Justification of Red List Category
The population is thought to be relatively small and declining owing to the loss and degradation of its montane woodland habitat, as well as additional threats from hunting and natural predators. Therefore, it is assessed as Near Threatened.
Based on density data from the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Arabia (Jennings 2010) applied to the predicted area of suitable habitat, a revised population size is suspected to the fall into the band of 6,000-24,000 mature individuals. Jennings (2010) suggested a population size of 10,000 pairs. With evidence of some some altitudinal or latitudinal movements (Stagg 1984, Collar and Sharpe 2020) it is tentatively assumed that all mature individuals occur in one subpopulation.
Studies in Asir, Saudi Arabia have shown that the population has undergone a decline, perhaps due to temporary factors such as a recent drought in the region (M. Jennings in litt. 2016); this decline seems to be continuing across key habitats in upper elevational ranges of Saudi Arabia, with the species most threatened by loss of primary juniper forests, urban development, hunting and increases in natural predators (J. Judas in litt. 2022, M. Shobrak in litt. 2022). In Yemen, lopping and cutting of trees and shrubs, for fuel, fodder and building material were thought to be proceeding at unsustainable levels in many parts of Yemen in previous years (Bowden 1987, Scholte et al. 1991, O. Al Saghier via R. Porter in litt. 2022), causing a net loss of dense wooded cover. And although previously considered not to be targeted for food due to its inconspicuous nature (R. Porter in litt. 2017), the species may now be killed for food due to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen (R. Porter in litt. 2022), though this is uncertain. The species does however readily occur in urban habitats and may occupy fragmented woodlands (J. Babbington and P. Roberts in litt. 2016). Population declines are therefore not considered to exceed 20% over three generations and as such, the species is suspected to be undergoing a decline of 1-19%.
This species is endemic to the south-western Arabian peninsula, occurring in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, north to 21°N (Bowden 1987). It is strictly montane (Porter et al. 1996) and has a very local distribution, being generally scarce (Bowden 1987) where it occurs (although occasionally numerous in some areas [Stagg 1984, Jennings et al. 1988, Newton and Newton 1996]). In Saudi Arabia the species is often common and widespread (M. Jennings in litt. 2016) and even occurs in fragmented woodland areas close to human habitation (J. Babbington and P. Roberts in litt. 2016), whilst in Yemen it is rather rare and local (M. Jennings in litt. 2016).
It is confined to areas with a dense cover of native trees and shrubs - thus occurring in woodlands, thickets, copses, orchards and large gardens, although foraging in more open habitats if dense wooded cover is nearby (Stagg 1984, Bowden 1987, Jennings et al. 1988, Newton and Newton 1996, Porter et al. 1996). In gardens and parks it uses exotic and introduced species for food, nesting and cover (M. Jennings in litt. 2016). In Yemen, the species frequents Acacia woodlands, whilst in Saudi Arabia, it is mostly found in Juniper forests (J. Judas in litt. 2022, M. Shobrak in litt. 2022, R. Porter in litt. 2022). At the lowest altitudes, it is restricted to such vegetation along watercourses. At most localities it appears to be sedentary, but there may be altitudinal or latitudinal movements in the north of its range (Stagg 1984, Collar and Sharpe 2020). The diet includes fruit (e.g. Rosa, Juniperus, Ficus) and terrestrial invertebrates (Phillips 1982, Bowden 1987). Breeding occurs from March to June, the nest being 1-2 m above ground in a bush or tree-fork, usually in dense cover (Bowden 1987).
Lopping and cutting of trees and shrubs, for fuel, fodder and building material were thought to be proceeding at unsustainable levels in many parts of Yemen in previous years (Bowden 1987, Scholte et al. 1991), causing a net loss of dense wooded cover. Abandonment of wooded agricultural terraces at lower altitudes in the species's range is thought to lead to massive loss of topsoil and further reduction of wooded cover (Scholte et al. 1991). Tree cutting of Acacia woodlands in Yemen for fuel due to the ongoing price inflation of gas and oil may also lead to loss of habitat (O. Al Saghier via R. Porter in litt. 2022). Loss of well-wooded land to building, infrastructural (particularly across higher elevations which are being developed with new roads and urbanizing rapidly; J. Judas in litt. 2022) and agricultural developments may also be a threat in Saudi Arabia. Dam construction may also pose a threat to the species's habitat (J. Babbington and P. Roberts in litt. 2016). Its primary breeding habitat amongst Juniper forests are also facing dieback disease due to seasonal variations caused by climate change, whilst disturbance from tourists may inadvertently lead to habitat destruction amongst these habitats (J. Judas in litt. 2022, M. Shobrak in litt. 2022). These forests are also facing competition from the invasive Opuntia Prickly Pear trees which may be altering the local native vegetation (J. Judas in litt. 2022). A lack of tree regeneration, owing to high levels of grazing and browsing by livestock, has been observed at several sites and may be a problem. The species may also be impacted by the increase in natural predators such as Hamadryas Baboons throughout its range, who feed on eggs and destroy nests (J. Judas in litt. 2022, M. Shobrak in litt. 2022). Additionally, although this species may not be highly targeted given its ecology and secretive nature (R. Porter in litt. 2017), the conflict in Yemen is leading to food shortage, and so birds may be being killed for food (R. Porter in litt. 2022). In some parts of Saudi Arabia (near Al Soudah), although the species is abundant, individuals have been observed with some deformities, potentially caused by exposure to chemical pollutants (J. Judas in litt. 2022). The impact and scale of this is unknown but unlikely to be widespread or significant.
Conservation Actions Underway
There are many traditional rangeland reserves (mahjur) in south-west Arabia, where trees and ground plant cover are protected by private or communal ownership-rights from excessive exploitation, in order to provide fodder in times of drought (Scholte et al. 1991). However, the management of these areas has been widely neglected or abandoned since the advent of more convenient supplies of supplemental feed (Scholte et al. 1991). The species occurs in at least two protected areas in Saudi Arabia: Raydah Reserve and Asir National Park (Jennings et al. 1988, Newton and Newton 1996). The species is on the watchlist of the Songbirds in Trade Database (SiTDB; S. Brusland in litt. 2022).
23 cm. Medium-sized, rather plain, brown thrush. Throat is streaked blackish. Some spotting on breast of some individuals. In flight shows orange underwing-coverts. May show dirty orange wash on flanks when perched. Stout bill is orange-yellow and legs vary from flesh-coloured to yellow (Bowden 1987). Voice Fluty song is series of high-pitched phrases, mostly heard at dawn. Most typical call is explosive chuck-chuck. Hints Can be very skulking and remain motionless for long periods (Porter et al. 1996). Best located by call.
Text account compilers
Al-Sagheir, O., Ashpole, J, Babbington, J., Brusland, S., Ekstrom, J., Jennings, M., Judas, J., Mahood, S., Martins, R., Porter, R., Roberts, P., Shobrak, M., Symes, A., Taylor, J. & Westrip, J.R.S.
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Turdus menachensis. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 29/11/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 29/11/2022.