Mesitornithiformes – Mesites

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

An order of birds consisting of three species endemic to Madagascar. The white-breasted mesite (Mesitornis variegatus), the brown mesite (Mesitornis unicolor), and the subdesert mesite (Monias benschi) have all adapted to different ecological niches within Madagascar’s varied landscapes.

These species, while sharing a common geographic location, inhabit distinctly different environments. The sub-desert mesite is adapted to the arid and spiny forests of the island’s southwest, an area characterized by a hot, dry climate and thorny vegetation. In contrast, the brown mesite can be found in the lush, evergreen, and humid forests that represent the primary, undisturbed habitat of Madagascar’s eastern regions. The white-breasted mesite prefers the deciduous forests found in the northwestern part of the island, often in areas close to rivers that provide a more moderate microclimate within the forest ecosystem.

Mesites are small to medium-sized birds with a somewhat secretive nature, making them less known than Madagascar’s more famous lemurs. They spend the majority of their time on the forest floor, foraging for food. Their diet is diverse, consisting of seeds, fruits, and a variety of insects, which they find by scratching and pecking through the leaf litter.

Due to their limited range and specialized habitat requirements, mesites are particularly vulnerable to environmental changes. Deforestation, habitat degradation, and the fragmentation of forests pose serious threats to their survival. All three species are classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, indicating that they face a high risk of extinction in the wild.

Conservation efforts for mesites are focused on protecting their habitats. This includes establishing and managing protected areas, restoring degraded lands, and working with local communities to reduce reliance on forest resources.