Liben lark (Heteromirafra sidamoensis)

Also known as: Sidamo bushlark, Sidamo lark, Sidamo long-clawed lark
  
French: Alouette d'Erard
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyAlaudidae
GenusHeteromirafra (1)
SizeLength: 16 – 17 cm (2)
Weight30 g (2)

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

Like many members of the lark family, this rare Ethiopian species has brown, cryptic plumage (2) (3). The feathers on its back are brownish, each with a blackish centre and a cream to white edge, resulting in a streaky appearance (2). The short, thin tail is browner than the back, and the underparts are white or buff (2). It has a long, slender neck and large head, with a pale buff stripe running down the centre of the crown (2) (4). The bill is pale yellowish and the legs are pale brown to pinkish (2). Male and female Liben larks look alike (2). It calls with a series of melodic, clipped whistles, typically heard as it flies high in the air (2) (4).

The Liben lark is known only from a small area of southern Ethiopia, situated south of the town of Negele in what was once known as the Sidamo Province (2) (4). It is thought to have a very small population; for many years, the species was known from just two individuals collected in 1968 and 1974, until it was found again in 1994. Only small numbers of the Liben lark have been sighted since (4).

It is thought that the Liben lark has very specific habitat requirements, having only been found in grassland with a few scattered Acacia bushes (4).

There is a significant lack of knowledge regarding the Liben lark’s biology and ecology. Like other larks, it is a ground-dwelling bird (3), typically seen stood upright, but it will quickly scuttle away to dense cover when disturbed (2). It is not known what this species feeds on (2), but other larks consume a diet of invertebrates, plant matter and seeds (3). Male Liben larks have been observed performing aerial displays between January and May, which involve singing whilst circling over their territory (2).

Its occurrence in just one small region, in which there are no protected areas (2), makes the Liben lark highly vulnerable to any threats. Currently, the greatest threat appears to be the loss of its habitat. As human populations in the region rise, largely due to the immigration of people from nearby areas hit by drought or tribal conflict, more land is converted to permanent agriculture (4), destroying the grassland required by the lark. Between 1973 and 2002, suitable grassland habitat in the area declined by about 30 percent and, in recent years, more has been lost to the rapid encroachment of shrubs (4). Excessive grazing pressure and the suppression of natural seasonal fires has created favourable conditions for the encroaching shrubs (4). Finally, a watering point has been developed in the centre of the Liben lark’s range, leading to an increase in livestock in the area, which impacts the Liben lark through disturbance, overgrazing and trampling (4).

In 2007, an expedition took place to investigate the status of the Liben lark (4), but otherwise, conservation action for this Critically Endangered bird is lacking. A number of conservation measures have been recommended by the global bird conservation organisation, BirdLife, including further surveys and research, investigations to determine what causes bushes to encroach on grassland, and ascertaining the best way to protect areas of the Liben lark’s habitat from further degradation and disturbance (4). In 2009 the IUCN upgraded the Liben lark from Endangered to Critically Endangered in light of the threats to the tiny population, and it is feared that there is a real possibility of the species becoming extinct in the next few years (4).

For further information on the Liben lark 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:
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  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2009)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (2004) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 9: Cotingas to Pipits and Wagtails. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  4. BirdLife International (May, 2009)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=8123&m=0