Swierstra's Francolin Pternistis swierstrai


Justification of Red List Category
This species is classified as Endangered as analysis has shown that it has a very small range which is declining in quality and size, and a very small population which is suspected to be decreasing owing to habitat loss and hunting pressure. Urgent conservation action is required to preserve tracts of forest in Angola large enough to support a viable population.

Population justification
The global population has been estimated at between 465-1,052 pairs and 1,040-2,080 pairs. The latter is an over-estimate unless the species is tolerant of a wider range of habitats than is currently known, hence the global population is best placed in the band 1,000-2,499 mature individuals (M. S. L. Mills in litt. 2010).

Trend justification
This species is suspected to be in decline owing to habitat destruction (Dean 2001; M.S.L. Mills in litt. 2005, 2010) and hunting pressure.

Distribution and population

Pternistis swierstrai is uncommon in western Angola and is found from Tundavala in Huila District north to Cariango in Cuanza Sul District, on inselbergs in Huambo District and in the Bailundu Highlands (Dean 2000). On Mt Moco in the Bailundu Highlands (the area with the most forest remaining) only c.15 patches of true Afromontane forest survive (1-15 ha), all in deep ravines (Dean 2001), although there are other more extensive patches of sub-montane forest in western Angola (M. S. L. Mills in litt. 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010). There were no records of this species between 1971 and 2005, when c.10 individuals were recorded (seven birds were seen and another pair or group were heard) at Mts Moco and Soque (M. S. L. Mills in litt. 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010; Mills and Dean in prep). Population estimates are hampered by a lack of data, however it has been estimated at between 465-1,052 pairs and 1,040-2,080 pairs depending on the amount of forest cover left in Angola and how tolerant the species is of non-forest habitats (M. S. L. Mills in litt. 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010).


It is found in montane areas where it is known mainly from forest and forest edge, but it is also recorded from rocky and grassy mountain sides, tall grass savannas on mountain tops and gullies. In August 2005, the seven birds that were seen were in rank growth and bracken (M. S. L. Mills in litt. 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010). In forest, it stays within the dense undergrowth of bushes, shrubs, grasses and large ferns. It feeds on grass and legume seeds and insects picked from the leaf-litter. Its breeding ecology is virtually unknown, but juvenile specimens collected in August suggest a breeding season in May or June.


On Mt Moco, it is threatened by clearing and burning for subsistence farming and the remaining forest patches are disappearing rapidly (Dean 2001; M. S. L. Mills in litt. 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010). Hunting may also be a serious problem in this area, although in August 2005 birds were recorded very near to the largest village (M. S. L. Mills in litt. 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
A protected area of c.60 km2 at Mt Moco was proposed in the 1970s, but has not yet been established (Huntley and Matos 1994).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Use satellite imagery to assess the current extent of forest cover and, if possible, identify potential areas of suitable habitat. Design and evaluate a robust survey technique, perhaps based on playback of vocalisations. Conduct surveys to determine the species's distribution, population numbers and habitat requirements. Initiate long-term conservation at Mt Moco IBA, perhaps though a Site Support Group.


33 cm. Black-and-white, terrestrial gamebird with red bill and legs. Adult male striking black-and-white with broad, black breast-band on white with black spotted underparts. Upperparts at closer range very dark brown. Female has similar underparts to male, but shows paler, more rusty back, mantle and upperwings. Voice Described as a cackling similar to Jackson's Francolin F. jacksoni or Hildebrandt's Francolin F. hildebrandti.


Text account compilers
Bird, J., Butchart, S., Calvert, R., Ekstrom, J., Keane, A., Shutes, S., Symes, A. & Taylor, J.

Dean, R., Mills, M. & Vaz Pinto, P.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2019) Species factsheet: Pternistis swierstrai. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 16/10/2019. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2019) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 16/10/2019.