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Socotra Bunting Emberiza socotrana

This poorly known species qualifies as Vulnerable on the basis of its very small occupied range, being known very few locations in suitable breeding habitat. Given its scarcity within its known range, it is likely to have a small or very small population, but this is likely to be stable since the species is not known to be facing any threats at present.

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.

13 cm. Small bunting. Black-and-white striped head. Rufous-brown upperparts. White underparts with reddish wash on breast. Whitish band across lower back in flight. Female duller. Juvenile is duller still, with a much reduced or absent crown-stripe (Ryan et al. 2009). Similar spp. Cinnamon-breasted Bunting E. tahapisi has dark wing-coverts, black throat, darker underparts, and lacks whitish band across lower back. Voice High, thin whistle (sometimes repeated two or three times) followed by soft gurgle: tseep ... guruguruguru. Hints Mostly occurs on ground, although does perch in bushes and trees. Sometimes associates with E. tahapisi.

Distribution and population
Emberiza socotrana is endemic to the island of Socotra, Yemen, where it is known from very few localities. In the highlands, there are records from fifteen localities in the breeding season, most in the Hagghier range and in the montane extreme west of the island (G. Kirwan in litt. 2007), including Adho Dimelho (including Adala) (Ogilvie-Grant and Forbes 1903, Forbes-Watson 1964, Ripley and Bond 1966, Kirwan 1998), Diksam (Porter et al. in prep.), near Skand (Porter et al. 2009), near Rookib (Kirwan et al. 1996) (all in the Hajhir [Hagghier] range) and the Ma'lih plateau (Porter et al. 2009); and in the lowlands it is known from near Qaysuh (near Kallansiya) (Forbes-Watson 1964, Ripley and Bond 1966). There is some evidence of dispersal to coastal areas in the west and north of the island in the non-breeding season, when flocks have been encountered in the littoral zone but the extent and frequency of altitudinal movements is unknown (G. Kirwan in litt. 2007). The species has been discovered at several new localities since the late 1990s and following the initiation of a comprehensive survey of the island's biodiversity, its population has been assessed as probably numbering fewer than 500 pairs (G. Kirwan in litt. 2007). Porter and Suleiman (in prep.) estimated the population at c.300 pairs or 1,400 individuals. 

Population justification
The population is estimated to number 250-999 mature individuals (G. Kirwan in litt. 2007). This equates to 375-1,499 individuals in total, rounded here to 350-1,500 individuals. Porter and Suleiman (in prep.) estimated the population at c.300 pairs or 1,400 individuals; however, the analysis of transect data collected up to 2004 suggests that the population may be higher than this, with a likely minimum of 3,000 individuals (R. Porter in litt. 2012), although a lower estimate is retained here pending the finalisation of this analysis.

Trend justification
There are no new data on population trends, but the species is suspected to be stable (R. Porter in litt. 2012).

This species breeds in highland areas, probably at 500-1,200 m, apparently preferring rugged terrain with cliffs and boulders in the vicinity of granite peaks (G. Kirwan in litt. 2007). In these areas it occurs within relatively luxuriant vegetation dominated, at least locally, by Hypericum and Cocculus shrubs, but also in alpine meadow-like habitat (G. Kirwan in litt. 2007). It has been observed foraging on ledges of steep precipices, in areas of short grass, boulder-strewn areas with short scrub and scattered trees but also near the shore in the non-breeding season (G. Kirwan in litt. 2007). Food is poorly described but it has been seen to take seeds of various types, including grass seeds taken from seed heads, stomach contents have also contained grass seed and grit, the latter presumably ingested accidentally (G. Kirwan in litt. 2007). The nest and eggs have not been described. It is suspected that the nesting requirements (still unknown) are an important factor in restricting this species to high altitudes when breeding (Forbes-Watson 1964). It may be semi-colonial when breeding (singing males in November were distinctly clumped together) (Porter et al. in prep.).

It is rare and local, although apparently not declining. The species's range and population do, however, require careful monitoring, given its restricted distribution in the breeding season. One possible threat is that, were livestock grazing to become more widespread and intensive within the species's high-altitude breeding range, for example through improved water supply and the importation of fodder, habitat degradation, fragmentation and loss may occur; this requires monitoring. As an oceanic-island species (probably ground-nesting) with a small or very small population, it is permanently vulnerable to the impact of alien invasive species, and its population may already be limited in some way by well-established invasive predators on Socotra such as feral cat Felis catus, brown rat Rattus rattus or Small Indian Civet Viverricula indica. The ring road around the coast of the island has not yet damaged any breeding habitats, but could do if it extends to the western end of the island, when it would transverse the limestone plateau and cliffs, which are an important area for this species (R. Porter in litt. 2012).

Conservation Actions Underway
Extensive surveys in 1993, 1999 and 2000 have discovered several important areas for the species (Kirwan et al. 1996, Morton 1996, Porter et al. in prep.), and the presumed main breeding area (the higher parts of the Hajhir range) lies within one of the main conservation zones of the Environmental Protection Council's masterplan for development of the archipelago (Zandri 2000). Conservation Actions Proposed
Carry out a comprehensive survey of the highlands to better understand its distribution, population and breeding biology (Morton 1996). In the event of extensive habitat loss or modification in the highlands, appropriate interventions should be made (e.g. impact assessments, increased protection of key areas).

Related state of the world's birds case studies

Forbes-Watson, A. 1964. Report on the Smithsonian Institution ornithological expedition to Socotra.

Kirwan, G. M. 1998. Additions to the avifauna of Socotra and Abd Al-Kuri, with notes on the occurrence of some resident and migrant species. Bulletin of the African Bird Club 5(1): 17-21.

Kirwan, G. M.; Martins, R. P.; Morton, K. M.; Showler, D. A. 1996. The status of birds in Socotra and Abd Al-Kuri and the records of the OSME survey in spring 1993. Sandgrouse 17: 83-101.

Morton, K. M. 1996. The Socotra Bunting Emberiza socotrana. Sandgrouse 17: 155-157.

Ogilvie-Grant, W. R.; Forbes, H. O. 1903. Birds of Sokotra and 'Abd al-Kuri. In: Forbes, H.O. (ed.), The natural history of Sokotra and 'Abd al-Kuri, pp. 19-72. Porter, London.

Porter, R. F. and Suleiman, A. S. In prep. The Population and Distribution of Breeding Birds of Socotra. BirdLife International/ SCDP.

Porter, R. F.; et al.. in prep.. Bird conservation on the Socotran archipelago.

Ripley, S. D.; Bond, G. M. 1966. The birds of Socotra and Abd-el-Kuri. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections 151.

Ryan, P. G.; Porter, R. F.; Rose, B.; Sleiman, A. S. 2009. Juvenile plumage of the Socotra Bunting Emberiza socotrana. Sandgrouse 31(2): 109-111.

Zandri, E. 2000. Conservation zoning plan for Socotra. Environmental Protection Council, Sana'a.

Text account compilers
Ekstrom, J., Mahood, S., Martin, R, Martins, R., Taylor, J.

Jennings, M., Kirwan, G., Porter, R.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2014) Species factsheet: Emberiza socotrana. Downloaded from on 13/07/2014. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2014) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 13/07/2014.

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.

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 - Socotra bunting (Emberiza socotrana) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Vulnerable
Family Emberizidae (Buntings, American sparrows and allies)
Species name author (Ogilvie-Grant & Forbes, 1899)
Population size 250-999 mature individuals
Population trend Stable
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 310 km2
Country endemic? Yes
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species