Sululta plain

Site description (2001 baseline):

Site location and context
The Sululta plain is on the north-east side of Entoto mountain in North Shewa Zone. The village of Sululta is about 20 km north of Addis Ababa. The plain is a wide, shallow valley almost completely surrounded by mountains from which many small rivers drain, feeding the Muger river that flows north-west into the Abbay (Blue Nile). Sululta plain is swampy with some quite large areas of open water in the rainy season, but it reverts to grazing land during the dry months. The surrounding mountainsides were covered with forest dominated by Juniperus procera, and the lower slopes supported groves of Acacia spp. However, most of the hillsides around Sululta are now covered with plantations of Eucalyptus, with only odd native trees remaining, except for the groves protected by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The vegetation on the Sululta plain comprises grasses, sedges and other species such as the endemic Trifolium schimperi, Haplocarpha schimperi and Cerastium spp. The most important grasses are Pennisetum spp. and Andropogon spp. In some areas the water reaches 50 cm deep, and such areas are often covered with floating grasses, particularly Odontelytrum abyssinicum, Potamogeton spp. and Aponogeton abyssinicus. The riverbanks are better drained than the surrounding areas and thus support small bushes, scramblers and the occasional tree. The highland areas surrounding the valleys are intensively cropped. Crop production is heavily dependent on a large population of cattle, which provide oxen for ploughing, and manure that is put on selected fields. The wide valleys provide these cattle with important grazing. Sedges and rushes are used extensively to cover the floors of houses. In Sululta, the farmers cut and bale the mixture of grasses, sedges and herbs, and sell it to the numerous dairy farmers in Addis Ababa.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Table 3 for key species. Between July and October, 10–15 pairs of Sarothrura ayresi breed at one seasonal wetland, the only location currently known for the species in Ethiopia. Rougetius rougetii is an uncommon resident which has apparently declined, possibly due to changing land-use. However, the population of Macronyx flavicollis is stable, and the bird is not uncommon. Gallinago media occurs on passage from July to October in the flooded grassland, with Crex crex occasionally recorded in autumn from less flooded areas. Circus macrourus is fairly common on spring and autumn passage, with small numbers wintering. Sululta is an important feeding area for Cyanochen cyanopterus, with between 35 and 850 recorded. Up to 120 Vanellus melanocephalus have been found as the plains dry out, especially between October and January. More than 150 Bostrychia carunculata have been counted in some areas, although many more may be present at times. Between October and February, there are 2,000–4,000 waterbirds in one small area of inundation. Other species include Parophasma galinieri. Hirundo lucida breeds, and there is a good passage of Emberiza hortulana in October–November.

Non-bird biodiversity: None known to BirdLife International.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The farmers of Sululta use modern machinery to harvest the vegetation in the short period after the rains when the soil has dried out enough and the grasses have started flowering, but before the frost burns the plants (which can happen as early as the end of October). The valley where Sarothrura ayresi has been found is not harvested in this way, but it may only be a matter of time before it is, which will in turn compromise the survival of chicks hatched at the end of the rainy season. The Sululta wetland has become an important environmental education area for high-school students and teachers, although educational activities need to be developed with the local people to help ensure the long-term survival of the avifauna.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Sululta plain. Downloaded from on 30/11/2023.