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Liben Lark Heteromirafra sidamoensis
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This species is listed as Critically Endangered because it has an extremely small range, it is only confirmed to occur at a single location and its range size is decreasing. Remaining habitat is rapidly being degraded, and the number of mature individuals is decreasing (the total population is now believed to number fewer than 250 mature individuals). A potentially skewed sex ratio may mean the effective population size is even smaller, and there is a very real possibility that the species will become extinct in the next two to three years.

Taxonomic source(s)
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.

14 cm. Small, large-headed, short-tailed lark. Pale buff stripe down centre of crown. Upperparts look "scaled". Short and thin tail. Similar spp. Singing Lark Mirafra cantillans is longer-tailed, with rusty wing-patches in flight. Voice Song is short: 3-5 melodious, clipped whistles, given in high display-flight. Hints Runs very rapidly on ground to avoid danger.

Distribution and population
Heteromirafra sidamoensis was for some time known only from two specimens collected at adjacent sites near Negele in the former Sidamo province (now Guji Zone), southern Ethiopia, in May 1968 and April 1974. Since 1994 there have been subsequent sightings of small numbers (<10 on each occasion) in the Negele area. Analysis of these locations on satellite images and recent fieldwork suggests that the species is restricted to a very specific habitat (tall-grass prairie) in the calcareous plateau east and south of Negele (L. Borghesio in litt. 2005, Donald et al. 2010). Between 1973 and 2002 the area of tall-grass prairie decreased by about 30%, and in 2003 much of it was being rapidly encroached by agriculture and shrubs (Acacia drepanolobium and others) that are probably favoured by excessive grazing pressure and the suppression of seasonal fires (L. Borghesio in litt. 2005). Remaining grassland is being heavily degraded by overgrazing (Spottiswoode et al. 2009).  By 2007-2008 it appeared to be restricted to a single grassland patch 30-36 km2 in area, and the global population was estimated at just 90-256 mature individuals, with the effective population size perhaps even smaller owing to a potentially skewed sex ratio caused by predation of females on the nest (Spottiswoode et al. 2009). Results of survey work to date indicate that the species has fewer than 100 territories (the number of pairs is unknown: females seem to be much scarcer than males, so many territories may be held by bachelors) (Donald et al. 2010, N. Collar in litt. 2011). Compared with a survey in June 2007, fieldwork in May 2009 recorded a decline of 40% in the number of birds present along repeated transects and a contraction of 38% in the area of the Liben Plain occupied by the species (Donald et al. 2010), with a further decrease to c.25% km2 in 2011, a 44% reduction on that recorded in 2007 (Abdu 2012).

Predictive modelling based on the characteristics of the Liben Plain suggests that apart from a smaller and highly politically unstable area c.500 km to the north-east near the Somalian border, there is no other suitable habitat for the species within the Horn of Africa (Donald et al. 2010). The prediction of suitable habitat in eastern Ethiopia is remarkable because the area is adjacent to the type locality of Heteromirafra archeri (not seen since 1922) and is just 30 km from two fairly recent sightings of unidentified Heteromirafra larks. It is very possible that the two taxa will prove to be conspecific, but the area is likely to remain inaccessible for some time owing to extreme political instability, during which time any remaining population of Heteromirafra larks may well become extirpated (Donald et al. 2010). Thus the focus remains on the Liben Plains as the sole known location for the species (Donald et al. 2010), and without urgent and concerted intervention global extinction is likely within the next few years (Spottiswoode et al. 2009).

Population justification
The total range appears to be a single grassland patch just 30-36 km2 in area, and its population density is an order of magnitude lower than previously suspected, inferring a global population of 90-256 mature individuals, roughly equivalent to 130-390 individuals in total.

Trend justification
The population is suspected to be declining because the species is restricted to grassland in the calcareous plateau east and south of Negele (L. Borghesio in litt. 2005) which decreased in area by about 30% between 1973 and 2002, and is being rapidly encroached by shrubs, agriculture and homesteads. The remaining area is being rapidly degraded due to overgrazing by livestock. Over 15% of remaining habitat on the Liben plain was lost in a single year, suggesting that the rate of decline may now be higher (P. F. Donald in litt. 2012).

All reliable records appear to fall within or near grassland areas (L. Borghesio in litt. 2005). A possible sighting in 1971 in dense Acacia woodland seems doubtful (L. Borghesio in litt. 2005). It has been found to avoid woody vegetation, very short grass and bare ground (all symptomatic of degraded rangelands), and to favour a grass sward of intermediate height (5-15 cm) (Spottiswoode et al. 2009). It has never been recorded from croplands (Spottiswoode et al. 2009). The nest is a grass bowl on the ground (Collar et al. 2008).

