Few birds in Madagascar

To: Margaret Joan Wharton <>, <>
Subject: Few birds in Madagascar
From: Simon Mustoe <>
Date: Fri, 23 Nov 2007 02:01:40 +0000

I'm not sure I agree. It is little different from any country. Even in 
Australia, only a limited number of species can be seen without going to 
specific places and 90% of the country has been destroyed by cattle grazing and 
other agriculture.

In travel terms Madagascar is large - the size of France - its position in the 
world though means it has a very varied climate and a wealth of macro and 
micro-environmental mosaic. The over-riding matter is that despite being one of 
a few mega-diversity countries (along with Australia) it doesn't actually have 
that many birds. It is more notable for its plants. Levels of endemism amongst 
birds are still high though and to see a large variety of species you have to 
travel to all corners of the country. Because travel in Madagascar is hardly 
quick, it amounts to more of a task than over equivalent areas of a more 
developed country.

For instance, BirdLife International records 749 species for Australia (give or 
take) and only 253 (one third) for Madagascar. Madgascar including the Indian 
Ocean Islands has about 58% bird endemism and Austrlaia, about 45%. Because 
most birders target endemics, measure of birding success is usually to see as 
many as possible of these birds in a single visit.

To try and see half the birds in Australia in a single visit would be 
considered almost out of the question. The travel distances alone would put 
most people off and would require a tally of 370+ species and encounters with 
some quite rare and unusual species seen only occasionally by locals. 
Similarly, in Madagascar there are a number of species that are very difficult 
but every 'tick' is probably not a dissimilar percentage of the total number of 
endemics the country holds.

I would say that your disappointment (if that is the right word) is that for 
such a small country - relative to Australia - you don't see that much without 
working really hard. But I doubt this has to do with them being inaccessible 
due to forest destruction any more than birds are 'inaccessible' in Australia 
or other countries of the world for the same reason. Quite a number of the 
species you look for in Madagascar require travel to particular spots - 
Mahajunga region for Van Dam's Vanga, the NE for Helmet Vanga, the SW for 
Subdesert Mesite, Zombitse-Vohibasia for Appert's Greenbul. In Australia this 
would be like trying to see Blue-faced Parrotfinch, Red-capped Parrot, Rock 
Parrot, Orange-bellied Parrot, Malleefowl, Plum-headed Finch, Squatter Pigeon, 
Palm Cockatoo and Regent Parrot all in one go.

I'd be interested to know how many endemic birds you actually saw and what 
percentage of the total bird fauna of Madagascar that was. Compare this to the 
percentage of endemics you have seen in Australia in total and I bet you'd be 
surprised - especially as you live in Australia and only visited Madagascar 
(presumably) for a short time.

All the best,


> To: > From: > Date: Thu, 22 Nov 
> 2007 15:09:28 +1100> Subject: [Birding-Aus] Few birds in Madagascar> > I 
> passed on to Greg Calvert, a biologist and birdwatcher from > Townsville, the 
> question about why there are so few readily accessible > birds in Madagascar. 
> He replied, " I have also been birding in > Madagascar. The reason that 
> Madagascar has so few birds is that 90% of > their forests have been burnt 
> and chopped down and the remaining 10% is > being hacked down as we speak."> 
> > Happy birding,> Joan Wharton (Cherrybrook, Sydney)> 
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