White-backed Black-Tit Melaniparus leuconotus
Version: 2.0 — Published September 17, 2020
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In both Eritrea and Ethiopia, White-backed Black-Tit is restricted to highland areas, usually between 1,800 m and 3,500 m (6), within the Afrotropical Highlands Biome only (7), where it is presumed resident with no seasonal migration known, although one individual was collected 230 km from the site where it was ringed 8 years earlier (7). Harrap and Quinn also cite one lower altitude record from 1,370 m near Jima (6, p. 334). Across its range it occurs in a range of highland forest types including Juniperus, Hagenia, and Podocarpus woodland. At the highest altitude limits of its range it occupies giant heath forest and Hypericum-bamboo (6).
In Eritrea, historical records exist as far north as 16º30' N (7), although its range is likely to have contracted with recent deforestation. Four recent records in Eritrea are all from the Adi Keyh sub-zone, on the eastern escarpment, specifically at Safira, Karibosa, and Demhina, all records between 2,000-2,600 m (3), including January, February, April, and October. A record of a recently fledged juvenile in October indicates that the species continues to breed in Eritrea. Small tracts of native tree species exist in steep gorges and at the bottom of cliffs in the area where it has been observed. Anderson and Berhane (3) describe it as rare in Eritrea.
In Ethiopia, it is more widespread, categorized as "fairly common" by Ash and Atkins (7) and "widespread" but "not necessarily easy to find" by Spottiswoode et al. (1). Records exist from as far south as 6º N (near Dila), and as far east as 42º30' E in the Chercher Mountains, with the most westerly records from 36º E, limited in all directions by the extent of the highlands (7). Ash and Atkins note the following sites as favorable: Addis Ababa, Menagesha, Dinsho, and above Shashamene. Spottiswoode et al. (1) add to this the following sites: Debre Libanos, the Bale Mountains, Goba, and in the upper margins of Harenna Forest. Records of the species on eBird cluster in three main areas: around Addis Ababa, in the Bale Mountains National Park, and in the Semien Mountains in the north, all popular areas for visiting birders. Recent reports also confirm its presence in Muktar Mountain Forest in the Chercher Mountains (19), in the Arbegona area (20), and in the Lake Tana area (21).
Historical Changes to the Distribution
Shelley's Birds of Africa (16) lists a number of sites for the species from modern day Ethiopia, named as follows (place names may have changed): Shoa, Fecheri-Gem, Sciotalit, Denz, Falle (40 km northwest of Addis), Antoto (probably Entoto, where it is still found), Burka, the mountains of Galaland, Bergemeder, Wogara (if this is Wogera, it is not recorded from the area by Ash and Atkins; 7), and Semien (presumably the Semien Mountains in the north). He notes that Blanford observed it in several locations in the north of Ethiopia: Adigrat (near the Eritrean border) and Agula (north of Mek'ele), as well as Goon-Goona (probably Guna Guna) and Senafe, both in modern day Eritrea. Finsch (22) also recorded it in Goon-Goona and Senafe in 1870. It is notable that JA searched for this species more recently in the Senafe area (2007-2009) but did not find it there, yet recorded it on several occasions further north, near Adi Keyh.