Elevated spurfowl and francolin taxa: recent research and a request for photographs

May, 2020


Elgon Francolin (S. elgonensis) ©Callan Cohen

The Galliformes comprise nine major groups of terrestrial gamebirds: megapodes, cracids, guineafowl, grouse, turkeys, pheasants, partridges (including francolins and spurfowl), Old World and New World quails. Recent studies have suggested that pheasants, partridges, quails, spurfowl and francolins are not natural evolutionary groups but rather mosaics of evolutionarily unrelated species; even the best-known gamebird and the wild ancestor of the domestic chicken, the Junglefowl Gallus gallus, has been moved on the gamebird evolutionary tree from the pheasants to a branch including a mix of francolins and partridges (Crowe et al. 2006). Traditionally, the francolins were classified with partridges in the tribe Perdicini within the family Phasianidae, although the only anatomical feature that supports this grouping is that they all have 14 tail feathers. The 41 francolin species, 36 from Africa and five from Asia, were all usually placed in the genus Francolinus but we now know that they comprise two quite distinct lineages, the spurfowl and true francolins, which differ in plumage, escape behaviour and vocalisations: francolins have quail-like upperparts while spurfowl have streaked or vermiculated back feathers, francolins typically crouch and sit tight before flushing when disturbed while spurfowl tend to run for cover, and francolins have musical whistling calls while spurfowl have raucous crowing or cackling calls. Mandiwana-Neudani et al. (2019a) support the four sub-groups historically recog-nised within the spurfowl (bare-throated, montane, scaly and vermiculated) within one genus, Pternistis, increasing the currently recognised number of species by two to 25 but reducing the number of subspecies from 59 to 16. The two new species (Table 1) are Schuett’s Spurfowl P. schuetti, formerly the Scaly Spurfowl subspecies P. squamatus schuetti, occurring in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and eastern Africa (less vermiculated than P. s. squamatus, the scaly pattern on the lower neck less clearly defined, and each feather with a deep red-brown centre) and Cranch’s Spurfowl P. cranchii, formerly the Red-necked Spurfowl subspecies P. afer cranchii, distributed across the southern DRC, northern Angola, northern Zambia, Malawi and east Africa. The Red-necked Spurfowl retains three subspecies, P. a. afer, humboltii and castaneiventer, distributed along the lower Cunene River bordering Namibia and Angola in the west, and down eastern Tanzania, Mozambique and eastern South Africa in the east. Mandiwana-Neudani et al. (2019b) also support the four traditional sub-groups of francolins, but in four proposed genera, i.e. spotted Francolinus, striated Ortygornis, red-tailed Campocolinus (see Crowe et al. in press) and red-winged Scleroptila, but separating the red-tailed Forest Francolin lathami into a fifth genus Peliperdix; also, the Ring-necked Francolin is shifted from the striated group to the red-winged group as Scleroptila streptophora. Mandiwana-Neudani et al. (2019b) recommend elevating 14 francolin subspecies to species level (Table 1) and lumping others into more inclusive subspecies, leaving only 14 in contrast to 52 previously. The eastern and southern

