This species is listed as Vulnerable because it is believed to have a small population which is projected to decline rapidly over the next three generations owing to increased habitat loss and degradation.
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 populationHeteromirafra ruddi
14 cm. Small, large-headed and short-tailed lark with large dark eyes. Buff stripe in centre of crown diagnostic when crest erect. Long, flesh-coloured legs. When threatened it has a habit of running fast on the ground before suddenly stopping. Otherwise rather tame and confiding and may easily be overlooked. In flight shows short, very thin tail and large rounded wings. Similar spp. Spike-heeled Lark Chersomanes albofasciata has white tip to its short tail.
is an endemic resident of east South Africa
. Although records are spread over a large area, its distribution within this area is patchy. The core of its restricted range is centred on south-east Mpumalanga, north-west KwaZulu-Natal and the north-east Free State. Small, isolated populations are found farther north in the Dullstroom-Machadodorp district, farther south at Matatiele in west KwaZulu-Natal, and at Ncora Dam and Molteno in the Eastern Cape. The overall population was not thought to have decreased significantly since the mid-1990s (P. Ryan in litt.
, however its absence has been noted at former strongholds, suggesting it is now in decline (D. Maphisa in litt
, and comparison of data in South African Bird Atlas Project 1 and 2 indicates a reduction in area of occupancy of over 50% (D. Maphisa in litt.
2012). Specimens from Warden in the Free State and sight records from the Memel-Vrede-Warden-Harrismith arc suggest that there may be a substantial, previously overlooked, population in the eastern Free State. The global population has been estimated at 1,500-5,000 individuals (Siegfried 1992)
. A lower limit of 2,500 individuals has been suggested as more realistic (Barnes and Tarboton 1998)
, but it has been suggested that the lack of new sites and disappearance from former strongholds mean the total population may be much lower (D. Maphisa in litt.
Siegfried (1992) suggested a global population of 1,500-5,000 individuals. Estimates for the proposed Grassland Biosphere Reserve suggest that 2,500 individuals is a more realistic lower limit for this species. This range is roughly equivalent to 1,700-3,300 mature individuals, however the total may be significantly lower as no new populations have been found (D. Maphisa in litt.
Its absence has recently been noted at former strongholds, suggesting it is presently in decline (D. Maphisa in litt. 2007). The loss of the species's habitat over the next 11 years (three generations) could be rapid (30-50%) unless planned intervention takes place. Based on this, the population is projected to decline by 30-49% over the next three generations.Ecology
It is found within open, grazed, level grassland without forb invasion, in high rainfall (>600 mm p.a.), sour grassland regions. It favours stone-free areas of natural grassland on flat or gently-sloping hilltop plateaux, with short (4-9 cm) to medium (6-8 cm) grass cover, avoiding areas with tall, dense or insufficient grass cover (Maphisa 2004)
. Relatively high abundances are found at severely grazed sites, although few birds breed in such habitat, where breeding success is low (D. Maphisa in litt
. It also favours edges of pans and vleis. Recent research indicates that the species would best be conserved under controlled mixed stocking rates of sheep and cattle with burning carried out every second year (Maphisa 2004)
. The species requires habitat heterogeneity for nest concealment and foraging during the breeding season. The most suitable breeding habitat appears to be moderately to lightly grazed unburned or burned sites. The nest is a cup covered with a dome, constructed from old grass and lined with fresh dry grass. Egg laying occurs from October to April, with peaks in January and February (Maphisa et al
. The clutch size is two to four, but most commonly three, eggs (Maphisa et al
. The incubation period is 13-14 days and the fledging period is c.13 days (Maphisa et al
. Nestlings are fed on young locusts, other insects, worms and arachnids (Maphisa 2004)
Habitat loss and fragmentation, as a result of agricultural intensification, inappropriate pasture management and afforestation, have resulted in local population reductions. Grasslands are modified into fields for cultivation and grazing or claimed for housing (Maphisa 2004)
. Further commercial afforestation may take place below the escarpment, and poses little threat to the species (D. Maphisa in litt
. Human settlement and other developments are considered a major threat to the species's habitat (D. Maphisa in litt
. Uncontrolled ploughing of pristine/near-pristine habitat as part of agricultural initiatives to alleviate food shortages has also been reported (A. Burns in litt
. The other primary are unsuitable fire regimes and grazing practices. It is also threatened by mining, although plans for the exploration of three sites in the Wakkerstroom area for torbanite and coal by Delta Mining Consolidated (Verdoorn 2008) have apparently since been scrapped. Late burning of grassland might shorten the potential breeding season and force a peak in breeding that coincides with high predator numbers (Maphisa et al
. Extensive wildfires in Mpumalanga and Free State in 2007 may have caused a decline in the species's population (N. Smith in litt
. Within South Africa as a whole, 60-80% of grassland has been irreversibly transformed. All of South Africa's maize crop and much of its wheat is produced in former grassland areas, illustrating the magnitude of threats this species faces today. The loss of the species's habitat over the next 10 years could be moderate (<50%) unless planned intervention takes place. Predation has been observed as the main cause of nest loss, with mongooses, rodents and snakes identified as the main predators (Maphisa et al
. Conservation actions underway
Verloren Valei Nature Reserve, which was recognised as a Ramsar site (Ramsar Directory: http://www.wetlands.org/RDB/Ramsar_Dir/SouthAfrica/ZA017D02.htm), may now no longer support the species (D. Maphisa in litt.
2012). The developing land stewardship programme centred around Volksrust and Wakkerstroom is estimated to hold c.85% of the global population (Barnes 1998, A. Burns in litt
. 2005). Conservation actions proposed
Identify uses of grassland with fewer negative impacts than conversion, and provide incentives for their rapid adoption. Provide incentives for landowners to manage grassland appropriately. Survey the eastern Free State for this species. Continue research into its ecological requirements and the effects of management practices. Investigate the scale and effect of uncontrolled agricultural expansion, and its effect on the species (A. Burns in litt
. 2005). Study changes in land-use at sites where this species is now absent (D. Maphisa in litt
Siegfried, W. R. 1992. Conservation status of the South African endemic avifauna. South African Journal of Wildlife Research 22: 61-64.
Barnes, K. N. 1998. The Important Bird Areas of southern Africa. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.
Barnes, K. N. 2000. The Eskom Red Data Book of birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.
Barnes, K. N.; Tarboton, W. R. 1998. Important Bird Areas of Mpumalanga. In: Barnes, K.N. (ed.), The Important Bird Areas of southern Africa, pp. 65-86. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.
Maphisa, D.H. 2004. Habitat selection and breeding biology of Rudd's Lark Heteromirafra ruddi: implications for conservation. Thesis. MSc, University of Cape Town.
Verdoorn, G. 2008. BLSA fights threat to Wakkerstroom. Africa - Birds & Birding 13(2): 74.
Maphisa, D. H.; Donald, P. F.; Buchanan, G. M.; Ryan, P. G. 2009. Habitat use, distribution and breeding ecology of the globally threatened Rudd's Lark and Botha's Lark in eastern South Africa. Ostrich 80(1): 19-28.
Further web sources of information
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View photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection
Text account compilers
Ekstrom, J., Harding, M., Pilgrim, J., Shutes, S., Stattersfield, A., Symes, A., Taylor, J.
Allan, D., Burns, A., Maphisa, D., Ryan, P., Smith, N., Tarboton, W.
IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Taylor, J.
BirdLife International (2013) Species factsheet: Heteromirafra ruddi. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 23/05/2013.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2013) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 23/05/2013.
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.
To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife
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