Justification of Red List Category
This species is considered Vulnerable because it is known from a small number of locations within a small range, where its habitat is severely fragmented and undergoing continuing clearance (Collar and Stuart 1985). Its small, fragmented population is consequently presumed to be declining.
The total population is estimated to be towards the lower end of 1,500-5,600 individuals, based on surveys in 1994 and 2000-2001. Juveniles and immature individuals make up c.16-20% of the population (Shaw and Musina 2003b, Kamiti 2003, Shaw et al. 2014), and so this equates to roughly 1,250-4,500 mature individuals.
There have been no broad-scale estimates of the population trend but, given the c.30-52% contraction in its area of occupancy evident since the mid-1900s (Shaw et al. 2003), its population has almost certainly decreased in the past 30-40 years (P. Shaw in litt. 2005), probably at a slow to moderate rate. The causes of thicket clearance, the main threat to the species, are on-going, thus the decline is expected to continue.
Turdoides hindei occurs only in central Kenya. Its range is centred on the foothills of the Aberdares and Mt Kenya, at Mukurweini and Kianyaga respectively, with outlying populations in Meru National Park and the adjacent Nyambeni Hills to the north, the Muumoni Hills and Kitui to the east and south-east and at Machakos to the south (Plumb 1979, Turner 1992, Njoroge and Mutinda 1996, Njoroge et al. 1998, P. Njoroge in litt. 1999, Bennun and Njoroge 1999, Njoroge and Bennun 2000, Shaw et al. 2014, P. Shaw in litt. 2005, P. Shaw in litt. 2007). Its continued existence at Athi River has not been confirmed recently (P. Njoroge in litt. 1999, P. Shaw in litt. 2005), and it has not been recorded at Nziu since 1932 (Kamiti 2003). Since 1994, it has been recorded from six main sites: Mukurweini; Kianyaga; Mwea National Reserve; Machakos; Kitui; and Meru National Park (P. Shaw in litt. 2005). In addition, 1-2 groups have recently been reported each from Thika (Boy 2003, Kamiti 2003, P. Shaw in litt. 2005), from Juja, south-east of Thika and close to Ol Donyo Sapuk National Park, and at Wote, south-east of Machakos (Boy 2003, P. Shaw in litt. 2005, P. Shaw in litt. 2006, P. Shaw in litt. 2016). The subpopulation at Meru NP and adjacent Nyambeni Hills is almost certainly isolated from the rest of the population, while those at Machakos and Kitui are probably isolated from each other and from all other subpopulations to the north and west (P. Shaw in litt. 2006, Shaw et al. 2014). Surveys at the six main sites during 1994 and 2000-2001 yielded a minimum population of 665 birds in 157 groups (Shaw et al. 2003, Kamiti 2003, P. Shaw in litt. 2005), with about 77% of these found in the core areas of Mukurweini, Kianyaga and Mwea (Shaw and Musina 2003b, Kamiti 2003). The overall population is estimated to be towards the lower end of 1,500-5,600 individuals (Shaw et al. 2003). There have been no broad-scale estimates of population trend but, given the c. 30-52% contraction in its area of occupancy evident since the mid-1900s (Shaw et al. 2003), its population has almost certainly decreased in the past 30-40 years (P. Shaw in litt. 2005) (although note a more recent potential area of occupancy is c.900km2 greater than presented [Shaw et al. 2014]).
This species is a group-territorial, cooperative breeder (Shaw and Musina 2003b). In June-July, following the end of the long rains, groups typically comprise 3-4 adults, often accompanied by 1-2 fledglings or immatures (Shaw and Musina 2003b). It occurs in two contrasting habitats: thickets and woodland within semi-arid areas (e.g. Machakos and Mwea); and moist, fertile land largely cleared for agriculture, but with fragments of scrub, mainly of the exotic shrub Lantana camara (Mukurweini and Kianyaga) (Njoroge and Mutinda 1996, Njoroge et al. 1998, Shaw and Musina 2003b). In both situations they are normally found in close proximity to dense vegetation associated with streams and rivers, and are more abundant in higher rainfall (perhaps more invertebrate rich) areas that have retained some thicket cover (Njoroge et al. 1998, Njoroge and Bennun 2000, Shaw and Musina 2003b). Similarly, changes in the species’ distribution at these two sites during 2000–2011 were positively correlated with changes in scrub cover. Within 1-km transect sections the loss of a babbler group was associated with a reduction in scrub cover of 22 percentage points (Shaw et al. 2014). At Mukurweini and Kianyaga, abundance was found to increase where thicket cover exceeded 3%, while breeding success improved where thicket cover exceeded 9% (Shaw and Musina 2003b). Nest records peak in March to May and September to October, coinciding with the main periods of rainfall (Shaw and Musina 2003b). Clutches of 2-3 eggs are laid in nests built at 1-3 m, usually in thickets (Njoroge and Mutinda 1996). Productivity generally appears similar to its congeners, with fledglings and immatures together accounting for about 16% to 20% of birds aged during surveys between 2000 and 2011 respectively (Shaw and Musina 2003b, Kamiti 2003, Shaw et al. 2014).
