Spotted Ground-thrush Geokichla guttata


Justification of Red List Category
This enigmatic species is listed as Endangered since it has a very small and severely fragmented population which is presumed to be undergoing a continuing decline because of destruction and degradation of its habitat.

Population justification
The estimates provided for some known populations (guttata <300 pairs [Brown 2015]; fischeri c.200 pairs; belcheri 30-40 pairs) suggest that the world population numbers less than 2,500 mature individuals, therefore it is placed in the range bracket for 1,000-2,499 mature individuals.

Trend justification
This species's population is suspected to be declining in line with habitat loss and degradation within its range. Surveys of Kenyan coastal forest in 2003 suggest that the species may have undergone very rapid declines since the 1980s (Ndang'ang'a et al. 2008), and work looking at data between the Southern African Bird Atlas Projects suggests a possible range decline of 28% in South Africa (Cooper 2015). The likely overall rate of decline, however, has not been estimated.

Distribution and population

Geokichla guttata has a wide but discontinuous distribution (Urban et al. 1997), with migratory coastal subspecies in Kenya and Tanzania (Bennun 1985, Bennun and Njoroge 1999) (fischeri; c.200 pairs and probably decreasing in both countries) (Ndang'ang'a et al. 2005, 2008), and South Africa (Harebottle 1991 unpublished, Barnes 2000) (guttata; previously thought to be 400-800 pairs and stable in KwaZulu-Natal [Ndang'ang'a et al. 2005], but now <300 pairs [Brown 2015]), a resident subspecies in Malawi (Dowsett-Lemaire and Dowsett 1988) (belcheri; 30-40 pairs and thought to be decreasing on Mt Soche, at least) (Ndang'ang'a et al. 2005) and two subspecies known from single specimens, in South Sudan (maxis) and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (lippensi) (Ndang'ang'a et al. 2005). G. g. guttata has been recorded in Mozambique (J. Curverwell per Ndang'ang'a et al. 2005, Parker 2005), and fischeri and belcheri are suspected to occur in other parts of this country (Ndang'ang'a et al. 2005, F. Dowsett-Lemaire per Ndang'ang'a et al. 2005). In 2007 it was discovered on Mt Namuli (Ukalini and Manho), where it appears to be very rare (perhaps due to competition with G. gurneyi)  and in 2008 song apparently of this species was heard on Mt Mabu, where the species is also reported to occur by local hunters (Dowsett-Lemaire 2010). It also appears rare on Mabu (although G. gurneyi is not known to occur there). The estimates provided for some known populations suggest that the world population numbers less than 2,500 individuals.


It occurs in deep shade in a variety of forest types with deep leaf-litter, from dry Cynometra thicket in Arabuko-Sokoke at sea-level (non-breeding birds) to moist evergreen forest at 1,200-1,700 m in Malawi (Dowsett-Lemaire and Dowsett 1988). The species winters in tall coastal forests, with fischeri preferring coral rag forests, and guttata possibly using coastal dune forest, and this subspecies prefers larger forests for breeding (Harebottle 1994 unpublished, Ndang'ang'a et al. 2005). The species avoids disturbance-prone areas. It forages amongst the lower branches of leafy trees, on rotting logs and on the forest floor by scratching at leaf litter. It feeds on seeds, fruits, insects and their larvae, and land molluscs (Ndang'ang'a et al. 2005). It has a home range of at least 0.14 ha (Bennun 1985) in the non-breeding season, but this is not known for breeding pairs. Clutch-size is 2-3 (Bennun 1985). Its nest is described as a cup or bowl constructed from vegetation, small twigs and mud, lined with plant material and feathers; the exact composition of materials is dependent on the habitat and thus differs between subspecies (Ndang'ang'a et al. 2005). The species does not conceal its nests well, and they tend to be very exposed and easy to find (Chittenden 2003, Ndang'ang'a et al. 2005), leading to a low breeding success rate, with about 85% of nests recorded as failing by one observer in South Africa (Chittenden 2003). Nests may be re-used after a brood has fledged or even after the nest has been depredated, despite the clear indication that it is at risk. This may be a time- and energy-saving strategy (Chittenden 2003). Snakes, raptors and domestic cats are the main nest predators, and contribute to nearly 50% of breeding failures (Ndang'ang'a et al. 2005). Laying has been noted in November in Malawi and in September-March in South Africa (Ndang'ang'a et al. 2005, Chittenden 2005 in Hockey et al. 2005).


