Taita apalis (Apalis fuscigularis)

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Taita apalis, in hand
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Taita apalis fact file

Taita apalis description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyCisticolidae
GenusApalis (1)

One of the rarest birds in the world (4), the Taita apalis gains its common name from the Taita Hills in Kenya, where it is one of three endemic bird species (5). A medium-sized forest warbler, it has a brownish-grey head and upperparts, darker on the wings and tail, with a black throat and upper breast, and whitish underparts. The eyes are silvery white, the beak black, and the legs pinkish (2) (3). The female Taita apalis is slightly smaller and duller than the male (3). The call of the Taita apalis is described as a repeated pillipp, pillipp (2), while the song of the male is a loud chwee chwee chwee or chewik chewik chewik, with which the female may duet, giving a high-pitched, metallic-sounding cheek (3). Although previously classified together with the bar-throated apalis, Apalis thoracica, the Taita apalis is now separated on the basis of slight plumage differences, and also on the basis that it does not respond to the bar-throated apalis’ calls (2) (3).

Size
Length: 14 - 16 cm (2)
Weight
10 - 12 g (3)
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Taita apalis biology

The Taita apalis usually forages alone or in pairs, or rarely in small family groups of three to four individuals, and is reported to be territorial (2) (3). The diet consists mainly of insects and other small invertebrates, with prey gleaned from low vegetation or sometimes from the ground, or the bird occasionally flying out to take prey from the air (2) (3) (6). Berries and seeds are also sometimes eaten (2). Little is known about the breeding behaviour of this species, other than that it lays between two and four eggs (2) (3).

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Taita apalis range

The Taita apalis is restricted to a small number of tiny forest fragments, totalling less than six square kilometres, in the Taita Hills of Kenya (2) (3) (4) (6) (7).

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Taita apalis habitat

This species inhabits the understorey of montane forest, at elevations of 1,200 to 2,200 metres, where it usually favours gaps and forest edges with thick undergrowth (2) (3) (4) (6).

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Taita apalis status

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

IUCN Red List species status – Critically Endangered

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Taita apalis threats

Most of the original forest of the Taita Hills has now been lost, either to cultivation or to plantations of non-native timber trees. The Taita apalis is thought to be confined to just five of the remaining tiny, isolated forest fragments, and these fragments are still under serious threat from agriculture, plantations, firewood extraction and cattle grazing, which may prevent natural regeneration (2) (3) (5) (7) (8). Although now protected, a lack of clear boundary demarcations can make it difficult to effectively conserve these forest fragments, and wildfires are also a threat in some areas (2). This highly endangered bird was believed to number no more than 600 to 930 individuals in 2001 (2) (6) (7), and its population is fragmented into tiny, isolated subpopulations (2), putting it at increased risk of extinction. Alarmingly, surveys in 2009 and 2010 indicated a major crash in the remaining population, with possibly only 60 to 130 birds now remaining, although the causes of this dramatic decline are unclear (4). As it lives close to the maximum altitude within its range, climate change is a potential threat as it could leave the Taita apalis with nowhere to move to if local conditions change (2).

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Taita apalis conservation

Fortunately for the Taita apalis, a range of conservation activities are now underway in the Taita Hills. The remaining forest fragments are being safeguarded by the Kenya Forest Department, while Nature Kenya is committed to conservation in the area (2). An international research project is ongoing, which includes studies into the Taita apalis (2) (9), and conservation actions include reforestation, plans to reconnect forest patches, and the development of alternative income-generating activities, such as bee-keeping and butterfly-rearing. Local farmers have also been taught about responsible agricultural practices, and tree nurseries have been established, to provide native trees for restoring degraded habitat and fast-growing non-native trees to create buffer zones and to reduce pressure on the native forest (2) (6) (7).

A number of other measures have also been recommended, including an outreach programme, the development of management plans for the area, the removal of non-native trees from within indigenous forest (and reforesting with native species), and sustainable forest-use schemes, such as ecotourism (2) (5) (6). In addition, other forest fragments could be assessed for potential reintroductions (2) (9). Further studies into the ecology and populations of the Taita apalis will also be vital to its conservation, and the data from the first in-depth research are already being analysed (7). However, the causes of the latest population crash need to be urgently investigated if this rare endemic species is not to slide further towards extinction (4).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

To find out more about conservation in Kenya see:

For more information on efforts to save the world’s most endangered birds see:

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Authentication

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:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Invertebrates
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones), echinoderms, and others.
Montane forest
Forest occurring in the montane zone, a zone of cool upland slopes below the tree line dominated by large evergreen trees.
Territorial
Describes an animal, a pair of animals or a colony that occupies and defends an area.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2010)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. BirdLife International (October, 2010)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=7398&m=0
  3. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (2006) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 11: Old World Flycatchers to Old World Warblers. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  4. BirdLife International: Major population crash of Critically Endangered Taita Apalis (October, 2010)
    http://www.birdlife.org/community/2010/09/major-population-crash-of-critically-endangered-taita-apalis/
  5. Rogo, L. and Oguge, N. (2000) The Taita Hills forest remnants: a disappearing world heritage. Ambio, 29(8): 522-523.
  6. Hirschfeld, E. (2008) BirdLife International: Rare Birds Yearbook. MagDig Media Limited, Shrewsbury.
  7. BirdLife International: Species Guardian Action Update: February 2010 - Taita Thrush Turdus helleri and Taita Apalis Apalis fuscigularis (October, 2010)
    http://www.birdlife.org/extinction/pdfs/Taita_Thrush_and_Apalis_Guardian_Action_Update.pdf
  8. Eastern Arc Mountains Conservation Endowment Fund - Taita Hills (February, 2010)
    http://www.easternarc.or.tz/taita
  9. Bytebier, B. (2001) Taita Hills Biodiversity Project Report. National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi. Available at:
    http://easternarc.or.tz/
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Image credit

Taita apalis, in hand  
Taita apalis, in hand

© Ken Norris

Ken Norris
k.norris@reading.ac.uk

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