The Negele plateau is being degraded by human activities, leading to loss of grassland habitat and encroachment of bush, mainly Acacia drepanolobium (Coppock 1994; M. Wondafrash in litt. 2005). Shrub encroachment has probably been exacerbated by the fire suppression that has been enforced in the area since the 1980s (L. Borghesio in litt. 2007). Refugees from drought-stricken and tribal conflict areas are augmenting the dense local human population, and nomadic pastoralism is giving way to permanent cultivation, which is the principal threat to the species (M. Wondafrash in litt. 2005). A watering point has been developed in the core of the species's range, leading to concentrations of livestock and consequent disturbance, overgrazing and trampling (M. Wondafrash in litt. 2005). Remaining grassland had become even more degraded between the 2007 and 2008 surveys, leaving no real cover for the species, and potentially leading to high predation of females on the nest, reducing breeding success to zero and further lowering the effective population size (N. J. Collar in litt. 2009). Further fieldwork in 2009 confirmed that habitat degradation was continuing, probably due to overgrazing, and that grassland was still being lost to cultivation (Donald et al. 2010). Between 2010 and 2011, around a third of the grassland on the northern side of the Liben Plain was lost to agriculture (P. F. Donald in litt. 2012). The operation of a military training area (near the Bogol Manya crossroads) was previously listed as a potential threat (I. Sinclair in litt. 1999), but this had been abandoned by July 2005 (L. Fishpool in litt. 2006). Drought, such as that ongoing in the Horn of Africa in 2011, may compound these threats, and rising temperatues may pose a pose a longer-term threat to the survival of the species.

Conservation Actions Underway
Fieldwork has been taking place since 2007 to investigate the species's status (M. Wondafrash in litt. 2007; Donald et al. 2010). A workshop in 2009 involving key stakeholders resulted in the creation of an intersectoral committee to manage the restoration of the Liben Plain, an agreement to oppose any further agricultural expansion and a willingness to work with conservation organisations to preserve pastoralism (N. J. Collar in litt. 2009), and further stakeholder meetings have taken place since. Work to clear scrub, establish non-grazing areas and prevent of further conversion of grassland on the plain is imminent, and capacity-building work training young Ethiopian nationals is ongoing (N. J. Collar in litt. 2011).Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct further surveys (during the breeding season, when birds are likely to be singing and hence most conspicuous) throughout the Negele Plateau to establish its range and population, and determine whether there is a significantly biased sex ratio. Investigate the causes of bush encroachment in the area (L. Borghesio in litt. 2007). Undertake detailed socioeconomic research to identify the drivers of grassland conversion. Urgently determine the most appropriate means to safeguard areas of suitable habitat from further degradation and disturbance. Identify key areas where livestock and disturbance can be kept to a minimum and the natural fire regime is maintained. Raise awareness of the local communities and authorities of this important endemic taxon. Investigate the use of exclosures to eliminate grazing from some areas of the Liben Plain, and the possible need to employ ploughing and re-sowing of local grass species to restore suitable habitat (Donald et al. 2010). Clear encroaching Acacia thorn scrub from parts of the Liben Plain (Donald et al. 2010). Assess the possibility of using hyena dung to create small ungrazed areas with suitable nesting cover. Clarify taxonomy of Heteromirafra at Jijiga, and assess range, population size, trend and threats there.

Related state of the world's birds case studies

Collar, N. J.; Abebe, Y. D.; Fishpool, L. D. C.; Gabremichael, M. N.; Spottiswoode, C. N.; Wondafrash, M. 2008. Type locality, habitat, behaviour, voice, nest, eggs and plight of the Sidamo Lark Heteromirafra sidamoensis. Bulletin of the African Bird Club 15(2): 180-190.

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.

Coppock, D.L. 1994. International Livestock Centre for Africa, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Donald, P. F.; Buchanan, G. M.; Collar, N. J.; Abebe, Y. D.; Gabremichael, M. N.; Mwangi, M. A. K.; Ndang'ang'a, P. K.; Spottiswoode, C. N.; Wondafrash, M. 2010. Rapid declines in habitat quality and population size of the Liben (Sidamo) Lark Heteromirafra sidamoensis necessitate immediate conservation action. Bird Conservation International 20(1): 1-12.

EWNHS. 1996. Important Bird Areas of Ethiopia: a first inventory. Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society, Addis Ababa.

Robertson, I. S. 1995. First field observations on the Sidamo Lark Heteromirafra sidamoensis. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club 115: 241-243.

Spottiswoode, C. N.; Wondafrash, M.; Gabremichael, M. N.; Abebe, Y. D.; Mwangi, M. A. K.; Collar, N. J.; Dolman, P. M. 2009. Rangeland degradation is poised to cause Africa's first recorded avian extinction. Animal Conservation 12(3): 249-257.

Further web sources of information
Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) species/site profile. This species has been identified as an AZE trigger due to its IUCN Red List status and limited range.

Click here for more information about the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE)

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

Species Guardian Action Update

Text account compilers
Bird, J., Butchart, S., Calvert, R., Ekstrom, J., Shutes, S., Starkey, M., Symes, A. & Taylor, J.

Borghesio, L., Collar, N., Fishpool, L., Mwangi, K., Ndang'ang'a, P., Sinclair, I., Spottiswoode, C., Wondafrash, M. & Donald, P.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2014) Species factsheet: Heteromirafra sidamoensis. Downloaded from on 29/07/2014. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2014) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 29/07/2014.

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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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 - Liben lark (Heteromirafra sidamoensis) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Critically Endangered
Family Alaudidae (Larks)
Species name author Erard, 1975
Population size 90-256 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 52 km2
Country endemic? Yes
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species