Abbott's Starling Poeoptera femoralis


Justification of Red List Category

This species qualifies as Endangered, as it has a small population experiencing a continuing decline, owing primarily to the clearance and degradation of its forest habitat.

Population justification
Otieno et al. (2007) estimated the population density of the Kereita forest block in the Kikuyu escarpment forest, Kenya, to be 1 bird/3 km2. This species is described as locally scarce (Zimmerman et al. 1996) to locally common (Bennun and Njoroge 1999). The area of mapped range is 3,909 km2 (BirdLife International 2021). Assuming that it inhabits the range at the same population densities observed by Otieno et al. (2007), then the total population may be estimated at 1,303 individuals. This is roughly equivalent to 873 mature individuals, hence it is placed here in the band 250-999 mature individuals.

This species has a small range. There is some evidence to suggest that this species may make substantial movements between the different forest blocks in which it occurs (Zimmerman et al. 1996; J. Bradley in litt. 2021). Therefore, in the absence of other data, it is assumed that the species functions as one subpopulation.

Trend justification
The species's population is inferred to be declining in line with the clearance and degradation of highland forest within its range (Otieno et al. 2007; Global Forest Watch 2020), and reports of a reduction of observation records at monitored sites (P. Gacheru in litt. 2021). The likely rate of decline is tentatively suspected to fall in the band of 1-10% over three generations.

Distribution and population

Poeoptera femoralis is found in a few montane forest localities in Kenya and northern Tanzania. It is generally scarce and local in forest on Mt Kenya (Zimmerman et al. 1996), but common in Kikuyu Escarpment Forest in the southern Aberdare Mountains (375 km2) (Bennun and Njoroge 1999), where flocks of up to 40 have been seen (Taylor and Taylor 1988). It was also previously recorded from the isolated Chyulu Hills (latest record in [Lewis and Pomeroy 1989]) and the Taita Hills (most recent record [Brooks et al. 1998]). It may make substantial movements between forests (Zimmerman et al. 1996).

In Tanzania, it is found on Mt Kilimanjaro where it was considered quite common above 1,800 m, in 1977 (Turner 1977), but there have been fewer records since (N. Baker in litt. 1999) and it was regarded in 1991 as probably rare (Cordeiro 1994). It is also known from forests on Mt Meru, where it is scarce and may be only seasonal in occurrence (Turner 1977). Flocks of 20-25 were seen at 1,600 m in Kindoroko Forest Reserve in the North Pare Mountains in July 1993 (Cordeiro and Kiure 1995).


This little-known frugivore occurs in the canopy of highland forest, being present throughout the year in at least some locations (e.g. the Aberdares), albeit with seasonal fluctuations (Taylor and Taylor 1988). This species nests in holes in dead trees (Otieno et al. 2007), and in 2015 was observed nesting in a dead African olive Olea africana tree (Bradley 2016). 


Forest loss and degradation are likely to pose a threat over most of its range. Illegal logging and agricultural encroachment have been major problems in Mt Kenya Forest and the Kikuyu Escarpment Forest (Bennun and Njoroge 1999). Encroachment for cultivation and cattle-grazing continues at Kikuyu, however encroachment of the forest edge at Mt Kenya has ceased, whilst cultivation of forest glades continues (K. Mwangi in litt. 2007). This species is less frequently observed in small forest fragments where human disturbance is high (Otieno et al. 2007) and so may not be tolerant of habitat degradation. As this species nests in holes in trees, it is probably sensitive to the cutting of mature trees. Forest Reserves in the North Pare Mountains did not appear to be under any immediate threat in 1993, although there was some pit-sawing and encroachment by cattle (Cordeiro and Kiure 1995). Since then however, fires, hunting and tree-cutting have escalated and have become severe in parts of the North Pares (N. Cordeiro in litt. 2008).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
Forest Reserves on Mt Kenya cover 1,995 km2, including about 1,400 km2 of forest and forest/bamboo/scrub mosaic (Bennun and Njoroge 1999). The Forest Department is able to exert very little control over the management of Kikuyu Escarpment Forest Reserve (Bennun and Njoroge 1999). Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Kenya are both National Parks, and the former protects most of the forest cover whereas only higher altitudes of Mt Kenya are protected, leaving much lower altitude forest unprotected (N. Cordeiro in litt. 2008).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Study its ecology, especially its nesting and breeding requirements (Bennun in litt. 1999). Conduct regular surveys in order to monitor population trends. Monitor rates of forest clearance and degradation at known sites. Support existing forest-conservation programmes within its range, and initiate new schemes at other key sites (Bennun in litt. 1999).


16-18 cm. Small starling of forest. Black head and breast. White underparts. Bright orange eye. Similar spp. Magpie Starling Speculipastor bicolor has obvious white wing-patches and occurs in much drier woodland. Voice Musical, whistled call, up and down scale. Short, high-pitched song. Hints Best seen in montane forest on Mt Kenya above Naro Moru and Embu, or in Kerita (Gatamaiyu), part of the Kikuyu Escarpment Forest, near Nairobi. It is gregarious except during the breeding season, when it nests in tree-cavities (Zimmerman et al. 1996).


Text account compilers
Clark, J.

Baker, N., Bennun, L., Bradley, J., Cordeiro, N., Ekstrom, J., Evans, M., Gacheru, P., Mwangi, K., Shutes, S., Starkey, M., Symes, A., Taylor, J. & Westrip, J.R.S.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Poeoptera femoralis. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 30/06/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 30/06/2022.