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The avifauna, conservation and biogeography of the Njesi Highlands in northern Mozambique, with a review of the country’s Afromontane birdlife

Samuel E.I. Jones
Gabriel A. Jamie
Emidio Sumbane
Merlijn Jocque


Northern Mozambique’s ‘sky-island’ mountains have become increasingly recognised for their Afromontane birdlife. Despite growing ornithological coverage, however, several Mozambican mountains remain poorly known. We present results from a three-week survey of three such mountains: the Njesi Plateau, Mount Chitagal and Mount Sanga (collectively termed the Serra Jeci/Njesi highlands) in Niassa, north-western Mozambique. These mountains had received little/no previous biological surveys, but are the only known locality of the endangered Mozambique Forest-warbler Artisornis sousae (formerly Long-billed Tailorbird
A. moreaui sousae). We recorded 159 species, including several range-extensions of both conservation and biogeographical importance (e.g. Dapple-throat Arcanator orostruthus), and 15 Afromontane biome-restricted species, including two species new for Mozambique (Montane Nightjar Caprimulgus poliocephalus and Dark Batis Batis crypta). We found good numbers of Mozambique Forest-warblers on all three mountains, extending the distribution of this little-known and highly range-restricted taxon. Combining our data with previous surveys (collectively totalling 184 species), we critically appraise the Njesi Important Bird Area (MZ015), based on the occurrence of 26 Important Bird Area (IBA) trigger species, correcting previous errors in its assessment and suggest extensions that include Mount Sanga to the north, and extensive miombo woodland to the west. The site also qualifies as a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) and Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) site. Finally, we review all published ornithological literature from Mozambique’s mountains and discuss emergent biogeographical patterns in their Afromontane avifauna, while also highlighting key sites that require ornithological surveys. We find that the Njesi highlands are more biogeographically linked to Tanzania, than to mountains farther south in Mozambique and Malawi. Collectively, our results illustrate the critical value of even small Afromontane forests on remote highlands for some of Africa’s least known, and most threatened avifauna.

Keywords: Artisornis sousae, Important Bird Area, Key Biodiversity Area, sky-island mountains

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1727-947X
print ISSN: 0030-6525