VU
Broad-tailed Grassbird Schoenicola platyurus



Justification

Justification of Red List Category
This species has a small, fragmented, declining range and population as a result of the clearance and modification of grasslands. It therefore qualifies as Vulnerable.

Population justification
The population is estimated to number 2,500-9,999 mature individuals based on an assessment of known records, descriptions of abundance and range size. This is consistent with recorded population density estimates for congeners or close relatives with a similar body size, and the fact that only a proportion of the estimated Extent of Occurrence is likely to be occupied. This estimate is equivalent to 3,750-14,999 individuals, rounded here to 3,500-15,000 individuals.

Trend justification
A moderate and continuing negative population trend is suspected owing to the paucity of recent records, probably associated with continuing habitat disturbance.

Distribution and population

Schoenicola platyurus is endemic to the Western Ghats, India, where it is known from Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu (BirdLife International 2001). It was formerly locally common in hills and mountains, and the relative lack of recent records could be indicative of declines. However, most suitable areas for this species are difficult to reach during the monsoon period, when individuals are easier to detect, so few sites have been surveyed (Subramanaya in litt. 2007). Recent sightings have come from Maharashtra and Karnataka (Subramanaya in litt. 2006), Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and there is an unconfirmed record from Sri Lanka. It occurs at low densities across most of its range, with perhaps less than 5 individuals per Km2 (S. Subramanya in litt. 2012). However, densities in excess of 25 breeding pairs per Km2 are perhaps possible at key sites (S. Subramanya in litt. 2012).

Ecology

It inhabits dense, tall grass and reeds, interspersed with patchy scrub and bushes on open hillsides, sometimes on steep slopes, but particularly marshy or damp depressions around hilltops, at 900-2,000 m. At one site it has been seen to inhabit grass clumps overgrown by invasive Bracken, Pteridium sp. (most probably P. aquilinum) and Eupatorium sp. (probably E. adenophorum) (S. Subramanya in litt. 2012). It also occurs in dense screw pine Pandanus swamps, lemon grass and dwarf dates and at the edges of forest. It is generally very difficult to detect, except during the breeding season (April-September) when it climbs to prominent perches and performs song-flights. Although it could be at least partially migratory, the lack of records from long-term mist-netting studies in surrounding areas suggest that this is unlikely (Subramanaya in litt. 2007). However, a recent photograph from near sea-level at Manipal (Ramit Singal) suggests that the species might disperse to lower altitudes post-breeding (J. Praveen in litt. 2012).

Threats

This species is threatened by the mismanagement of native shola grasslands, as these habitats are little valued and many areas have been planted with exotic tree species (Subramanaya in litt. 2007). Grazing of grasslands is also detrimental, particularly as grazed areas are often burnt in order to encourage fresh growth, preventing the establishment of tall grass swards. Shola grasslands are also being encroached by invasive plant species, including Pteridium sp. (most probably P. aquilinum) and probably Ageratina adenophora, which may have a detrimental impact (Subramanaya in litt. 2012). Grasslands are poorly represented in the protected-area system within its range, giving cause for concern. Tourism is also a significant threat, with several resorts recently constructed near to protected areas.

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
It is known to occur in several protected areas, including Bramhagiris Wildlife Sanctuary, Aralam Wildlife Sanctuary, Eravikulam National Park, Periyar Tiger Reserve, Kalakkad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve, Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary, Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary and Silent Valley National Park.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct extensive surveys during the early monsoon period to establish its distribution and identify key sites supporting significant populations. Determine its habitat requirements and seasonal movements and identify its main threats. Repeat surveys in order to determine population trends and clarify the extent of decline. Following surveys, make recommendations for its conservation, including the establishment of protected areas, linked to existing reserves where appropriate. Extent protection to high-altitude areas currently outside protected area network. Conduct an awareness campaign with both local communities and local Forest Department staff in the Western Ghats, focussing on raising the profile of grassland conservation in the area used by this species and Nilgiri Pipit Anthus nilghiriensis. Conduct studies to determine the taxonomic status of dark and light colour forms throughout its range (Subramanaya in litt. 2007).

Identification

18 cm. Large, plain warbler with whitish underparts and broad, rounded tail. Rufescent-brown upperparts when breeding, but colder and greyer when plumage worn. Faint, dark cross-bars on tail and narrow, pale supercilium that extends to just behind eye. Similar spp. Thick-billed Warbler Acrocephalus aedon resembles worn S. platyura, but lacks supercilium and has a narrower tail. Voice Sweet, shrill trill, delivered in a constant stream and ending with a few warbling and chak notes. Sharp metallic zink notes when agitated. Territorial songs are given-out from tall exposed perches that emerge above the grass. Hints Males are very vocal and visible during early breeding season, so the best time to survey for the species is between the end of April and late May, just before the onset of monsoon rains. Later in monsoon, weather conditions can hamper access to suitable habitats.

Acknowledgements

Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Gilroy, J., Taylor, J., Allinson, T

Contributors
Praveen, J., Vinod, U., Subramanya, S.


Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2019) Species factsheet: Schoenicola platyurus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 27/03/2019. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2019) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 27/03/2019.