Monday, 17 February 2014

Obscure bird of the week: Cricket Longtail

Now, there's a good chance that many of you reading this will have heard of this week's Obscure bird. The reason that this species was chosen for the obscure bird in question was because until 2008, there's a good chance the vast majority of you would never had heard of them if it weren't for some jammy Swedes on a visit to the southern most part of Morocco, in the disputed land of Western Sahara.
Thomas Pettersson, Krister Mild and Peder Wærn were birding around Aousserd in February 2008 and happened upon a truly unique thing....a breeding population of cricket longtails Spiloptila clamans in the Western Palearctic.

Cricket Longtail - Tomas Svensson

For mad-keen Western Palearctic listers, Western Sahara really is a must go place with black-crowned sparrow lark Eremopterix nigricepsDunn's lark Ermalauda dunni and these peculiar longtails. Western Sahara seems to be one of the absolute WP hotspots for mega rarities to turn up including a recent highlight of white-throated bee-eater Merops albicollis: a first for the WP.

Oued Jarra meaning 'River of the Heavens' - Typical Cricket Longtail breeding habitat
Anyway, enough of this misty-eyed talk of a great place for's not all fun and games! Western Sahara is definitely not a place you'd think to move house and relocate to. The cricket longtail has decided to set up camp in an area of mines, tanks and just about everything else that explodes!

In their normal range, the longtail is resident along the same latitudinal line of southern Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Sudan. While there has never been a reliable population estimate, this species is listed as least concern because their population is thought to be greater than 10,000 pairs and their range is mildly expanding. Therefore, their future may be somewhat brighter?

Despite occupying the same latitude, populations in differing countries breed at completely different times of the year, ranging from 'late summer' in Mauritania to 'winter' and 'early spring' in Senegal. 

An interesting bird that's done its own press work through range expansion to ensure that you might have heard actually of it!

For further reading, there was a paper published in Dutch Birding about cricket longtails breeding in southern Morocco

-Zac Hinchcliffe
When Zac's not counting birds on patch (or making references to Star Wars), he's usually ringing birds on his regular Bangor site or is depressed that he does't have the money or time to twitch the latest big thing. Zac is 21 and currently studying a Research Masters at Bangor University and investigating Welsh Twite; adding a touch of science to his birding.

Amezian M., Radi M., Ibn Tattou M., Khayya M.L., Samlali M.L & Qninba A. 2011. Cricket Longtail breeding in southern MoroccoDutch Birding 33: 229-233.


  1. Great article! but it was actually UK birder Trevor Charlton that found the breeding Cricket Warblers in 2007, see this article -

    He also found a first for Britain - Lark Sparrow in Suffolk,


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