Justification of Red List Category
This species is classified as Critically Endangered because it has an extremely small range, which is severely fragmented and continues to decline in both extent and quality, and within which the population is suspected to be undergoing continuing decline.
Following a detailed survey of the Forêt du Day in 2007, the population there was estimated at 450 individuals, with 95% confidence intervals giving a range of 285-705 individuals, including juveniles. Potential limitations of that study might mean that the population lies in the lower half of the range estimate, i.e. 285-450 individuals. A 2009 survey estimated the size of the Mabla population at 108 individuals. Taking these survey results into account, the entire population is estimated at fewer than 500 mature individuals (likely 200-500). This roughly equates to 300-750 individuals in total.
A 2009 survey estimated the Mabla population at 108 individuals, a decline from 200 individuals in 1985. However, given that no details on the derivation of the estimate from 1985 were provided (Welch et al. 2009a), it is not possible to say whether this reflects a true decline in the Mabla population. A large proportion of the habitat at Forêt du Day is dead or dying. The precise rate of population decline for this species is difficult to estimate, but it is tentatively placed here in the range 30-49% over the last three generations.
Pternistis ochropectus is endemic to Djibouti, where it is known from only two sites: Forêt du Day in the Goda Massif (c. 14-15 km2 [McGowan et al. 1995]) and the nearby Mabla Mountains. Available habitat at Forêt du Day was halved between 1977 and 1983 (McGowan 1994), with a corresponding decline in the population from 5,600 to 1,500 birds between 1978 and 1985 (McGowan et al. 1995). The population at Forêt du Day was estimated at c. 500-1,000 in 1998 (G. R. and H. J. Welch in litt. 1999). Tracewski et al. (2016) estimated the maximum Area of Occupancy (calculated as the remaining forest cover within the species’s range) to be c.0.8 km2. Figures released in 2006 indicate that 95% of plateau juniper (the preferred habitat) was either dead or dying (Bealey and Rayaleh 2006). Nevertheless, immature birds continue to be seen and the ability of woodland with dead juniper and woodland largely devoid of juniper to support the species remains poorly understood. Survey work by the World Pheasant Association in collaboration with Djibouti Nature led to a population estimate for the Forêt du Day population of 612-723 adults (Bealey and Rayaleh 2006). This was followed by a detailed survey in 2007, from which the same population was estimated at 450 individuals (95% CI: 285-705 individuals) (Fisher et al. 2009). A 2009 survey estimated the size of the Mabla population at 108 individuals (Welch et al. 2009a, b).
The species is found in juniper and other woodland with records between 700 and 1,500 m, but forest at Forêt du Day now only occurs above c. 950 m (Magin 2001). It has also, though, been found in secondary woodland and occurs in degraded woodland (Fuller et al. 2000), including dead juniper habitat. It is shy, elusive and occurs in small parties in dense vegetation (Madge and McGowan 2002), hence it is not recorded in dead or dying juniper habitats which are more open (Bealey and Rayaleh 2006). The presence of a population in the Mabla Mountains, where juniper is effectively absent, may indicate that habitat structure rather than species composition of woodland may be a key ecological factor (Welch et al. 2009a). A detailed survey in the Forêt du Day suggested that the presence of closed-canopy forest may be more important to the species than juniper health (Fisher et al. 2009). It feeds on seeds, berries and termites, and also figs from the forest edge (Fuller et al. 2000). The breeding season is from December to February (McGowan 1994). It is probably monogamous, laying a clutch of 5-7 eggs; the only known nest was a shallow grass-lined depression on an inaccessible mountain ledge (Madge and McGowan 2002).