A rapidly increasing human population and intensive farming within its range mean that remaining patches of thicket are being cleared rapidly, with little land left fallow or unweeded, and the thickets that remain are becoming increasingly fragmented (Njoroge et al. 1998). Thickets may also have been destroyed by rice irrigation and dams along the Tana River. Loss of thicket may have been partly mitigated by the spread of the exotic Lantana camara, which provides thicket cover in previously cleared areas. Its presence has probably slowed the species's decline, and may even have enabled it to colonise or re-colonise intensively farmed land (Njoroge and Bennun 2000). Disturbance during the breeding season may result in low breeding success (Njoroge and Mutinda 1996, Njoroge et al. 1998). Inbreeding and competition from Northern Pied-babblers T. hypoleucus do not appear to be threats to this species, although formerly suspected as such (Njoroge et al. 1998). However, hunting for food is a serious threat in some areas (e.g. Kianyaga) (Njoroge and Mutinda 1996, Njoroge and Bennun 2000). Other potential threats are pesticide use, predation, brood parasitism (from Jacobin Cuckoo Clamator jacobinus) and low genetic diversity (P. Shaw in litt. 2005).
Conservation Actions Underway
The species has been recorded from Mwea National Reserve (P. Njoroge in litt. 1999), and rediscovered in Meru National Park (L. Bennun in litt. 1999, 2000), but only about 8% of birds found during surveys in 1994 and 2000-2001 were recorded in these protected areas (Shaw et al. 2003, Kamiti 2003, P. Shaw in litt. 2005). It is also known from Wajee Camp, a small private sanctuary in the Mukurweini area (L. Bennun in litt. 1999, 2000), which provides a useful extra focus for conservation efforts. A site support-group has been established at Mukurweini, which actively monitors babbler numbers and breeding success within parts of the site, and has carried out a tree-planting initiative (P. Shaw in litt. 2005, Anon 2007). In the species's core range, high agricultural productivity, the pattern of land tenure and a high human population density limit opportunities for statutory site protection (Shaw and Musina 2003ab). Nature Kenya has conducted an awareness campaign at Mukuweini Valleys IBA (P. Shaw in litt. 2016). A draft Species Action Plan has been prepared (Shaw and Musina 2003a), but an Action Plan support group has yet to be convened (P. Shaw in litt. 2005). A survey for the species had been planned at land near Juja, following the confirmation of its presence in 2003 (Boy 2003).
23 cm. Sturdy, thrush-like bird. Pale and dark forms occur. Pale form is mottled white-and-black on head, neck and breast, sometimes with asymmetrical blotching, belly and vent off-white. Dark form has reduced white 'scaling' on head and breast, with rusty vent, but white belly. Orange-red eyes in adult, brown or dark grey in immature. Similar spp. All other babblers within its range have white or orange-yellow eyes and lack scaling on head and breast. Voice Typical babbler chattering. Hints Often silent for long periods, when difficult to detect and may easily be overlooked. Good areas for this species are around Mukurweini (Nyeri District) and Kianyaga (Embu District) (Bennun and Njoroge 1999). It occurs in groups of 1-11 individuals all year-round, but more typically 2-4 (Njoroge and Bennun 2000, P. Shaw in litt. 2005), and is highly sedentary within a small area.
Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Ekstrom, J., Evans, M., Pilgrim, J., Shutes, S., Starkey, M., Symes, A., Taylor, J. & Westrip, J.
Bennun, L., Njoroge, P. & Shaw, P.
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Turdoides hindei. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 06/08/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 06/08/2020.