Species Endemic to the Abyssinian Highlands
Found in Eritrea
One of the prime attraction for birdwatchers visiting Eritrea and Ethiopia
are the species endemic to the Abyssinian Highlands. The exact
number involved is arguable, depending on separation of previous
subspecies. I have listed 17 confirmed shared endemics below.
I have also listed a further
two species that are endemic either to only Eritrea, or both Eritrea and
Ethiopia within Africa, but found also in Asia. There is also a
list of near endemics, currently 15 species.
Many of the records in Personal Experience indicate the Adi Keih
area. This is partly because we have done more birding in this
area, and partly because these species are likely to be most abundant in
this area, as it is in the south of the country (more central to the
Abyssinian Highlands). It contains some of the most mountainous
habitat, well suited to the highland endemics. However, many of
the species could also be found in other areas of the highlands (e.g.
around Adi Quala, Senafe, Dekemhare, Asmara). Note: sub
zobas are geographical units in Eritrea - equivalent to counties.
Status in Eritrea
are common near any reservoir or damp pasture in the southern
highlands north to Adi Keih, especially around Hawatsu and Senafe.
Smaller parties are also sighted near Asmara in the irrigated
fields of Mai Bella. Small numbers can be found as far north
easy to spot for a rail. Common in the highlands around damp
meadows, reservoirs, irrigated agricultural areas and watercourses
in the southern highlands north to Asmara. Needs good cover by
the water's edge. Quite vocal, regularly producing far
carrying 'squark' contact calls.
arable fields, especially wheat and barley in the southern
highlands, for example in the valley near Tekwonda, Adi Keih, or on
the meadows above the reservoir at Hawatsu. Breeds on rocky
cliffs, for example near Safira (Qohaito).
stands of native tree species, especially mature Euphorbia (where it
often nests), throughout the highlands down to an altitude of 1500m
and as far north as Elabered. Good places to look for it are Debre
Sina, Milezanay (both in Anseba), or Karibosa and Hawatsu (near Adi
in mature stands of native tree species, especially African Olive
and Ficus glumosa, throughout the highlands north to Filfil,
where it is most numerous and easiest to spot. Another good
location is Frus, near Kurbarya village (Dekemhare). Shared
also with Sudan, but endemic to the Abyssinian Highlands.
stands of native tree species throughout the highlands north to
Asmara, for example at Hawatsu Copse or Karibosa, near Adi Keih, or
behind Bar Durfo, near Asmara on the Massawa road. Listen for
the nasal 'squeaky-toy-like' contact call.
small woodpeckers, Abyssinian Woodpecker is elusive. However,
it is widely distributed and can be found in euphorbia, juniper or
mature acacia forest. Good locations include the valley behind
Adi Wagara Reservoir near Adi Keih, the vicinity of Milezanay
village, near Tsazega or forest around Mai Aini.
||If it is
split from Black Saw-wing, this could be Eritrea's only endemic
species. It is most often seen in Adi Keih and Senafe sub
zobas (e.g. Maka Stream Valley; Adi Keih or Emba Soira; Senafe), but
has been seen around Asmara and even near Elabered. It is near
black above, with a fairly clear blue sheen that is visible in good
light, clearly visible pale underarm patches that show well in
flight and a shallow forked tail (see Photos page). Prefers
riparian woodland, usually feeding by flying up and down the stream
valley 2-5 metres above the ground.
Black-headed Oriole (Ethiopian Oriole)
Filfil, down to as low as 1000m, where it is found in areas of
mature broadleaf woodland in the valleys. Also found north of
Filfil in Mrara, where there is also mature broadleaf woodland,
specifically in Leminat. Not known from any other locations in
seen in Eritrea. Recent locations include Nefasit and Debra
Sina (in Anseba Zoba).
breeder in the few remaining areas of mature Juniper forest found on
the escarpment mountains in Senafe and Adi Keih sub zobas.
Sometimes seen near Qohaito, in the valley of the so-called
||Common in any
rocky hillside area with limited scrub/ groundcover in Adi Keih and
Senafe sub zobas; especially gorges or cliffs, not too far from
water. Tolerant of the introduced Prickly Pear cactus.
||Not as common
as might be expected. Recent sightings at Debra Sina, near
Elabered and at Arberoba near Nefasit. Mocking Cliff Chat is
common all over the highlands, and may be misidentified as
White-winged Cliff Chat.
native tree areas in the south of the highlands, especially Adi Keih
and Senafe sub zobas. Easy to spot perched on the edge of
clearings. Tame and curious, easy to photograph.
flocks of 4-10 are common among native trees above 1500m, from Adi
Keih south (e.g. Hawatsu). Often seen feeding in
Ficus vasta or Ficus glumosa.
