Picathartes

The picathartes, rockfowl or bald crows are a small genus of two passerine bird species forming the family Picathartidae found in the rain-forests of tropical west and central Africa. They have unfeathered heads, and feed on insects and invertebrates picked from damp rocky areas. Both species are totally non-migratory, being dependent on a specialised rocky jungle habitat.[1] Both species are listed as vulnerable to extinction on the IUCN Red List.

Picathartes
Temporal range: Lutetian–Recent
White-necked Rockfowl (Picathartes gymnocephalus)cropped
White-necked rockfowl (Picathartes gymnocephalus)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Picathartidae
Lowe, 1938
Genus: Picathartes
Lesson, 1828
Species

P. gymnocephalus
P. oreas

Rockfowlrge
White-necked (pink) and grey-necked (green) rockfowl distribution
Synonyms

Galgulus Wagler, 1827 (non Brisson, 1760: preoccupied)

Taxonomy and systematics

The taxonomic position of the clade and its two species has been confusing. At various times, it has been grouped with the babblers, flycatchers, starlings, crows and others before being placed in a family of its own.[2] Serle in 1952 thought it resembled the Asian genus Eupetes while Sibley used egg-albumin protein similarity, determined by electrophoresis, to suggest that it belonged to the Timaliidae. Olson revived the idea that it was related to Eupetes in 1979.[3] A molecular sequence based study suggests that it may indeed be closely related to the crows and placed somewhere at the boundary between the Passerida and Corvida.[4] More specifically they appear to be a sister of the rockjumpers (Chaetops) and are basal to the clade containing the Sylvioidea, Passeroidea and Muscicapoidea but outside the core Corvoidea.[5]

This generic name comes from a combination of the Latin genera pica for "magpie" and cathartes for "vulture".[6]

Species

A possible third species may exist in Uganda, in the vicinity of the Kazinga Channel, linking Lake Edward with Lake George.[7]

Description

PicathartesReichenow
A 1902 illustration of the two species

The picathartes are large (33–38 centimetres (13–15 in) long) passerines with crow-like black bills, long neck, tail and legs. They weigh between 200–250 grams (7.1–8.8 oz). The strong feet and grey legs are adapted to terrestrial movement, and the family progresses through the forest with long bounds on the ground. The wings are long but are seldom used for long flights. The plumage is similar between the two species, with white breasts and bellies and darker (grey and grey-black) wings, backs and tails. The neck color varies between the two species, giving them their individual names (grey-necked and white-necked picathartes). They also have bald heads with brightly coloured and patterned skin.[1]

Behaviour and ecology

Rockfowl are generalised feeders, taking a wide range of invertebrate prey. Prey items include a range of insects, particularly beetles, termites and ants, as well as millipedes, centipedes, earthworms and gastropods. Frogs and lizards are also taken, but these are mostly fed to their chicks. Prey is taken both by foraging on the ground and in the trees. They will also forage in shallow flowing water for crabs. When foraging on the ground, they move forward with hops and bounds, then pausing to search for prey. The longish bill is used to turn over leaves and seize prey, but the feet are never used for either. Both species will follow swarms of ants in order to snatch prey fleeing the ants.[1]

Both species of rockfowl breed seasonally in the wet season. Where an area experiences two wet seasons in a year, they will breed twice in that year. Despite reports of cooperative breeding, it is now thought that they are exclusively monogamous, breeding in pairs. They are also commonly reported to be colonial, and will breed in colonies of up to seven pairs, but solitary breeders and smaller colonies of just two pairs are more common. The nest is made of mud attached to a cave roof or overhanging rock on a cliff. The nest is a cup-like structure of dried leaves, twigs and plant fibres set into dried mud. Two eggs are laid, 24 to 48 hours apart. Both parents participate in incubating the eggs, each taking 12-hour shifts before being relieved by their partner. It takes around 20 days for the eggs to hatch. Picathartes hatchlings are altricial at hatching, almost naked (a few feathers are present on the crown and back) and helpless. The chicks take around 25 days to fledge.[1]

Distribution and habitat

The rockfowl are distributed in west and western Central Africa, in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Ghana (white-necked rockfowl), Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, the Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic (grey-necked rockfowl). The rockfowl live in lowland rainforest at up to 800 m, in rocky and hilly terrain on the slopes of hills and mountains. These birds require forest litter for foraging, a large enough area to contain army-ant swarms (Dorylinae), and rocks, cliffs or caves for nesting sites.[1]

References

  1. ^ a b c d e del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Christie, D. (2007). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 12: Picathartes to Tits and Chickadees. Lynx Edicions. ISBN 978-84-96553-42-2.
  2. ^ Lowe, PR (1928). "Some anatomical and other notes on the systematic position of the genus Picathartes, together with some remarks on the families Sturnidae and Eulabetidae". Ibis 14th Ser. 2: 254–269.
  3. ^ Olson, Storrs L. (1979). "Picathartes—another West African forest relict with probable Asian affinities". Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club. 99 (3): 112–113. hdl:10088/12841.
  4. ^ Treplin, Simone; Tiedemann, Ralph (2007). "Specific chicken repeat 1 (CR1) retrotransposon insertion suggests phylogenetic affinity of rockfowls (genus Picathartes) to crows and ravens (Corvidae)". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 43 (1): 328–337. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2006.10.020. PMID 17174112.
  5. ^ Treplin, Simone; Siegert, Romy; Bleidorn, Christoph; Thompson, Hazell Shokellu; Fotso, Roger; Tiedemann, Ralph (2008-06-01). "Molecular phylogeny of songbirds (Aves: Passeriformes) and the relative utility of common nuclear marker loci". Cladistics. 24 (3): 328–349. doi:10.1111/j.1096-0031.2007.00178.x. ISSN 1096-0031.
  6. ^ Jobling, James A. (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. Christopher Helm. p. 305. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  7. ^ Stuart, Chris and Tilde Stuart (1999). Birds of Africa: from Seabirds to Seedeaters. p. 65. ISBN 978-0-262-19430-3.

