Gabela helmet-shrike (Prionops gabela)

French: Bagadais de Gabela
GenusPrionops (1)
SizeLength: 19 cm (2)

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).

A poorly known species, the Gabela helmet-shrike possesses a slate-grey body, which contrasts sharply with the white-tipped tail, and bright red eyes and bill (2). Helmet-shrikes are among the most predatory of all passerines, and possess strong legs and sharp claws for holding prey, and a hooked bill with a tooth-like point on the upper part (3).

Previously known only from a small area near Gabela, on the escapement of western Angola, there had been no recorded sightings of the Gabela helmet-shrike since the mid-1970s. However, in 2003 a group of eight birds was spotted at the foot of the escarpment, in an area of open woodland between Kumbira and Seles. This was followed in 2005 by sightings of ten groups in the Kissama, Bimbe and Bango areas, less than half a kilometre from the foot of the escarpment (2).

The Gabela helmet-shrike inhabits the canopy of secondary forest, forest underplanted with coffee, and has also been collected from dry thicket and cultivated areas (3). The most recent sightings of this species have been within areas of dry forest at elevations of 300 metres (2).

Almost nothing is known about the biology of the uncommon Gabela helmet-shrike. A female was found in a breeding condition in September (4), and like other shrikes, it is likely to feed primarily on insects (3).

Due to the restricted range of the Gabela helmet-shrike, the destruction of its habitat poses the greatest threat to this species (4). Charcoal production is claiming large tracts of dry forest near the escarpment, while other areas are being cleared to plant subsistence agricultural crops such as bananas, sweet potato, maize and cassava. In addition, now that conflict has ended on the escarpment, large-scale coffee planting and farming is now likely to resume, claiming more of this imperilled bird’s habitat (2).

The Gabela helmet-shrike is found in the Kissama National Park, which affords a degree of protection against habitat destruction (2). Unfortunately, however, a proposal to create another protected area, the Gabela Nature Reserve, which would have helped to protect this species against the resumption of commercial activities on the escarpment, has not materialised (2) (5). In order to ensure this species’ survival, surveys of its population and habitat should be conducted along with research into its ecology. In addition, a conservation strategy for the Angolan escarpment and surrounding areas should be implemented, including the promotion of ecotourism and a supplement to agriculture (2).

For further information on the Gabela helmet-shrike see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2009)
  2. BirdLife International (April, 2009)
  3. Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  4. Dean, W. (2000) Birds of Angola. British Ornithologists Union, Tring.
  5. WWF Ecoregion Profile: Angolan Scarp savanna and woodlands (April, 2009)