East Coast Akalat Sheppardia gunningi


Justification of Red List Category

This species is experiencing continuing habitat loss and degradation. It is suspected that the population will experience moderately rapid declines in the future, and it is therefore listed as Near Threatened. 

Population justification
Arabuko-Sokoke Forest in Kenya is believed to support c.7,500 pairs or around 15,000 mature individuals. Zanzibar is thought to host 100 pairs (L. Hansen in litt. 2021). Other subpopulations in Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique are not thought to be large. Hence the global population is best treated as moderately small, at 10,000-19,999 mature individuals. This equates to 15,000-29,999 individuals in total.

Trend justification
The population is inferred to be in decline owing to ongoing habitat destruction. Remote-sensing data suggests that this species's range lost 9.7% of forest cover between 2010-2020 (Global Forest Watch 2021). Between 2017-2020, the range lost 4.2% of forest cover (Global Forest Watch 2021), equivalent to 10.2% when projected forward over 10 years. With the additional habitat degradation and the removal of dead logs and moss (P. Matiku in litt. 2021; J. John in litt. 2021), it is suspected that the species may experience declines in the range of 20-25% over three generations in the future.

Distribution and population

Sheppardia gunningi occurs as four subspecies in scattered forests in south-east Kenya (Nemeth 1996, Bennun and Njoroge 1999, Matiku et al. 1999, Nemeth and Bennun 1999, Oyugi and Amutete 1999), eastern Tanzania (Evans 1997b, Archer and Iles 1998, N. Baker in litt. 1999, Seddon et al. 1999a, Mlingwa et al. in press), northern Malawi (Dowsett-Lemaire 1989) and Mozambique (Clancey 1996). The area of occupied suitable habitat may total less than 1,000 km2, given that it totals c.470 km2 outside Mozambique. At least 7,500 pairs occur in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest (Kenya) alone (Nemeth 1996, Matiku et al. 1999, Nemeth and Bennun 1999, Banks et al. 2012). This population appears to be stable (C. Jackson in litt. 2006, P. Matiku in litt. 2006) and recent records of juveniles (possible dispersers) outside the principal forest block suggest it may be near carrying capacity. The population at Chinizuia in Mozambique may have been extirpated through deforestation (C. Spottiswoode in litt. 2006). A new population has recently been discovered at Mt Mabu in Mozambique (C. Spottiswoode in litt. 2006). In Tanzania the species is under severe pressure: the largest population is thought to occur in Ruvu South Forest Reserve (although this is now under severe pressure for charcoal production [N. Burgess in litt. 2012]); a long isolated population in the Nguu Mts is small; the population in Jozani forest on Zanzibar occupies a tiny habitat; a population discovered in Ngumburuni Forest Reserve in 2003 (Doody and Hamerlunck 2003) was under severe pressure at the time of discovery despite an IUCN programme in Rufiji District. This programme has since finished, and the reserve is still under pressure (N. Burgess in litt. 2012). A plantation of Mvule on the Rondo Plateau which supports a healthy population of akalats was under threat of being clear felled (N. Baker and E. Baker in litt. 2007), but this area is to be upgraded to a National Park, and there is good forest around Rondo, with some limited small-scale clearance at edges (N. Burgess in litt. 2012).


It inhabits closed, moist forest in the Tanzanian mountains (Evans 1997b, Seddon et al. 1999a), lowland and mid-altitude humid forest in Malawi (Dowsett-Lemaire 1989, F. Dowsett-Lemaire and R. J. Dowsett in litt. 1999, in litt. 2000), and tracts of mixed woodland and open, dry forest in coastal / lowland areas (Nemeth 1996). It prefer forest areas with dead logs and moss, which it uses for nesting material (P. Matiku in litt. 2021). In Kenya, it is not found in degraded forest (L. Bennun in litt. 1999), and appears to prefer Cynometra woodland and thicket (Banks et al. 2012). In Tanzania and Malawi it can also be found in secondary forest (Dowsett-Lemaire 1989, Nemeth 1996, Evans 1997b, N. Baker in litt. 1999), although it is generally restricted to the forest interior (N. Baker and E. Baker in litt. 2007), where males retain year round territories. In Tanzania it largely inhabits coastal forests below 300 m, apart from a montane subspecies in the Nguu Mts (Fjeldså et al. 2000). The birds discovered at Mt Mabu, Mozambique, were found at 530 m in tea forest (Spottiswoode et al. 2008). The species mainly feeds on insects, but has also been observed to take berries and seeds (Fjeldså et al. 2000). Birds typically require dense cover, which they retreat into and use to conceal the nest (N. Baker and E. Baker in litt. 2007). In Mozambique, a pair in breeding condition were found in December (Spottiswoode et al. 2008).