At Forêt du Day, juniper woodland is in poor condition, with virtually all trees dead or dying by now. The reasons for this are unclear, but the high level of grazing by cattle, camels and goats is certainly a problem in much of the woodland, possibly exacerbated by acid rain, climate change and fungal disease (Magin 2001). Most local people (57%) interviewed in the Forêt du Day attribute high juniper mortality to drought (Fisher et al. 2009). A survey in 2007 showed that in areas of high tree cover or poor juniper condition, the presence of P. ochropectus was negatively correlated with grazing intensity, especially that of cattle (Fisher et al. 2009). Within 18 months of the restoration of an exclosure, juniper seedlings (which were non-existent elsewhere) were found to be frequent under living juniper trees, suggesting grazing has indeed been the main cause of the decline of the forest (Ford 2008). Other concerns include collection of firewood on lower slopes (Magin 2001), hunting, egg harvesting (McGowan et al. 2014) and human disturbance (G. R. and H. J. Welch in litt. 1999). At Mabla, there are signs of significant human disturbance in the remaining stands of woodland, which have been heavily exploited for firewood and grazing (Magin 2001). Having a montane distribution that is close to the maximum altitude within its range, this species is potentially susceptible to climate change (BirdLife International unpubl. data).
Conservation Actions Underway
Part of Forêt du Day was declared a national park in 1939, but the designation is no longer valid (Magin 2001).Work is now underway to advance the implementation of full protected area status for Forêt du Day and Mabla (Rayaleh 2008). Research to clarify the species's range and population numbers is ongoing, including preliminary planning for surveys in other ranges between the two known locations. Meetings have been held with local communities to discuss the establishment of Site Support Groups (SSGs) for Forêt du Day and Mabla (Rayaleh 2008). By early 2010, a small SSG had been formed for Forêt du Day and was already active (H. Rayaleh in litt. 2010). Brochures on the Djibouti Francolin and its habitat have been produced and distributed widely, including within schools, tourist centres and government departments. Meetings have been held with education authorities to discuss the integration of environmental teaching within primary schools, and a pilot environmental education programme has been trialled at five local schools (Rayaleh 2008). Seminars have been held at Djibouti University to discuss the species's status and establishment of a Djibouti Francolin Working Group, and more conferences are planned (H. Rayaleh in litt. 2010). Plans for a community-based juniper forest restoration project are underway, and in May 2008 an area near Day village was set aside for a tree nursery (Hirschfeld 2008, Rayaleh 2008). By early 2009, funding had been secured for the maintenance and expansion of exclosures as well as development of the juniper nursery at Day village (Fisher et al. 2009); and by early 2010 installation of necessary structures at the nursery had started (H. Rayaleh in litt. 2010). An international workshop took place in February 2010 to prepare and agree a Species Action Plan for P. ochropectus (H. Rayaleh in litt. 2010, P. K. Ndang'ang'a in litt. 2010).
Conservation Actions Proposed
Immediate the implementation of a protected status for the Forêts de Day et de Mabla, as recently decreed by government. Conduct ecological studies to determine habitat limits and reproductive ecology of the species, especially whether there is seasonal dependence upon juniper forest. These will be aided by the use of radio-tagging which requires development of suitable catching techniques. Implement community-based juniper forest restoration through planting, assisted regeneration and the maintenance of local plant nurseries. Limit grazing in areas of juniper regeneration and high abundance of P. ochropectus (Fisher et al. 2009). Expand awareness-raising programmes to ensure local people are aware of the value of the species and its habitat to improve participation in other conservation actions. Involve local stakeholders by convening a Protected Area Management Group in the Goda and Mabla areas. Create a working group within Djibouti to promote conservation of the species and its habitat. Develop a long-term integrated management project for the Goda massif, involving socio-economic and agro-pastoral surveys and a conservation education programme (currently being trialed in five local schools by Djibouti Nature). Establish captive breeding populations to aid future reintroduction (Collar and Butchart 2013).
35 cm. Rotund, short-tailed, terrestrial gamebird. Overall greyish-brown. White streaking and striping on underparts, finer white streaking on upperparts. Greyish top of head. Nape tinged rufous. Black bill with some yellow on the lower mandible, greenish-yellow legs. Voice Rattling erk erk erk-kkkkkkk, with latter part descending, ending a chuckled gurgle.
Text account compilers
Stattersfield, A., Symes, A., Taylor, J., Westrip, J., Butchart, S., Calvert, R., Ashpole, J, Bird, J., Ekstrom, J., Keane, A., Martin, R., Shutes, S.
Welch, G., Welch, H., Rayaleh, H., Ndang'ang'a, P.
BirdLife International (2021) Species factsheet: Pternistis ochropectus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 24/10/2021. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2021) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 24/10/2021.