Sharpe's Longclaw Macronyx sharpei


Justification of Red List Category
This species is threatened by a very rapid and continuing reduction in the extent and quality of its habitat, such that it now has a very small and highly fragmented range. Similar rates of population decline are likely. This species is therefore classified as Endangered.

Population justification
The population size is preliminarily estimated to fall into the band 10,000-19,999 individuals. This equates to 6,667-13,333 mature individuals, rounded here to 6,000-15,000 mature individuals. However, further work is needed to refine this estimate, as it has been suggested that the total population may now be as low as 2,000 individuals (D. Kimani in litt. 2009).

Trend justification
The population is suspected to be in rapid decline owing to the human-driven loss of tussock grasslands. The rate of decline is expected to become very rapid over the next three generations.

Distribution and population

Macronyx sharpei is endemic to Kenya. The bulk of its population occurs in two locations: Mau Narok, and the grasslands on the North to North Eastern side of Mt Kenya where it can occur up to 3,600m (Borghesio et al. 2013, Kimani et al. 2015, L. Bennun in litt. 1999, 2000; L. Borghesio in litt. 2012). The Kinangop Plateau (40 birds/km2 in 1996 [Muchai 1998]), which once held a key population has undergone habitat destruction to a huge extent and this location probably no longer holds a significant population of this species. Based on 2009 surveys, the Uasin Gishu subpopulation has now almost disappeared due to rapid habitat conversion in the last decade (L. Borghesio in litt. 2012). Surveys of Lake Ol Bolossat grasslands in August 2007 confirmed the presence of the species, with 29 birds recorded at densities of c.0.03-0.37 birds/ha (Wamiti et al. 2007). It is still locally common where suitable habitat persists (L. Bennun in litt. 1999, 2000). It is also known from the eastern slopes of Mt Elgon, where it was observed in September 2009 (L. Borghesio in litt. 2012) and the Aberdare Mountains (although recent records have been rare; L. Bennun in litt. 1999, 2000, L. Borghesio in litt. 2008, 2016). A small subpopulation was discovered in the Cherangani Hills in September 2009 (L. Borghesio in litt. 2012).


This very sedentary species is restricted to high-altitude grassland, although it is rare above 2,800 m (Muchai 1998, Muchai et al. 2002c). Tussocks (required for nesting [Muchai et al. 2002a]) are an essential feature of its habitat, short grass is preferred to long, and it is absent from cultivation or woodlots (Muchai 1998, Lens et al. 2000, Muchai et al. 2002a, Muchai et al. 2002c). It appears able to coexist with livestock, so long as adequate tussock cover remains (grazing may actually be necessary to maintain optimal habitat) (Muchai 1998, L. Bennun in litt. 1999, 2000). It has a mean home range of c.0.5 ha (Muchai 1998).


Its grassland habitat (currently estimated to cover between one-third and half of its historical extent [Lens et al. 2000]) is being replaced by cultivation and woodlots (Muchai 1998, L. Bennun in litt. 1999, 2000, Lens et al. 2000, Muchai et al. 2002b). This is driven by the settlement of small-scale farmers (Ngari 2004). Rates of replacement at Kinangop were 6-9% per annum in 1995-1996 (L. Bennun in litt. 1999, 2000, Lens et al. 2000). The species occurs almost exclusively on privately-owned grasslands, which are likely to be converted to agriculture (Ngari 2004). On the Kinangop Plateau, cultivation is becoming more attractive than livestock-rearing (L. Bennun in litt. 1999, 2000, Muchai et al. 2002b), generally because of unreliable payments by large-scale milk purchasers and a decrease in the frequency of frosts (Ngari 2004). Consequently, most farmers plan to convert their land from a pastoral to an arable system (Muchai et al. 2002a). Many remaining pastures are ploughed every few years to remove unpalatable tussock-grass (Rayment and Pisano 1999, Ngari 2004). It was predicted that by 2010, only 20% of the Kinangop Plateau would be covered by tussock grasslands (Ndang'ang'a et al. 2002). However, by 2004 grasslands covered only 50% of the plateau, and only 30% of these were tussock grasslands (Ngari 2004), and now habitat destruction has occurred at such an extent this location may no longer hold a key part of the population (L. Borghesio in litt. 2016). In addition to this the importnat population on the Mau Plateau is severely threatened by rapid agricultural expansion in the area (L. Borghesio in litt. 2016).The increasing human population density has resulted in the subdivision of farms and increasing stocking rates (Rayment and Pisano 1999). Consequent heavy grazing leads to open, short-grass fields that are unsuitable for M. sharpei (Rayment and Pisano 1999, L. Bennun in litt. 1999, 2000). Around 60% of tussock grasslands are highly fragmented because they are found in small land parcels (2-10 ha) divided amongst small-holders (Ngari 2004). The Lake Ol Bolossat grasslands are threatened by encroachment and settlement, quarrying for rocks, overgrazing, water abstraction, poor soil and water management practices and eucalyptus plantations on neighbouring farms (Wamiti et al. 2007). The fragmentation of its habitat may result in population decreases that are disproportionately greater than the amount of grassland lost (Muchai 1998, Muchai et al. 2002c). Low densities near the highest end of the elevation range (>3,000m, Mt Kenya, Mt Elgon) might in part be due to shrub encroachment driven by insufficient herbivore grazing and fire suppression (Borghesio et al. 2013). While it has been refound on the Aberdare Range (where it was not found during a 3-days survey in 2008) it is only at very low densities which might be due to heavy encroachment of the grasslands by shrubs (L. Borghesio in litt. 2012, 2016). Climate change may cause further range restrictions for this species (?ekercio?lu et al. 2012)

