Sharpe’s longclaw (Macronyx sharpei)

Synonyms: Anthus sharpei
French: Alouette sentinelle de Sharpe
GenusMacronyx (1)
SizeLength: 16 – 17 cm (2)

Sharpe’s longclaw is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Sharpe’s longclaw is a small, slender bird, with brownish-black upperparts, and distinct cinnamon to yellow edgings on the feathers. The underparts are a deep lemon-yellow, with brownish-black streaks on the breast and flanks. The female is duller than the male, and immature birds are paler than the adults (2).

Sharpe’s longclaw occurs only in the highlands of west and central Kenya, primarily in three locations on the sides of the Rift Valley; the Kinangop Plateau, Mau Narok and the Uasin Gishu grasslands. It is also known from the slopes of Mount Elgon, Mount Kenya and the Aberdare Mountains (2) (3).

Sharpe’s longclaw inhabits open, treeless, short grassland between 1,850 and 3,400 meters. It favours areas with tussocks, as these are required for nesting (2) (3).

This sedentary and territorial bird forms permanent groups of generally two to seven individuals, but sometimes more in high quality habitat (4). These groups, sometimes consisting of related birds, inhabit a territory that can range up to 5.6 hectares (2) (4). Within its grassland habitat, Sharpe’s longclaw forages for insects such as grasshoppers, beetles and other small invertebrates, often around the bases of tussocks (2) (4).

Sharpe’s longclaw is a monogamous bird that lays clutches of two to three eggs during or just after rains; in March to June, September to October, and in December. The deep, cup-shaped nest is well hidden in tussock grass, at the base of an herbaceous plant, in grass under a small bush or under a clod of earth (2). The bird’s close association with tussocks is not just limited to nesting and foraging sites, but it also often retreats into tussocks when threatened (4).

The specific habitat requirements of Sharpe’s longclaw make it very sensitive to changes in grassland cover and quality (4). Since human settlement in 1964, the Kinangop Plateau has been primarily used for dairy farming, which retains grassland as pasture, but now landowners are showing a preference for crop-farming over livestock-farming. As a result, grassland is being rapidly converted into cultivated land (5). Tussock grasslands now cover only about a quarter of the plateau, and many of the patches are too small to support a population of Sharpe’s longclaw. Increasing human populations will lead to further loss and fragmentation of grassland habitats, and it is predicted that by 2010, tussock grasslands will have diminished to cover only about one-fifth of the plataeau (4).

The highland grasses of Kenya occur almost entirely on private land, with no formal protection. The conservation of grassland is critical to the conservation of Sharpe’s longclaw, but it will only survive if the habitat is managed in a way that is in harmony with the needs of the landowners. With a preference for crop-farming over livestock farming, landowner’s interests seem incompatible with grassland conservation. However, a survey in 1996 showed that a substantial proportion of landowners were prepared to consider opportunities to enhance the area’s conservation value (5). A local conservation action group ‘Friends of Kinangop Plateau’ is campaigning for an initiative that encourages production of food crops from small gardens without having to convert large grassland areas (4). Improving milk processing facilities to make dairy farming more appealing, and providing landowners with economic incentives to maintain grassland habitat are proposed measures that will help protect the Sharpe’s longclaw, and other species of Kenya’s grasslands (3).

For further information on this species 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 (January, 2007)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (2004) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 9: Cotingas to Pipits and Wagtails. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. BirdLife International (June, 2007)
  4. Ndang’ang’a, P.K., du Plessis, M.A., Ryan, P.G. and Bennun, L.A. (2002) Grassland decline in Kinangop Plateau, Kenya: implications for conservation of Sharpe’s longclaw (Macronyx sharpei). Biological Conservation, 107: 341 - 350.
  5. Muchai, M., Bennun, L., Lens, L., Rayment, M. and Pisano, G. (2002) Land-use and the conservation of Sharpe's Longclaw Macronyx sharpei in central Kenya. Bird Conservation International, 12: 107 - 121.