The vision of BirdLife South Africa is to see a country and region where nature and people live in greater harmony, more equitably and sustainably. BirdLife South Africa’s mission is to strive to conserve birds, their habitats and biodiversity through scientifically-based programmes, through supporting the sustainable and equitable use of natural resources and through encouraging people to enjoy and value nature.
Established in 1994, the Middelpunt Wetland Trust has done exceptional and groundbreaking work on the critically endangered White-winged Flufftail. The trust’s main objective entails securing and rehabilitating the Middelpunt Wetland between Dullstroom and Belfast in Mpumalanga, South Africa.
Rockjumper has been actively involved in the cause of the Middelpunt Wetland Trust by donating a generous amount of money towards their very worthy cause.
The very mysterious White-winged Flufftail’s highly fragmented habitat is severely threatened by continued destruction and it is therefore of utmost importance that their extremely commendable efforts to conserve these specific areas are well supported.
The Middelpunt Wetland Trust is also actively involved in monitoring, conservation and awareness programs in Ethiopia, the only known breeding area for this enigmatic species. The Trust has also decided to proceed with a captive breeding program, and discussions with the National Zoological Gardens in Pretoria are far-advanced. Furthermore, a school has already been built for a community that adjoins one of the breeding sites.
By enabling a wider circle of birders to be aware of the plight of the White-winged Flufftail and generating a greater sense of publicity of this secretive bird’s existence, the Middelpunt Wetlands Trust is playing a major role in its conservation. RBCF is proud to assist them in this extraordinary cause.
The White-winged Flufftail was the BirdLife South Africa Bird of the Year for 2013. In sharp contrast to the species selected in previous years, this flufftail is rarely seen and little known. The White-winged Flufftail is Critically Endangered. The species is an enigma; it is a wetland species that occurs in South Africa and Ethiopia, but essentially, according to our knowledge, nowhere in between. It has made erratic appearances , perhaps, lingering a while at some wetlands, moving on at others. The bird’s presence is only ever detected when it is put to flight and gives a fleeting view as it speeds away before dropping back out of sight into the marshy vegetation.
In the 1940 edition of his renowned book on South African birds, Austin Roberts wrote “the White-winged Flufftail is an extremely rare bird … it occurs in marshes and that is practically all that is known about it”. Not a great deal more has been learnt about the bird in the intervening period.
The continued survival of the species in both Ethiopia and South Africa is of mounting concern. Through the involvement of BirdLife South Africa, the Middelpunt Wetland Trust and the Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society, measures are to be put in place to conserve this enigmatic species.
It is one of nine flufftail species, a family related to crakes and rails, and all are small, secretive, ground-living birds that typically reveal their presence only by their ghostly hooting calls.
White-winged Flufftails are small, almost mouse-like birds weighing a mere 30-35 grams according to published literature. Birds recently weighed in Berga wetland, Ethiopia, by the BirdLife South Africa research team weighed between 25 and 35g, averaging a mere 30g. They are streaked, with brownish plumage, a rusty head, chest and tail, a wingspan of about 16 cm, and broad characteristic white secondary wing feathers that briefly render them conspicuous in flight.
Whereas the calls of the other species are well-known, there is much confusion about the calls of the White-winged Flufftail, and this compounds the inherent problem of finding and learning more about the species.
The White-winged Flufftail is an endemic resident to Africa and is only known to occur in high altitude wetlands of South Africa and Ethiopia. There are isolated records from Zambia and Zimbabwe. It is speculated that the bird migrates between these two countries, arriving at suitable habitat within South Africa in summer. However, this has not been proved.
Ten years ago the South African population, was estimated at 235 non breeding individuals occurring in ten sites ranging from 50–1,000 ha in area and at altitudes of 1,300 – 1,870 m in the east of the country. The only known breeding population, estimated at 201+ pairs is found at three sites in highland marshes in the central highlands of Ethiopia near Addis Ababa. More recent estimates show that there is a mere 50 birds left in South Africa and less than 250 globally.
Map A: Distribution of White-winged Flufftail. Dark Blue = regular occurrence; Light Blue = erratic records