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
The bulk of its population occurs on private farmland that is outside protected areas (Lens et al. 1996, Muchai 1998, Ngari 2004). A local volunteer environmental group has begun an awareness campaign focused on this species (L. Bennun in litt. 1999, 2000). Proposals are also being developed to improve milk-cooling facilities, to decrease the incentives for land conversion (L. Bennun in litt. 1999, 2000, Muchai et al. 2002a). It may be necessary to preserve a network of critical habitat through land purchase and land-management agreements (Lens et al. 2000). By early 2012 Nature Kenya and World Land Trust had secured 58 ha of grassland, leading to the creation of Leleshwa Nature Reserve. A local conservation group Friends of Kinangop Plateau will manage the reserve and employ a warden. It will demonstrate land management that favours the species and provides better economic returns from livestock, and is hoped to encourage the establishment of new reserves by schools and other organisations. Since 2004 Friends of Kinangop Plateau have been working to survey and monitor the species, and have carried out a variety of educational projects and workshops to develop alternative livelihoods in the area (Moores 2009).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Monitor the species's population trends across its range. Monitor the rate of grassland conversion to pasture and cultivation. Study the socio-economic factors underlying land-use changes (L. Bennun in litt. 1999, 2000, Muchai et al. 2002a). Evaluate grazing regimes to establish which is optimal for maintaining tussock grassland (Muchai 1998, L. Bennun in litt. 1999, 2000, Muchai et al. 2002a). Raise awareness among farmers within its range (Muchai et al. 2002a), and try to reduce habitat destruction as much as possible, especially at the Mau Narok grasslands, the grasslands on the North-eastern side of Mt Kenya and the grasslands between Lake Ol Bolossat and the Kinangop plateau because these are now the most important subpopulations following the massive declines at Kinangop Plateau (L. Borghesio in litt. 2016). Improve milk processing facilities to make dairy farming more attractive (Muchai et al. 2002b). Investigate the economic benefits of maintaining tussock grass habitat (Muchai et al. 2002b). Establish a network of large pastoral farms (>30ha) to act as longclaw reserves (Ndang'ang'a et al. 2002); well managed reserves could hold up to 85 individuals/km2 (Lens et al. 2001). Encourage ecotourism, perhaps using the proposed reserve on the Kinangop Plateau as an example (Ngari 2004). Carry out further surveys on and around Lake Ol Bolossat grasslands (Wamiti et al. 2007). Study the almost unknown populations inside National Parks (Aberdare, Mt. Kenya and Mt. Elgon) (L. Borghesio in litt. 2016). Protect Lake Ol Bolossat grasslands (Wamiti et al. 2007). Carry out reforestation of degraded catchment areas with native vegetation and encourage ecotourism at Lake Ol Bolossat grasslands (Wamiti et al. 2007).


16-17 cm. Pipit-like, terrestrial bird. Upperparts heavily marked with buff and rufous streaks. Yellow underparts. White outertail feathers in flight. Similar spp. Other longclaws Macronyx spp. have more prominent white corners to tail. Yellow-throated Longclaw M. croceus generally at lower altitudes (Zimmerman et al. 1996), larger, more sturdy, with solid black breast-band. Voice Sharp sstit in flight. Song a series of weak whistles which rise and fall in pitch. Hints It feeds mainly on beetles and grasshoppers (Muchai 1998, Muchai et al. 2002a). Its habitat may dry out completely during the non-breeding season, at which time the bird makes short movements away from these areas (Keith et al. 1992).


Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Ekstrom, J., Evans, M., Shutes, S., Starkey, M., Symes, A. & Taylor, J.

Bennun, L. & Borghesio, L.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Macronyx sharpei. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 25/01/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 25/01/2020.