Mesitornithidae – Mesites

Smallish flightless birds are only found in Madagascar, all 3 species are threatened

A small, lesser-known group of birds that consists of three species: the white-breasted mesite, the brown mesite, and the subdesert mesite. These birds are all endemic to Madagascar, meaning they are found nowhere else on Earth, and each occupies a unique niche within the island’s diverse ecosystems.

The white-breasted mesite inhabits the deciduous dry forests of Madagascar, often near rivers, which provide a rich environment for their diet of seeds and insects. The brown mesite is found in the primary evergreen humid forests, a habitat increasingly threatened by deforestation. As its name suggests, the sub-desert mesite is adapted to the arid conditions of the spiny forests in the southern part of the island, where water is scarce, and the vegetation is adapted to drought conditions.

All three species of mesites are ground-dwelling birds that exhibit cryptic behavior, blending into their environment to avoid predators. They forage by walking slowly and methodically on the forest floor, using their beaks to turn over leaves and debris to find seeds, insects, and other small invertebrates. Their plumage is generally brownish and mottled, providing camouflage among the leaf litter of the forest floor.

Mesites are known for their interesting social behavior. They are usually monogamous, forming long-term pair bonds, and are often seen in small family groups. Their breeding behavior is not well documented, but they are believed to build their nests on the ground or in low vegetation, where they lay and incubate their eggs.

Despite their adaptability to different forest habitats, all three mesite species are classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. The primary threats to their survival include habitat loss due to deforestation for agriculture, logging, and charcoal production. Additionally, the fragmentation of forests isolates populations, which can lead to reduced genetic diversity and increased vulnerability to environmental changes.