Justification of Red List Category
This species has a very large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (extent of occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size has not been quantified, but it is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). Therefore, the species is now listed as Least Concern.
This is a poorly known species and no population estimates are available.
The population is suspected to be in decline following a recent range contraction and threats from the expansion of cultivation, urban development and overgrazing (del Hoyo et al. 2004, Taylor et al. 2015). Some analyses of Southern African Bird Atlas Project data suggest that there has been a range decline for this species between Southern African Bird Atlas Projects (SABAP) (Taylor et al. 2015), but other analyses of this data suggest this species may even have increased its range (Lee et al. 2017). The analysis presented in Taylor et al. (2015) suggests a >30% decline in range between SABAPs, however, the length of time between projects (SABAP1 1987-1992; SABAP2 2007-2014. Note SABAP2 is ongoing but data taken from 2014) is greater than 3 generations (11 years) and the reduction in its Area of Occupancy is below the threshold for concern (Taylor et al. 2015).
Mirafra cheniana is primarily restricted to South Africa, with a few small, scattered populations in Zimbabwe and Botswana. In South Africa, its range is centred on the northern portion of the Eastern Cape and the Free State, but populations are fragmented and patchy. It also occurs at scattered localities through the Northern Province, North West Province, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. Atlas data suggest it has a maximum range of 110,400 km2.
The species inhabits grassland slopes, preferring open areas with open spaces between tussocks, typically where grass is shorter than 50 cm, but avoids wetter lowlands (del Hoyo et al. 2004). It forages on the ground, feeding on seeds, mostly of grasses, but also taking some insects. Breeding in South Africa takes place in September-March, mostly in November-January, and in January-March in Zimbabwe. It is probably monogamous and territorial. The nest is a domed structure with a side entrance, constructed with coarse grasses and lined with finer grass leaves. Its clutch-size is 2-4 eggs. It is generally resident, although there are seasonal fluctuations and local movements in response to dry-season fires (del Hoyo et al. 2004).
It appears to be sensitive to overgrazing, and has disappeared from heavily grazed areas in the Northern Cape and in KwaZulu-Natal at Matatiele, where it was common in the early 1900s. Crop-farming and industrialisation have also transformed a large proportion of its favoured grassland habitat. Land-use changes in the next 20 years may severely impact this species. Some habitat in Zimbabwe has been lost to bush encroachment (del Hoyo et al. 2004). The species may be threatened by climate change, as its preferred grassland habitat requires a specific rainfall regime (del Hoyo et al. 2004).
Conservation Actions Underway
No targeted conservation action is known for this species.
12cm. Small lark with distinct pale supercilium contrasting with brown ear coverts. Rufous wing panel formed from rufous edges of flight feathers. Bill horn coloured, fairly slender. Similar spp. Monotonous Lark M. passerina is larger with less contrasting supercilium, while Pink-billed Lark Spizocorys conirostris has a stouter, pink bill. Voice Protracted song flight with a basic structure of trills and whistles repeated 2-4 times and interspersed with mimicry, with over 70 species mimicked.
Text account compilers
O'Brien, A., Taylor, J. & Westrip, J.
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Mirafra cheniana. 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.