Cape Verde Islands

Country/Territory Cape Verde
Area 4,000 km2
Altitude 0 - 2800m
Priority high
Habitat loss severe
Knowledge incomplete

General characteristics

The Cape Verdes, an independent republic, are situated c.500 km off the west coast of Africa. They consist of two groups of volcanic islands of which the largest is Santiago (991 km2). The islands are either mountainous with peaks reaching over 1,000 m (and up to 2,800 m on Fogo, the only active volcano), or have low relief and consequently receive little and irregular rain.

The original vegetation, before human colonization started during the fifteenth century, included savanna or steppe vegetation, perhaps with scattered Acacias and figs, with the flatter islands supporting semi-desert plants.

Restricted-range species

Alauda razae is confined to uninhabited Raso (7 km2) where suitable breeding habitat represents less than half of the islet's total area, and Acrocephalus brevipennis is now confined to Santiago where it is locally distributed mainly in the interior. The other two species are more widely dispersed.

An additional seven landbirds are recognized by Hazevoet (1995) as being endemic phylogenetic species, and these forms contribute significantly to the uniqueness of the islands: Cape Verde Purple Heron Ardea (purpurea) bournei (see also Hazevoet 1992), Cape Verde Kite Milvus (milvus) fasciicauda, Cape Verde Buzzard Buteo (buteo) bannermani, Alexander's Kestrel Falco (tinnunculus) alexandri, Neglected Kestrel Falco (tinnunculus) neglectus, Cape Verde Peregrine Falco (peregrinus) madens and Cape Verde Barn Owl Tyto (alba) detorta (see Hazevoet 1996 for a discussion of the phylogenetic species concept in relation to the Cape Verde avifauna, also Collar 1996).

Fea's Petrel Pterodroma feae is a seabird which is largely endemic (when breeding) to this EBA (a second smaller population breeds in the Desertas, see EBA 120). The population of P. feae on the Cape Verdes is also recognized as a phylogenetic species by Hazevoet (1995), as are two other seabirds: Cape Verde Shearwater Calonectris (diomedea) edwardsii and Cape Verde Little Shearwater Puffinus (assimilis) boydi.

Species IUCN Category
Alexander's Swift (Apus alexandri) LC
Raso Lark (Alauda razae) CR
Cape Verde Swamp-warbler (Acrocephalus brevipennis) VU
Cape Verde Sparrow (Passer iagoensis) LC

Important Bird Areas (IBAs)
IBA Code Site Name Country
CV001 Ilhéu de Curral Velho and adjacent coastal area Cape Verde
CV002 Ribeira do Rabil Cape Verde
CV004 Serra do Pico da Antónia Cape Verde
CV005 Pedra Badejo lagoons Cape Verde
CV008 Volcano area, Ilha do Fogo Cape Verde
CV009 Ilhéus do Rombo Cape Verde
CV010 Ilhéu Branco Cape Verde
CV011 Ilhéu Raso Cape Verde
CV012 Central mountain range of Ilha de São Nicolau Cape Verde

Threat and conservation

Over the past five centuries, the combined effects of drought, poor agricultural techniques, the introduction of large numbers of alien herbaceous plant and tree species, the devastating effects of an abundance of goats, and high human population pressure have led to an almost complete destruction of the original vegetation on many of the islands of the Cape Verdes, most arable land now being cleared and planted with maize and beans. Dry woodland and scrub occupy large areas of the arid plains, which have been afforested in the last few decades, but the avifauna of these areas is generally poor.

Two of the endemic bird species are considered threatened: Alauda razae on account of its very small population (c.250 birds in 1992) and range, and Acrocephalus brevipennis because of its small and declining population (500 pairs) and range (extinct on two islands probably through drought and associated habitat loss). As a ground-nester, A. razae is extremely vulnerable to the accidental introduction of rats, cats and dogs by fisherman visiting the islet to collect seabirds' eggs and young; a lone dog was seen on Raso in 1994 (C. J. Hazevoet in litt. 1995).

Several of the subspecies (see 'Restricted-range species', above) are uncommon, including Ardea (purpurea) bournei (c.25 pairs on Santiago), Milvus (milvus) fasciicauda and Buteo (buteo) bannermani (both rare on Santiago and Santo Antão), and Falco (peregrinus) madens (small numbers on all islands, perhaps fewer than 20 pairs).

Pterodroma feae (see 'Restricted-range species') has a population estimated at 500-1,000 pairs and is classified as Vulnerable. It is likely that this species once bred in burrows, but has retreated to mountain ledges after the destruction of the indigenous shrubland. All seabirds have been exploited for centuries on the Cape Verdes and have also suffered from predation by introduced mammals (e.g. cats, rats, green monkeys Cercopithecus aethiops), and as a result there has been a dramatic decline in their populations over the last 100 years. Calonectris (diomedea) edwardsii has suffered in particular, with at least 5,000-6,000 fledglings being collected each year and the likelihood of a disastrous decline within the next few decades (C. J. Hazevoet in litt. 1995).

In 1988 a 'National Parks and Protected Areas Programme' (NPPAP) was initiated, including strategies for the conservation of all flora and fauna, and, as a consequence of this, several important seabird islets were declared as nature reserves in 1990, including Raso, Branco, Ilhéus do Rombo, Ilhéu de Curral Velho and Ilhéu de Baluarte (Hazevoet 1994, C. J. Hazevoet in litt. 1995).

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Endemic Bird Areas factsheet: Cape Verde Islands. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 07/08/2022.