In Tanzania, coastal forest patches that are probably stepping stones during migration are under heavy pressure and becoming increasingly fragmented. Pugu Forest is being degraded as a result of charcoal production (N. Burgess in litt. 2007). Wintering habitat in Kenya is also under heavy pressure, particularly the smaller sites (Waiyaki and Bennun 1999). In Malawi, forest is being cleared at all four known sites and there will soon be very little habitat remaining (F. Dowsett-Lemaire in litt. 1999, 2000). At Mt Mulanje (Malawi) exotic species accompany the threats of encroachment, deforestation and possibly bush fires (Ndang'ang'a et al. 2005). In South Africa, mining has destroyed much wintering habitat and may affect more forest in the near future (T. B. Oatley in litt. 1999), while habitat disturbance is increasing in many protected areas (Barnes 2000). The species's recovery is limited by its low breeding success, which is largely due to vulnerability of nests and resultant high rates of predation, perhaps exacerbated by domestic cats where they are present (Chittenden 2003, Ndang'ang'a et al. 2005). This species occasionally suffers mortality from collisions with skyscrapers, probably due to the disorientating effect of city lights during nocturnal migration (Harebottle 1994 unpublished, Oatley 2007). The species may suffer additional habitat loss due to climate change (D. Harebottle in litt. 2016).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CMS Appendix II. In KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa), 22 provincial nature and forest reserves include suitable habitat (Barnes 2000), but funding is being reduced and many are no longer patrolled (T. B. Oatley in litt. 1999). In Malawi, all sites are Forest Reserves, but this confers little protection. In Kenya, a project is aiming to conserve wintering habitat at Arabuko-Sokoke Forest through sustainable use. The forest is also protected by the Forests Act, and the management of several other forests in Kenya is subject to a memorandum of understanding between the Kenya Wildlife Service and Forest Department (Ndang'ang'a et al. 2005).The two breeding sites in Tanzania (Litipo and Rondo Plateau Forest Reserves) are part of a coastal forest conservation programme. In May 2003, a workshop of international experts, comprising 16 participants from NGOs and governments, was held in Watamu, Kenya (Anon. 2003). During the workshop an International Conservation Action Plan was developed and an International Spotted Ground Thrush Working Group was set up to coordinate the implementation of the plan. Recommended actions included raising awareness, research and monitoring, and effective management of forest habitats (Anon. 2003). Discussions covered the importance of involving local communities and other stakeholders adjacent to the species's sites (T. Mbuvi per Anon. 2003), the use of the species's presence as an indication of high forest quality, and the benefit to local communities of ecotourism associated with the species, which already takes place at some sites (C. Jackson per Anon. 2003, Ndang'ang'a et al. 2005). Actions proposed for the Blue Swallow Hirundo atrocaerulea may complement those suggested for Z. guttata at sites such as Upemba National Park (DRC) and Mt Mulanje (Malawi) (Ndang'ang'a et al. 2005).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Study the species's ecology, including habitat requirements, breeding success, population dynamics, migration routes and survival rates (Ndang'ang'a et al. 2005). Monitor the species's populations (Anon. 2003, Ndang'ang'a et al. 2005). Search for the species in areas where it is suspected to occur, such as northern Mozambique, northern Uganda and northeastern DRC: identify all potential sites and rank their importance (Ndang'ang'a et al. 2005). Identify and protect breeding sites and migration stepping stones for Z. g. fisheri in Tanzania and Mozambique. Further investigate the current status of its forest habitat in South Africa and improve protection of provincial nature and forest reserves (Harebottle 1994 unpublished, T. B. Oatley in litt. 1999). Initiate a campaign in Malawi of land reform and conservation of water resources through the maintenance of remaining forest reserves (M. Dyer in litt. 1999, F. Dowsett-Lemaire in litt. 1999, 2000). Investigate the current status of the subspecies in Sudan and DRC, when the security situation allows. Study local knowledge of and attitudes towards the species, and raise awareness about it and its threats amongst communities and stakeholders (Anon. 2003, Ndang'ang'a et al. 2005). Implement forest management that favours the species (Anon. 2003), and involve local communities and other stakeholders (T. Mbuvi per Anon. 2003). Reduce illegal activities at sites by 20% (Ndang'ang'a et al. 2005). Provide alternative resources and economic activities for local communities in order to alleviate pressure on forests (Ndang'ang'a et al. 2005). Encourage ecotourism associated with the species (C. Jackson per Anon. 2003). Create an updated Action Plan.


19-23 cm. Medium-sized, terrestrial thrush of forest. Brownish upperparts. Heavily spotted underparts. Black, vertical stripe down face. Two white wing-bars. Flesh-pink legs. Similar spp. Groundscraper Thrush Psophocichla litsitsirupa larger, more upright, lacks wing-bars, and does not occur in forest. Voice Loud, beautiful song of short, flutey phrases of 4-5 notes. Drawn-out sreee call. Hints At all times difficult to observe, being silent, shy and well-camouflaged, freezing motionless for minutes when disturbed. It feeds on invertebrates, seeds and fruit.


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

Burgess, N., Dowsett-Lemaire, F., Dyer, M., Oatley, T., Harebottle, D. & Magin, C.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Species factsheet: Geokichla guttata. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 23/04/2021. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2021) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 23/04/2021.