Half as popular as Madagascar’s lemurs or carnivores, Madagascar’s birds deserve attention. Like the mammals, many of Madagascar’s birds are endemic and found nowhere else in the world. Birds in tropical forests spread seeds, help regenerate forests and keep pest populations in check. It’s likely that Madagascar’s birds do these tasks, but there have been few studies on them in the wild.
Using camera traps, we recorded the presence of 26 bird species. We saw many more species on our hikes through the forest. We’ll focus on seven of the 26, since if we were to include all the birds we saw, you would be reading this page for hours.
Now, onto the main event!
Madagascar crested ibis (Lophotibis cristata): Near Threatened (NT)
This bird is a total camera hog. Widespread and common wherever it occurs, it’s found in all the native forest types. It is not sensitive to habitat disturbance, although it will avoid forest edges.
It forages on the ground, searching for insects, snails and small vertebrates (like frogs) with its long, sensitive beak. It is rarely alone, traveling in pairs or in groups. The ibis lays 2-3 eggs in a nest high up in a large tree.
Despite being the largest of our seven focal bird species, it is little-studied. Ibis populations in the east might be migratory, but no one knows. Locals love it for its tender meat; they set traps for them or even snatch adults, nestlings and eggs off of nests.
Scaly ground-roller (Geobiastes squamiger): Vulnerable (VU)
Next to the crested ibis, this is the one bird in our focal group that has some character. It is common where its found in its sparse geographic range, preferring lowland, undisturbed forest. It will stand like a statue for minutes at a time amongst dark tangled undergrowth, sprinting out to catch whatever moving bit had caught its eye. It eats insects, snails, spiders and, on occasion, small vertebrates.
This is the only bird in our focal 7 that nests on the ground, digging a tunnel in a bank or a forest slope to nest in. Nesting on the ground might make it more vulnerable to stalking terrestrial predators, like cats. Habitat loss might be its main threat and no one knows whether it’s hunted or not.
Red-breasted coua (Coua serriana) and Red-fronted coua (Coua reynaudii): Least Concern (LC)
Couas are a part of a family endemic to Madagascar (Cuculidae). There are 3 coua species in Makira: the arboreal blue coua (not shown) and the terrestrial red-breasted and red-fronted couas.
The red-breasted coua is bigger than the red-fronted and has the characteristic red breast. The red-fronted coua has bluer plumage and a jaunty red cap.
Both are common where they occur, but the red-breasted coua is restricted to northeastern Madagascar. They are found in intact and degraded habitat, foraging for insects, seeds, and fruit. The red-fronted coua will occasionally spice it up with a small vertebrate or two.
We don’t know much about them. Are they solitary or social? How big are their home ranges? What we do know is that both are hunted, known for their tasty meat.
Madagascar magpie-robin (Copsychus albospecularis): Least Concern (LC)
The smallest of our focal 7, the common magpie-robin is found across Madagascar. The male is resplendent in black-and-white plumage, the female dull in brown and gray.
There are 3 subspecies of magpie-robin:
- Copsychus albospecularis pica in the north, west and southwest;
- Copsychus albospecularis inexpectatus in the southeast and east-central forests, and,
- Northeastern Madagascar’s subspecies, Copsychus albospecularis albospecularis.
This little bird uses primary and secondary forest. It forages in the lower and mid-understory for insects, seeds and fruit. Little else is known about it.
Madagascar turtle-dove (Nesoenas picturata): Least Concern (LC)
If the magpie-robin is the smallest of our 7 focal birds, the turtle-dove is the most well-traveled. Each of our focal birds are only found in Madagascar…except the turtle-dove. It occupies nearby islands through introductions and natural range extensions.
Widespread and common, the turtle-dove behaves much like any regular dove or pigeon. It isn’t picky about habitat; primary forest with enormous trees is just as good to it as a patch of scrub between farms. As long as there are trees, it is happy. It forages along the ground, eating insects, seeds and fruit. Along with the crested ibis and two couas, this bird is heavily hunted.
Madagascar wood-rail (Mentocrex kioloides): Least Concern (LC)
The wood-rail can live in disturbed and undisturbed forest, but it prefers forest with open understory and wet areas. The dinner of choice? Insects, small vertebrates like frogs, seeds and fruit. It travels alone, in pairs or in groups.
One of the more well-studied of our focal 7, we still know little about its behavior. The estimated global population is no more than 2,000 individuals. It is not known whether it is hunted.