External links

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The Forest Reserve in turn contains the Bakossi National Park, created by a decree in early 2008.

The park covers 29,320 hectares (72,500 acres), and was justified on the basis of preserving plant diversification.The Bakossi Mountains, which include Mount Kupe, cover in total about 230,000 square kilometres (89,000 sq mi), with perhaps the largest area of cloud forest in West-Central Africa.

They are part of a larger tract of forest that extends northward into the western foothills of the Bamboutos Mountains.

The reserve was created in 1956. In 2000, the main section of the reserve was designated a protection forest. All logging was banned and Kupe became a "strict nature reserve". The local Bakossi people participated in delineating the boundaries.

Between 2003 and 2007, the effectiveness of management in this and other parks improved greatly, although the local people were not well integrated into the system, and lacked education and awareness of environmental goals.The mountains have one of the healthiest remaining populations of the endangered drill, a primate related to the mandrill.

The drill population in Bakossiland has been threatened by hunters in the area. Drills became extinct in the late 1970s in the Loum Forest Reserve, and may be extinct on Mount Mwanenguba.

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The area has many species of bird. On Mount Kupe alone, more than 329 species have been recorded.

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Grey-necked rockfowl

The grey-necked rockfowl (Picathartes oreas) is a medium-sized bird in the family Picathartidae with a long neck and tail. Also known as the grey-necked picathartes, this passerine is mainly found in rocky areas of close-canopied rainforest from south-west Nigeria through Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and south-west Gabon. It additionally lives on the island of Bioko. Its distribution is patchy, with populations often isolated from each other. The rockfowl typically chooses to live near streams and inselbergs in its forested habitat. It has no recognized subspecies, though some believe that it forms a superspecies with the white-necked rockfowl. The grey-necked rockfowl has grey upperparts, a light grey breast, and lemon-coloured underparts. Its unusually long tail is used for balance, and its thighs are muscular. The head is nearly featherless, with the exposed skin being powder blue on the forehead and upper mandible and carmine on the hindcrown. The bird’s cheeks and eyes are covered in a large, circular black patch that, though narrow, connects and divides the carmine and powder blue skin at the peak of the crown. Though the bird is usually silent, some calls are known.

This rockfowl feeds primarily on insects, though some plant matter, such as fruit and flower buds, is eaten. One feeding strategy involves following Dorylus army ant swarms, feeding on insects flushed by the ants. Rockfowl move through the forest mainly through a series of hops and bounds, or short flights in low vegetation. It travels either alone or in small groups. This species rarely flies for long distances. The grey-necked rockfowl is monogamous and pairs nest either alone or in the vicinity of other pairs, sometimes in colonies of two to five nests, though one colony of forty nests has been recorded. These nests are constructed out of mud and are formed into a deep cup that is built on rock surfaces, typically in caves or on cliffs. Two eggs are laid twice a year. Though the birds breed in colonies, infanticide exists in this species, with rockfowl attempting to kill the young of other pairs. Nestlings mature in about a month.

This species is classified as vulnerable as its dwindling and fragmented populations are threatened by habitat destruction. A conservation plan has been drawn up for this species, and research into its current distribution is ongoing. Some of the indigenous peoples of Cameroon either respect this species or, in some cases, fear it. Today, this rockfowl is considered one of Africa’s most desirable birds by birders and is a symbol of ecotourism across its range.

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White-necked rockfowl

The white-necked rockfowl (Picathartes gymnocephalus) is a medium-sized bird in the family Picathartidae, with a long neck and tail. Also known as the white-necked picathartes, this passerine is mainly found in rocky forested areas at higher altitudes in West Africa from Guinea to Ghana. Its distribution is patchy, with populations often being isolated from each other. The rockfowl typically chooses to live near streams and inselbergs. It has no recognized subspecies, though some believe that it forms a superspecies with the grey-necked rockfowl. The white-necked rockfowl has greyish-black upperparts and white underparts. Its unusually long, dark brown tail is used for balance, and its thighs are muscular. The head is nearly featherless, with the exposed skin being bright yellow except for two large, circular black patches located just behind the eyes. Though the bird is usually silent, some calls are known.

These rockfowl feed primarily on insects, though parents feed small frogs to their young. One feeding strategy involves following Dorylus army ant swarms, feeding on insects flushed by the ants. Rockfowl move through the forest primarily through a series of hops and bounds or short flights in low vegetation. This species rarely flies for long distances. The white-necked rockfowl is monogamous and pairs nest either alone or in the vicinity of other pairs, sometimes in colonies with as many as eight nests. These nests are constructed out of mud formed into a deep cup and are built on rock surfaces, typically in caves. Two eggs are laid twice a year. Though the birds breed in colonies, infanticide is fairly common in this species, with rockfowl attempting to kill the young of other pairs. Nestlings mature in about a month. This bird is long-lived.

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