White-throated Seed-eater (also known as Abyssinian Yellow-rumped
||Tends to be
most common along stream valleys between 1000 and 2000m, especially
on the western escarpment. Common also at Monguda; lower
valley (south of Asmara, on Mendefera road). Also found in the
Filfil Rainforest and in acacia forest at over 2000m near Adi Keih.
Often feeds on 'churu beles' and 'asha garab' (Tigrinya plant
e.g. Redman, Stevenson and Fanshawe* or Sinclair and Ryan** list
this as a species. Others consider it to be a sub-species of
Winding Cisticola Cisticola galactotoes. Common to both
wetlands and native tree areas in the Adi Keih and Senafe sub zobas.
Also occasionally found on steep mountain sides, but never far from
water. Calls frequently and usually shows well.
There have also been at least two recent sightings of another Abyssinian
endemic, Abyssinian Longclaw (Macronyx flavicollis), in the
Asmara area, for example, around Emba Derho village. If confirmed,
this would be a remarkable extension of this species' range.
The following two species are endemic either to Abyssinia or Eritrea
within Africa, but both are found in Asia:
Collared (White-collared) Kingfisher
or Halcyon chloris
||Within Africa, only
resident in Eritrea
||Local to mangrove forest
on Eritrean coast, for example in the Bay of Zula. Possible on
Green Island (Sheik Sa'ad Island), v. near Massawa. 2 records also
||Abyssinian endemic within
Africa. More widespread in Arabia.
||Red-breasted is present
only in Eritrea and Ethiopia within Africa, although also found in
SW Arabia. Difficulty of separation from Heuglin's Wheatear,
which is also present in Eritrea, makes confirmation problematic.
I've classed these near endemics as birds which are native to the Horn of
Africa (Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti and Easternmost Sudan).
Erckel's Francolin Francolinus erckelii
Common in rocky landscape with cliffs throughout the highlands, usually
over 2000m. However, in Filfil and Mrara, interestingly, it's
common in very different habitat (rainforest) by the road cuttings down
to as low as 1000m.
Blanford's Lark Calandrella blanfordi
Found in rough grazing pasture in the southern highlands (e.g. Adi Keih,
White-headed (Cretschmar's) Babbler Turdoides leucocephala
Endemic to Sudan, Somalia, N. Ethiopia and Gash Barka in Eritrea.
Prefers mature acacia forest, in the lowlands only.
White-rumped Babbler Turdoides leucocephala
Common across the highlands in a variety of habitats from rainforest to
acacia forest. Parties are very noisy, with a typical babbler
call, making them easy to locate.
Abyssinian Black Wheatear Oenanthe lugubris
Some authors consider it to be a subspecies of Mourning Wheatear (Oenanthe
lugens lugubris). Common and easy to see in open rocky areas
with limited vegetation throughout the southern part of the highlands.
Varies considerably in plumage here. Most birds have diagnostic
dirty orange rump, others have whiter rump. Crown varies from
light grey-streaked to brown-streaked.
Clamorous Reed-warbler Acrocephalus stentoreus
Possible in coastal mangroves. According to some authors, could be a
separate species from the Palearctic species.
Menetries' Warbler Sylvia mystacea
My only record of this species is just outside Foro. Palearctic
migrant, endemic to the region within Africa.
Arabian (Red Sea) Warbler Sylvia leucomelaena
Endemic to the region within Africa. Fairly common in coastal scrub.
Somali Starling Onychognathus blythii
Uncommon, status uncertain.
Swainson's Sparrow Passer swainsonii
Common throughout highlands.
Pale Rock Finch Carpospiza brachydactyla
A palearctic migrant wintering in Eritrea, N. Ethiopia, Sudan and
Djibouti. Can be found at Monguda and Adi Nfas (NE of Asmara) from late
August to spring.
Ruppell's Weaver Ploceus galbula
Fairly common in highlands. Most often found in escarpment river
valleys or irrigated agricultural areas.
African Citril Serinus citrinelloides
Fairly common throughout the highlands, preferring open woodland, and
Brown-rumped Seed-eater Serinus tristriatus
Common across the highlands in areas of acacia forest, scrub or
Cinereous Bunting Emberiza cineracea
Uncommon Palearctic migrant. Recorded in late winter in Menguda
(south of Asmara), and near Erafile, south of Foro.
* Nigel Redman, Terry Stevenson and John Fanshawe: Birds of the
Horn of Africa (Helm, 2009)
**Ian Sinclair, Peter Ryan: Birds of Africa South of the Sahara (Struik
or Princeton 2003)