DistributionRead full entry
Range DescriptionSarothrura ayresi occurs in Ethiopia (three known sites in the central highlands, the only known breeding area for this species) (Taylor and van Perlo 1998, Taylor 1998, 1999), Zimbabwe (one record in 1988 [Hustler and Irwin 1995], two records in the 1970s [Taylor and van Perlo 1998], and a possible breeding record in the 1950s [Taylor and van Perlo 1998, Taylor 1999]), and South Africa (ten sites in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga [De Smidt 2003]). Claimed records from Zambia and Rwanda are unproven (Taylor and van Perlo 1998, F. Dowsett-Lemaire and R. J. Dowsett in litt. 1999, P. Leonard in litt. 1999). In South Africa, the total population was estimated to be 235 birds by Taylor and van Perlo (1998), but the Area of Occupancy has since been estimated at 3.92km2 in South Africa (72 ha suitable habitat at Middlepunt and 320 ha at Wakkerstroom, the only two recently reliable sites; H. Smit-Robinson in litt. 2013), and due to low confidence in past estimates and continued threats to the species and its habitat over the past 10 years, the regional population in South Africa is thought to be fewer than 50 birds (H. Smit-Robinson in litt. 2013, Evans 2013).
In the Ethiopian highlands, 10-15 pairs bred at Sululta in the late 1990s (Atkinson et al. 1996a, Anon. 1997c, J. S. Ash in litt. 1999) and c.200 pairs were discovered at a new breeding site (Berga floodplain) in 1997 (Anon. 1997c, A. Shimelis in litt. 1998, M. Wondafrash in litt. 2007). In 2005, a small breeding population was discovered at Bilacha in Ethiopia (M. Wondafrash in litt. 2007), with three adults recorded initially in July, followed by the location of three eggs in August and 19 nests in September (Anon. 2006). However, surveys at Bilacha and Weserbi since 2007 have found no evidence of breeding at either site. Bilacha in particular is highly overgrazed, with one bird seen in 2010 the only recent record, and Weserbi is thought to support a maximum of 1-2 pairs (Y. D. Abebe in litt. 2013). At Berga, the average number of birds flushed annually since 2007 was just four, and two days of intensive searching in August 2013 located only 12 individuals in suitable habitat now limited to c.300 ha (Y. D. Abebe and G. Gebreselassie in litt. 2013). Although there are many wetlands in the Ethiopian highlands similar in altitude and vegetation to Berga, almost all have become unsuitable owing to overgrazing, and monitoring of wetlands in the vicinity of Berga and Woserbi has failed to produce any records (Y. D. Abebe and G. Gebreselassie in litt. 2013). The Area of Occupancy is estimated at just 5.5 km2 at the three Ethiopian breeding sites in 2013 (based on 150 ha of suitable habitat at Weserbi, 100 ha at Bilacha, and 300 ha at Berga; H. Smit-Robinson in litt. 2013), and searches of apparently similar sites nearby have failed to find the species (Y. D. Abebe and G. Gebreselassie in litt. 2013).
Whether a single population migrates between Ethiopia and South Africa, or each country hosts its own subpopulation, is still not known (Taylor and van Perlo 1998, Barnes 2000), although observations from a breeding site in Ethiopia discovered in 2005 show that birds continue to breed into the dry season and may remain in Ethiopia after breeding, rather than migrate (A. Tefera per Anon. 2006). Suggestions that the non-breeding grounds for the Ethiopian population could be within south-west Ethiopia have not been subtantiated; seven days of intensive surveys in the Kaffa area in April 2013 found no evidence of the species at seven major wetlands (M. Ewnetu in litt. 2013).