underway
CMS Appendix I and II. Some South African sites have some legal protection, and at least four sites are protected by the landowners (Barnes 2000). At the largest Ethiopian breeding population, the vegetation is not cut for fodder until October-November (M. Wondafrash in litt.
2007), thus giving the birds time to breed without disturbance (Anon. 1997c). In South Africa, the Middelpunt Wetland Association was formed in 1994 with the main objective of conserving the species (De Smidt 2003, M Drummond in litt.
2005). One of the Ethiopian sites, Berga, is on a state-run dairy farm, and formerly so was Weserbi. The farm at Weserbi has been privatised, but the marsh still remains under the control of the central Dairy Farm Enterprise based in Addis Ababa (M. Wondafrash in litt.
2007). A Site Support Group, formed for Berga by the Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society, has carried out successful conservation action (De Smidt 2003).
In 2003, a partnership was formed to mitigate the effects of the Braamhoek pumped storage scheme. In June 2003, a national Species Action Planning stakeholder workshop was held in Wakkerstrom, South Africa, to assess the threats facing the species in this country, and concluded with the agreement that a South African White-winged Flufftail Action Group be established (De Smidt 2003). An International Species Action Plan was published in 2008 (Sande et al.
2008). A proposal was put forward in 2006 to initiate a captive breeding programme in August that year, based in Pretoria Zoo, and using eggs taken from Berga marsh, Ethiopia (Tarboton and Wondafrash in prep.). The aim would be to study the species's life history and behaviour (Tarboton and Wondafrash in prep.). However, there were concerns that the programme should be carried out in Ethiopia, where it is known to breed, and that releasing birds into its non-breeding range could result in hybridisation with similar species (P.K. Ndang'ang'a in litt.
2006). The captive breeding programme is not currently going ahead (M. Wondafrash in litt.
2007). Conservation actions proposed
Maintain and restore suitable habitat at breeding areas in Ethiopia through sustainable use under community-based conservation programmes (Atkinson et al.
1996a, Taylor and van Perlo 1998). Protect additional sites in South Africa (Barnes 2000)
. Continue surveys in Ethiopia and southern Africa to better define its range, population, seasonal movements and habitat requirements (Atkinson et al.
1996a, A. Shimelis in litt.
1998, Barnes 2000). Locate new breeding sites (Taylor et al.
2004, M Drummond in litt.
2005). Rehabilitate degraded wetlands (Taylor et al.
2004). Conduct research to determine the extent of the species's dependency on mire habitat in South Africa (Taylor and Grundling 2003)
. Ensure integrity of known and suspected sites in South Africa by 2008 (De Smidt 2003). Reduce disturbance at eight sites in South Africa by 2008 (De Smidt 2003). Confirm that the species migrates between Ethiopia and South Africa (De Smidt 2003). Determine and record its principal calls for field studies (De Smidt 2003).
Related state of the world's birds case studies
Collar, N. J.; Stuart, S. N. 1985. Threatened birds of Africa and related islands: the ICBP/IUCN Red Data Book. International Council for Bird Preservation, and International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, Cambridge, U.K.
Hustler, K.; Irwin, M. P. S. 1995. Fifth Report of the OAZ Rarities Committee. Honeyguide 41: 103-106.
Atkinson, P.; Robertson, P.; Dellelegn, Y.; Wondafrash, M.; Atkins, J. 1996. The recent rediscovery of White-winged Flufftails in Ethiopia. Bulletin of the African Bird Club 3(1): 34-36.
del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J. 1996. Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.
Taylor, P. B. 1996. Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules and Coots). In: del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J. (ed.), Handbook of the birds of the world, pp. 108-209. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.
Taylor, B.; van Perlo, B. 1998. Rails: a guide to the rails, crakes, gallinules and coots of the world. Pica Press, Robertsbridge, UK.
Taylor, P. B. 1998. The ecology and conservation of the White-winged Flufftail, and the sustainable utilisation of Ethiopian high-altitude palustrine wetland habitats: report on fieldwork in Ethiopia from 27 November to 12 December 1998.
Barnes, K. N. 2000. The Eskom Red Data Book of birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.
Taylor, B. 1999. First White-winged Flufftail nest found. World Birdwatch 21(4): 3.
Anon. 1999. White-winged Flufftail (Sarothrura ayresi).
Taylor, P. B.; Grundling, P. L. 2003. The importance of South African mires as habitat for the endangered Whitewinged Flufftail (Sarothrura ayresi). International Mire Conservation Group Newsletter: 8-12.
Taylor, B.; Wondafrash, M.; Demek, Y. 2004. The nest, eggs and chicks of the White-winged Flufftail Sarothrura ayresi. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club 124: 233-238.
Allan, D. G.; McInnes, A. M.; Wondafrash, M. 2006. White-winged Flufftail Sarothrura ayresi in Ethiopia: notes on habitat, densities, morphometrics, nests and eggs, and associated waterbirds. Bulletin of the African Bird Club 13: 28-36.
Anon. 2006. Local group discovers new flufftail site. Africa - Birds & Birding 11: 10.
Anon. 2006. New flufftail site discovered. World Birdwatch 28(1): 10.
De Smidt, A. 2003. Ethiopian White-winged Flufftail (Sarothrura ayresi) action plan.
Tarboton, W.; Wondafrash, M. in prep. Project proposal to establish a captive-breeding population of the White-winged Flufftail.
Sande, E.; Ndang’ang’a, P. K.; Wakelin, J.; Wondafrash, M;, Drummond, M;, Dereliev, S. (compilers). 2008. International Single Species Action Plan for the Conservation of the White-winged Flufftail (Sarothrura ayresi). CMS; AEWA, Bonn, Germany.
Further web sources of information
African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) International Action Plan 2007
South African White-winged Flufftail (Sarothrura ayresi) Action Plan
View photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection
Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Ekstrom, J., Evans, M., Pilgrim, J., Shutes, S., Symes, A., Taylor, J.
Ash, J., Dowsett-Lemaire, F., Dowsett, R., Drummond, M., Kariuki Ndang’ang’a, P., Leonard, P., Robertson, P., Shimelis, A., Taylor, P., Wondafrash, M.
IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Taylor, J.
BirdLife International (2013) Species factsheet: Sarothrura ayresi. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 25/05/2013.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2013) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 25/05/2013.
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.
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