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Brown Mesite Mesitornis unicolor
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
Please email us with any relevant information

This species is listed as Vulnerable because its habitat is becoming increasingly fragmented, its extent of occurrence and the area and quality of suitable habitat are decreasing, and thus its small population is suspected to be declining rapidly.

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.

30 cm. Slim, low-slung, terrestrial bird with small head. Dark brown on back, with paler, greyish head, variable white streak behind eye, and paler, pinkish underparts. Rather slim and short, greyish bill. Similar spp. Told from Madagascar Wood-rail Canirallus kioloides by long full tail, less pure grey on head, slim bill, and very horizontal posture. From White-breasted Mesite M. variegata by lack of conspicuous head pattern and even, mid-rufous brown underparts. Voice Song, rather rarely given, is a loud rolling chooi-whoop-chooi-whoop chooi-whoop. Hints Walks slowly around, looking for invertebrates in the leaf-litter by flicking over leaves with its bill.

Distribution and population
Mesitornis unicolor has a patchy distribution in the eastern rainforest of Madagascar (Morris and Hawkins 1998), known for certain from as far north as Marojejy and the Masoala peninsula and extending almost as far south as Taolañaro (Fort Dauphin). It is thinly distributed and never common, although its status is difficult to ascertain as it is secretive and rarely seen.

Population justification
The population is estimated to number 2,500-9,999 mature individuals based on an assessment of known records, descriptions of abundance and range size. This is consistent with recorded population density estimates for congeners or close relatives with a similar body size, and the fact that only a proportion of the estimated Extent of Occurrence is likely to be occupied. This estimate is equivalent to 3,750-14,999 individuals, rounded here to 3,500-15,000 individuals.

Trend justification
The population is suspected to be rapidly declining, in line with the clearance and degradation of rainforest for subsistence agriculture and timber extraction, as well as mortality from hunting and introduced predators.

This is a ground-dwelling species of undisturbed primary, evergreen, humid forest (Langrand 1990; Morris and Hawkins 1998). It occurs from sea-level to 1,200 m but is most frequently encountered below 800 m. It seems to prefer steep slopes and dark areas with much leaf-litter and little herbaceous growth (Langrand 1990; Morris and Hawkins 1998). It forages on the forest floor for seeds and small insects, often in family groups of two to three (Langrand 1990), also gleaning from leaves and stems at ground-level (Evans et al. 1992). The nest is built 1-1.5 m from the ground and clutch-size is one.

Rainforest is under pressure from slash-and-burn cultivation by subsistence farmers, with commercial timber exploitation and hunting in some areas (Morris and Hawkins 1998; ZICOMA 1999). Near villages, dogs and rats Rattus may predate the species as it is a reluctant flier (Langrand 1990).

Conservation Actions Underway
The species is known from 14 Important Bird Areas in eastern Madagascar, including seven National Parks, one Strict Reserve, four Special Reserves and one Classified Forest (ZICOMA 1999).Conservation Actions Proposed
Monitor rainforest clearance and degradation. Assess threat posed by predatory non-native mammals. Conduct interviews to assess the level of mortality from hunting. Protect remaining tracts of rainforest on the east coast through community reserves and carbon trading.

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.

Evans, M. I.; Duckworth, J. W.; Hawkins, A. F. A.; Safford, R. J.; Sheldon, B. C.; Wilkinson, R. J. 1992. Key bird species of Marojejy Strict Nature Reserve, Madagascar. Bird Conservation International 2: 201-222.

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
Ekstrom, J., Evans, M., Shutes, S., Starkey, M., Symes, A., Taylor, J.

Hawkins, F.

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

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Mesitornis unicolor. Downloaded from on 26/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 26/10/2016.

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 - Brown mesite (Mesitornis unicolor) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Vulnerable
Family Mesitornithidae (Mesites)
Species name author (Des Murs, 1845)
Population size 2500-9999 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 37,300 km2
Country endemic? Yes
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species