Justification of Red List Category
This species is listed as Near Threatened because it is thought to have a moderately small population which is experiencing a moderately rapid and ongoing population decline, owing to the destruction and degradation of its habitat for agriculture. Evidence that the species has a small population or is undergoing a rapid population decline may qualify it for uplisting to a higher threat category.
The population size of this species has not been quantified, but it is described as generally scarce.
The population is suspected to be in decline owing to ongoing habitat destruction.
Prionops poliolophus occurs in a restricted area of south-west Kenya and adjacent areas of northern Tanzania (Zimmerman et al. 1996, L. Bennun in litt. 1999). One study, in one of the best-watched areas of Kenya, indicated that it was genuinely scarce, and that it might have an extremely large foraging range when not breeding (Bennun 1994). However, other reports indicate that it is quite common in the extreme north of the Serengeti National Park, and that the Rift Valley population is both large and widespread (D. Turner in litt. 1999).
It occupies open woodland with Acacia dephanolobium and Tarconanthus, riparian woodland with A. xanthophloea, A. abyssinica and Protea and wooded grassland and bushland, at 1,200-2,200 m (Fry et al. 2000). It is a social, gregarious species, occurring in focks of up to 12. It is a cooperative breeder, with all members of a group, including juveniles, helping with breeding activities (Malaki et al. 2008). The nest is cup-shaped and made of grass and spiders' webs. The species is largely sedentary, but following breeding some foraging parties move north-east in the Rift Valley from the presumed Mara-Narok breeding area to Lake Nakuru National Park, Longonot, Naivasha and Menengai Crater and remain there during October-February (Fry et al. 2000). In a study at Lake Naivasha sixteen nests were found between September-December and were exclusively placed in A. xanthophloea and T. camphoratus (Malaki et al. 2008).
Increasing densities of livestock and cultivation of marginal land are degrading the species's habitat (L. Bennun in litt. 1999). Two groups of birds observed in Lake Nakuru National Park in 2008 appeared to contain hybrids with White-crested Helmet-shrike P. plumatus, suggesting that hybridisation may potentially represent a new or previously unnoticed threat (N. Borrow in litt. 2008).
Conservation Actions Underway
Its range is peripheral to most protected areas, but the buffer zones of the Masai Mara National Park (Kenya), which are currently managed in a similar way to the main reserve, should contain this species. It also occurs in Lake Nakuru National Park (Fry et al. 2000) and Serengeti National Park (D. Turner in litt. 1999), at least.
Easily confused with the much commoner Prionops plumatus. The Grey-crested Helmet Shrike P. poliolophus is larger, lacks a yellow wattle around the eye, has a tufty grey crest on the hind-crown and a blackish spot on the side of the breast (Bennun 1994). The blackish spot on the side of the breast is probably the best single feature for distinguishing this species in the field. 24-26 cm. A flocking, black, grey and white shrike. An obvious black and white shrike with obvious, long grey crest and very large white wing stripe. At close range it shows a yellow eye lacking yellow wattles. Similar spp. The race policephalus of White Helmet-shrike is similar but smaller, has yellow eye wattles and a white, not grey crest. Voice Bill snapping and various churring and clickings sounds. Hints Most frequently encountered in the Serengeti and Mara Parks.
Text account compilers
Evans, M., O'Brien, A., Shutes, S., Starkey, M., Symes, A., Taylor, J. & Westrip, J.
Baker, N., Bennun, L., Borrow, N., Fanshawe, J., Stronach, N. & Turner, D.
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Prionops poliolophus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 14/08/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 14/08/2020.