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Sharpe’s Longclaw

Sharpe's Longclaw by Charlie Moores
Macronyx Sharpei
Class: 
Aves
Order: 
Passeriformes
Family: 
Motacillidae
IUCN Red List status: 
Endangered

Description

Protected by the following WLT projects;

Sharpe’s Longclaw is a bird endemic to Kenya. The Kikuyu people call it gathonjo ka werũ-ini, meaning "a weaver-like bird that lives only in the grasslands". The English name was chosen in memory of the British 19th century ornithologist Richard Bowdler Sharpe (1).

It is estimated there are only between 10,000 and 19,000 individuals of Sharpe's Longclaw left.  The bulk of the population is restricted to three main locations: the Kinangop Plateau, Mau Narok, and the Uasin Gishu grasslands.

Behaviour

Sharpe’s Longclaw is a monogamous, very sedentary species, restricted to high altitude, open, short grasslands between 1850 and 3400 meters (2). Birds of the species are territorial, forming permanent groups of two to seven individuals, depending on the quality of their habitat. These groups occupy territories ranging up to 5.6 hectares (3).

Sharpe's Longclaw
Sharpe's Longclaw in the Kingangop Grasslands. Photo © Phoebe Munyoro, Nature Kenya Youth Committe.

Habitat

Importantly, Sharpe’s Longclaw depends on tussock grasses. This is the common name for grass species that grow in clumps or tufts that often thrive in dry habitats. Sharpe’s Longclaw depends on them for three key aspects of its survival:

  1. Nesting: the birds form their nests at the base of tussock grasses.
  2. Feeding:  Sharpe’s Longclaw feeds on insects such as grasshoppers and beetles found at the base of tussocks.
  3. Protection from predators: there is evidence that the bird hides in the tussocks when threatened (3).

Threats and Conservation

Tussock grasslands, found primarily on privately-owned land, are rapidly declining due to the following threats:

  1. Their unpalatability to livestock causing pastoralists to remove them,
  2. An increase in crop-farming replaces grasslands with cultivated lands,
  3. Draining of wetlands,
  4. Introduction of exotic tree species such as Eucalyptus globulus, Acacia mearnsii and Pinus radiata.

Thus Sharpe’s Longclaw is rapidly losing the habitat it critically depends on. It has been predicted that by 2010, only a fifth of the Kinangop Plateau will remain covered with tussock grasslands (4).  As a consequence, the species is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Redlist.

Learn more

References

(1) Encountering Sharpe’s Longclaw on the Kinangop Plateau [Search and Serendipity birding blog]
(2) Sharpe’s longclaw  (Macronyx sharpei) - range [ARKive species information page]
(3) Sharpe’s longclaw  (Macronyx sharpei) - biology [ARKive species information page]
(4) Sharpe’s longclaw  (Macronyx sharpei) - threats [ARKive species information page]

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