Gabela Helmetshrike Prionops gabela


Justification of Red List Category
This poorly-known species has a very small range and probably a very small population and it is thus classified as Endangered. Its range, and therefore probably its population, is severely fragmented and its forest habitat is likely to be declining in area, extent and quality, probably indicating a decline in the population.

Population justification
The population is estimated at 1,856-2,784 birds (4-6 individuals/km2 x 464 km2 [10% EOO]), so is best placed in band 1,000-2,499 individuals. This equates to 667-1,666 mature individuals, rounded here to 600-1,700 mature individuals. Density range is up to the lower quartile of seven estimates for two congeners, and at lower end of range of 122 estimates of 32 species of shrikes and bushshrikes in the BirdLife Population Density Spreadsheet.

Trend justification
The species is suspected to be in moderate decline owing to the continued clearance and degradation of its forest habitat, mainly for charcoal production (M. Mills in litt. 2007).

Distribution and population

Prionops gabela was previously known only from a small area near Gabela, to the south of Mumbondo, on the escarpment of Angola, where it is uncommon (Dean 2000). There had been no records since the mid-1970s, until 2003, when one group of eight birds was recorded in open woodland between Kumbira and Seles at the foot of the escarpment (Ryan et al. 2004). It was noted that this habitat is widespread, especially at lower elevations (Ryan et al. 2004). In 2005, 10 groups were recorded in the Kissama, Bimbe and Bango areas, at around 300 m, in a narrow belt of dry forest below the main escarpment (M. Mills in litt. 2007, Mills and Dean in prep., Mills 2010), and it has been seen at Caxito, north of the Kwanza river (M. Mills in litt. 2016).


It is found in the canopy of forest (including forest underplanted with coffee), and is recorded in dry thicket and cultivation (Hall 1960), gallery forest and thicket sand-forest (Mills and Dean in prep.), with all recent records coming from dry forest at around 300 m (M. Mills in litt. 2007, Mills 2010).


The main threat to the species is charcoal production and clearance for small-scale agriculture, which are driving the clearance of dry forest near the escarpment at a rapid rate, even within Kissama National Park (M. Mills in litt. 2007, Mills 2010). It may also be threatened by activities on the escarpment. Habitat loss to subsistence agriculture possibly affects 30% of forest in the Kumbira area (Sekercioðlu and Riley 2005), although it has not yet been recorded in the Forest Reserve (Ryan et al. 2004, M. Mills in litt. 2016). In some areas, 20-70% of canopy trees and all the undergrowth in valley bottoms is being cleared to plant bananas and sweet potatoes (Dean 2001). In other areas, up to 95% of the forest canopy is being removed to plant cassava and maize (Dean 2001). Relict coffee plantations, abandoned since the mid-1970s after the onset of civil war (Mills et al. 2004, Sekercioðlu and Riley 2005), are now being encroached by subsistence agriculture (Sinclair et al. 2004). With the return of peace, commercial activities on the Angolan escarpment (such as coffee growing) (Sinclair et al. 2004) are expected to resume (Mills et al. 2004), including the likely replacement of shade-grown coffee with sun-tolerant varieties (Ryan et al. 2004). The marketing of local produce is currently limited by the poor state of the Sumbe-Gabela road (Ryan et al. 2004). However, this is a priority for reconstruction, which would contribute to increased development and agriculture in the area (Ryan et al. 2004).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
The species occurs within the Kissama National Park (M. Mills in litt. 2007). A protected area of 50 km2, recommended for the area in the early 1970s, has not been established (Dean 2001).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct surveys to determine its distribution, population numbers and habitat requirements. Use satellite imagery to assess the current extent of forest cover and identify potential areas of suitable habitat for surveying. Implement a conservation strategy for the Angolan escarpment and surrounding area in reaction to the resumption of commercial activities (Mills et al. 2004). Promote ecotourism as a viable supplement to agriculture (Sinclair et al. 2004).


19 cm. All black forest shrike. Slate-grey body with white tips to tail, paler belly and vent, red eyes, eye wattles and bill. Voice Similar churring and clicking notes to Retz's Helmet-shrike P. retzii.


Text account compilers
Ekstrom, J., Pilgrim, J., Shutes, S., Symes, A., Taylor, J., Westrip, J.

Mills, M., Dean, R.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Prionops gabela. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 01/12/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 01/12/2022.