Justification of Red List Category
This species qualifies as Vulnerable as data indicates that it has a small population which is declining owing to the drainage and degradation of its highland wetland habitat, and potentially the more recent threat posed by hunting.
The total population was estimated to possibly lie in the range 5,000-15,000 individuals (Brown et al. 1982, Callaghan and Green 1993, Scott and Rose 1996). However, it is thought to be declining as suitable breeding habitats are lost (M. Wondafrash in litt. 2007), and the number of mature individuals may in fact be in the range of 3,000-7,000 (H. Tadele in litt. 2016). This roughly equates to 4,500-10,500 individuals.
M. Wondafrash in litt. (2007) indicates from census data that the species is declining at a slow to moderate rate, owing to habitat degradation.
Cyanochen cyanoptera is endemic to the highlands of Ethiopia, and although it remains locally common and widespread.
Behaviour This species is mostly sedentary but demonstrates some small-scale seasonal altitudinal movements (del Hoyo et al. 1992; Kear 2005). It has been recorded to breed during the dry season months of March-June (Kear 2005), during which time it occurs in dispersed single pairs or small groups (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Little is known about breeding behaviour due to the species's nocturnal habits (Soothill and Whitehead 1978). It moves to lower altitudes during the wet, non-breeding season (Kear 2005), where it sometimes congregates in relatively large, loose flocks of 50-100 individuals (Dodman et al. 1999, Kear 2005). Important concentrations occur at Areket (Dodman et al. 1999) and on the Sululta plain area during the rains and post-rains period (Callaghan and Green 1993, Scott and Rose 1996), and also in the Bale Mountains National Park, where there are reports of breeding occurring during the wet months of July-August (H. Tadele in litt. 2016). Habitat Breeding The species often breeds in open Afro-alpine moorland (Kear 2005). Non-breeding The species occurs on the banks of highland rivers and lakes with adjacent meadows of short grass ( Johnsgard 1978, del Hoyo et al. 1992). It also inhabits the edges of highland lakes, marshes, bog pools, swamps and streams with abundant grassland surroundings. It is rarely found in overgrown areas and does not venture into deep water (Johnsgard 1978, del Hoyo et al. 1992). In the central parts of its range it occurs most commonly at altitudes of 2,000-3,000 m in areas with waterlogged black cotton-soils (vertisols) (Kear 2005). At the northern and southern extremities of its range it occurs at higher altitude where the substrate is granitic and the grasses coarser and longer (Kear 2005). Diet The species is primarily herbivorous, grazing on grasses, sedges and other herbaceous vegetation (Johnsgard 1978, Brown et al. 1982, Scott and Rose 1996). However it is also reported to take worms, insects, insect larvae, freshwater molluscs and even small reptiles (Johnsgard 1978, del Hoyo et al. 1992, Kear 2005). Breeding Site The nest is built on the ground concealed amongst vegetation (Soothill and Whitehead 1978).
It was not formerly thought to be threatened by hunting as, for religious reasons, it is not traditionally eaten (Callaghan and Green 1993). However, recent reports and observations show that local people now trap this and other wildfowl for sale to the country's growing Chinese population. At some sites such as Gefersa Reservoir (30 km west of Addis Ababa) which used to hold large populations, the species is now scarce (Y. Abebe in litt. 2012). It is now also almost certainly under pressure because of the rapidly expanding human population and resulting drainage and degradation of wetlands and grasslands, and increased levels of disturbance (Scott and Rose 1996). Agricultural intensification (privatisation) and droughts are also possible threats (Scott and Rose 1996, T. Dodman in litt. 2000).
Conservation Actions Underway
Important breeding areas in the Bale Mountains National Park and Guassa Community Conservation Area are protected.
Text account compilers
Khwaja, N., Mahood, S., O'Brien, A., Shutes, S., Symes, A.
Stroud, D., Dodman, T., Abebe, Y., Wondafrash, M., Bart, T.
BirdLife International (2021) Species factsheet: Cyanochen cyanoptera. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 18/01/2021. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2021) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 18/01/2021.