In coastal forests, extraction of timber and deadwood and clearance for agriculture and firewood are major threats (L. Bennun in litt. 1999; P. Matiku in litt. 2021), while elephant damage is a threat in the Shimba Hills, Kenya (N. Baker in litt. 1999). Lowland sites in Malawi are under increasing human pressure (T. Oatley in litt. 1999, F. Dowsett-Lemaire and R. J. Dowsett in litt. 1999, 2000). Forest within its range in Mozambique is also under severe and increasing pressure from the expanding human population (T. Oatley in litt. 1999). The population at Chinizuia in Mozambique may have been extirpated following forest clearance (C. Spottiswoode in litt. 2006). Elsewhere, habitat at Mt Mabu is being encroached for maize cultivation. If commercial tea production resumed in this area, which would necessitate cropping of existing tea trees, this could also reduce the species's available habitat (Spottiswoode et al. 2008). Where joint forest management allows deadwood collection, people typically target the deadwood thickets that this species relies upon (N. Baker and E. Baker in litt. 2007). Around Dar es Salaam, the forest is under serious threat from waves of forest destruction for charcoal production spreading from the city (Ahrends et al. 2010). Habitat degradation in the coastal forests of Tanzania is increasing due to the high demands of forest products from the increasing human population (J. John in litt. 2021). Invasive plant species may also be a potential major threat to the remaining forests (J. John in litt. 2021). 

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
Several Tanzanian sites are forest reserves (M. Msuha verbally 1998, N. Baker in litt. 1999, see Burgess and Clarke 2000). Projects in the east Usambaras are working to increase the amount of forest in protected areas. In Kenya, the Shimba Hills is a national reserve, and in Arabuko-Sokoke an ongoing project aims to promote sustainable forest management (Matiku et al. 1999). In Malawi, remaining forest on the lakeshore plain is mainly in four small forest reserves, while escarpment forest, although not protected, is in a largely uninhabited area (F. Dowsett-Lemaire and R. J. Dowsett in litt. 1999, in litt. 2000). Some forest sites are protected by virtue of their remoteness or water catchment value (Fjeldså et al. 2000).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Help the Malawi Forest Department with the conservation of established reserves on the lakeshore (M. Dyer in litt. 1999, F. Dowsett-Lemaire and R. J. Dowsett in litt. 1999, in litt. 2000). Enforce legislation controlling forest-use in both Arabuko-Sokoke and the east Usambaras. Increase protection for Tanzanian coastal forests. Investigate its responses to habitat alteration (L. Bennun in litt. 1999). Assess the population size and trend in the Nguu Mts (Seddon et al. 1999a). Conduct surveys in southern Tanzania and Mozambique (M. Dyer in litt. 1999, T. Oatley in litt. 1999).


11-12 cm. Small robin of forest. Brown upperparts. Powder-blue wash across wing-coverts. Small white loral spot. Orangish throat and breast, fading to white on belly and flanks. Similar spp. White-starred Robin Pogonocichla stellata is yellow below, with dark blue head. Voice Alarm call a series of piping seep notes. Song is fast, high-pitched, but not loud, composed of several short phrases, frequently repeated. Hints Easily seen in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest on Kenya coast, in forest patches on north-east shore of Lake Malawi, and in patches of coastal forest in Mozambique north of Beira.


Text account compilers
Clark, J.

Baker, E., Baker, N., Bennun, L., Bird, J., Burgess, N., Butchart, S., Dowsett, R.J., Dowsett-Lemaire, F., Dyer, M., Ekstrom, J., Evans, M., Hamerlynck, O., Hansen, L., Jackson, C., John, J., Khwaja, N., Matiku, P., Msuha, M., Nemeth, E., Oatley, T.B., Shutes, S., Spottiswoode, C., Starkey, M., Taylor, J. & Westrip, J.R.S.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Sheppardia gunningi. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/east-coast-akalat-sheppardia-gunningi on 06/06/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org on 06/06/2023.