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White-breasted Mesite Mesitornis variegatus
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
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This species is listed as Vulnerable because it has a small range which is severely fragmented and decreasing. Consequently its small population is suspected to be declining and is likely to suffer a rapid decline over the next three generations.

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.

Mesitornis variegata Collar et al. (1994), Mesitornis variegata Collar and Andrew (1988), Mesitornis variegata Sibley and Monroe (1990, 1993), Mesitornis variegata BirdLife International (2000)

31 cm. Low-slung, rail-like terrestrial bird with full tail and rather small head. Upperparts rufous-brown, with grey patch on upper mantle and wide, dark-bordered supercilium. Bill rather short, dark greyish and straight. Slight blue eye-ring, whitish face, with black malar stripes merging into variable pale chestnut breast-band. Lower breast covered in scattered black crescents, narrowly barred belly, mottled blackish. Similar spp. Told from terrestrial couas Coua by whitish supercilium, shorter legs, and narrower, longer bill. Brown Mesite M. unicolor lacks white, spotted underparts and striking head-pattern. Hints Walks slowly over the leaf-covered floor of primary forest, flicking over leaves in search of invertebrates.

Distribution and population
Mesitornis variegatus is found at five sites in north and west Madagascar - Menabe forest, Ankarafantsika complex, Ankarana Special Reserve, Analamera Special Reserve and Daraina forests - and at one site in the east, Ambatovaky Special Reserve (ZICOMA 1999). Surveys have demonstrated its genuine absence from many intervening areas, including some with apparently suitable habitat. Fieldwork in the early 1990s found a minimum of 2,000 birds in the Menabe area and 6,000 at Ankarafantsika, but productivity and density appeared to be low (Hawkins 1994), and populations at other sites may be relictual. Ankarafantsika, in particular, is threatened by fires, and the forests of the Menabe region are heavily exploited for timber and plantations.

Population justification
The population is estimated to number a minimum of 8,000 individuals, based on point counts at the two major sites of Menabe and Ankarafantsika. This roughly equates to 5,300 mature individuals.

Trend justification
The population is suspected to be declining rapidly, in line with habitat loss and degradation within the species's range.

This inconspicuous, rail-like ground-dweller is found at highest density and with highest productivity in deciduous forest near rivers (in the south of its range) and in undisturbed deciduous forest on sand (in the north) (Hawkins 1994), from sea-level to 150 m (Langrand 1990). However, there is one record from rainforest at 350 m (at Ambatovaky), in sympatry with M. unicolor. It forages for invertebrates, seeds and small insects (Langrand 1990), in family groups of 2-4 (Morris and Hawkins 1998).

Forest is under threat from slash-and-burn agriculture (at all sites), uncontrolled fires, logging and exploitation for charcoal/firewood (ZICOMA 1999). The species appears not to recolonise areas of regenerating forest (Hawkins 1994). It is hunted opportunistically, especially in the dry season (Hawkins 1994). Its stronghold in Menabe is currently highly threatened by continuing legal and illegal logging due to poor management by local forestry organisations of concessions such as Kirindy. The Menabe region has suffered from immigration and the resultant population growth has rapidly expanded slash-and-burn agriculture (J. Ekstrom in litt. 2003).

Conservation Actions Underway
All six sites are Important Bird Areas, and site-conservation programmes are ongoing at four of them (ZICOMA 1999): Menabe forest, Ankarafantsika Strict Reserve, Ankarana Special Reserve and Analamera Special Reserve. Ambatovaky, although a Special Reserve, currently lacks conservation activity. The long-term future of Ankarafantsika and Analamera as reserves is not certain (ZICOMA 1999). Furthermore the Menabe forest complex is under increasing threats and even areas such as the Kirindy forest are not safe (J. Ekstrom in litt. 2003). The newly elected national government has already re-structured a poorly managed forestry organisation in the Morondava area (J. Ekstrom in litt. 2003). One conservation organisation is building capacity for community managed forests in the Menabe region (J. Ekstrom in litt. 2003). Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct surveys to obtain an up-to-date estimate of the population. Once a baseline population estimate has been acquired, continue to monitor population trends. Monitor habitat loss and degradation at known sites. Conserving dry forests where the species occurs should be considered a major conservation priority for Madagascar (ZICOMA 1999). Curb illegal logging in the Menabe region (J. Ekstrom in litt. 2003). Develop community managed forests in the Menabe region to control slash and burn agriculture and forest fires (J. Ekstrom in litt. 2003). Prevent vehicle access to the interior of forests (J. Ekstrom in litt. 2003).

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.

Hawkins, A. F. A. 1994. Conservation status and regional population estimates of the White-breasted Mesite Mesitornis variegata, a rare Malagasy endemic. Bird Conservation International 4: 279-303.

Langrand, O. 1990. Guide to the birds of Madagascar. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.

Morris, P.; Hawkins, F. 1998. Birds of Madagascar: a photographic guide. Pica Press, Robertsbridge, UK.

ZICOMA. 1999. Zones d'Importance pour la Conservation des Oiseaux a Madagascar.

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

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Ekstrom, J., Evans, M., Symes, A., Taylor, J.

Ekstrom, J., Hawkins, F.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Taylor, J.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Mesitornis variegatus. Downloaded from on 27/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 27/10/2016.

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.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - White-breasted mesite (Mesitornis variegatus) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Vulnerable
Family Mesitornithidae (Mesites)
Species name author Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 1838
Population size 5300 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 6,100 km2
Country endemic? Yes
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species