Table 1. Newly elevated spurfowl and francolin species

Scientific name

English name

French name

Scaly spurfowl group


Pternistis schuetti

 Schuett’s Spurfowl

Pseudofrancolin de Schuett

Bare-throated spurfowl group


P. cranchii

 Cranch’s Spurfowl

Pseudofrancolin de Cranch

Striated francolin group


O. rovuma

 Kirk’s Francolin

Francolin de Kirk

Ortygornis grantii

 Grant’s Francolin

Francolin de Grant

Red-tailed francolin group


Campocolinus dewittei

 Chestnut-breasted Francolin

Francolin à poitrine marron

C. spinetorum

 Pale-bellied Francolin

Francolin à ventre pâle

C. maharao

 Bar-bellied Francolin

Francolin à ventre rayé

C. hubbardi

 Plain-bellied Francolin

Francolin à ventre uni

C. thikae

 Thika Francolin

Francolin de Thika

C. stuhlmanni

 Stuhlmann’s Francolin

Francolin de Stuhlmann

Red-winged francolin group


Scleroptila crawshayi

 Crawshay’s Francolin

Francolin de Crawshay

S. elgonensis

 Elgon Francolin

Francolin du Mont Elgon

S. gutturalis

 Archer’s Francolin

Francolin d’Archer

S. jugularis

 Kunene Francolin

Francolin de Kunene

S. uluensis

 Ulu Francolin

Francolin d’Ulu

S. whytei

 Rufous-throated Francolin

Francolin à gorge rousse



African Crested Francolin Ortygornis sephaena is split into three species. The Kunene Francolin Scleroptila jugularis is split from the Orange River Francolin, which retains two subspecies S. l. levaillantoides and S. l. pallidior. Archer’s Francolin S. gutturalis in East Africa is supported as a full species. Crawshay’s Francolin S. crawshayii from north of the Zambezi River is split from the Red-winged Francolin S. levaillantii, which now becomes a southern African endemic. The Coqui Francolin complex in the new genus Campocolinus (Crowe et al. in press) has five newly elevated species: Pale-bellied C. spinetorum, Bar-bellied C. maharao, Plain-bellied C. hubbardi, Thika C. thikae and Stuhlmann’s C. stuhlmanni, while retaining four subspecies C. coqui coqui, C. c. ruahdae, C. c. vernayi and C. c. kasaicus. Chestnut-breasted Francolin C. dewittei is split from the White-throated Francolin C. albogularis, Elgon Francolin Scleroptila elgonensis is elevated from Moorland Francolin S. psilolaema, and Ulu Francolin S. uluensis and Rufous-throated Francolin S. whytei from Shelley’s Francolin S. shelleyi. To assist with documenting these new spurfowl and francolin species, I would greatly appreciate receiving high-resolution photographs of the taxa listed in Table 2. Please share this request with colleagues and friends. I can receive email-attached photos of up to 10 MB, or file transfer facilities such as WeTransfer or Dropbox can be used.

Table 2. Taxa for which photographs are sought, particularly those in bold type.




Scaly P. squamatus

 Nigeria to Central African Republic and DRC



Kirk’s O. rovuma (crested type)

 coastal Tanzania and Kenya,

particularly O. r. spilogaster

 E Ethiopia

Grant’s O. grantii (crested type)

 W Ethiopia

Chestnut-breasted P. dewittei

 W Zambia, central Angola

White-throated P. albogularis


Bar-bellied C. maharao (coqui type)

 Ethiopia, far northern Kenya

Thika C. thikae (coqui type)

 S-central Kenya (Tsavo NP area)

Pale-bellied C. spinetorum (coqui-type)

 W Africa

Stuhlmann’s C. stuhlmanni (coqui type)

 E Zambia, central Tanzania

Coqui C. c. ruhdae (coqui type)


Ulu S. uluensis (Shelley’s type)

 W Tanzania, SW Kenya

Finsch’s S. finschi

 Angola, Gabon, DRC

Ring-necked S. streptophora

 Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, W Kenya, NW Tanzania


CROWE, T.M., BOWIE, R.C.K., BLOOMER, P., MANDIWANA, T.G., HEDDERSON, T.A.J., RANDI, E., PEREIRA, S.L. & WAKELING, J. (2006) Phylogenetics, biogeography and classification of, and character evolution in, gamebirds (Aves: Galliformes): effects of character exclusion, data partitioning and missing data. Cladistics 22: 1-38.

CROWE, T.M., MANDIWANA-NEUDANI, T., DONSKER, D.B., BOWIE, R.C.K. & LITTLE, R.M. (in press) Resolving nomenclatural ‘confusion’ vis-à-vis Latham’s Francolin (Francolinus/Peliperdix/Afrocolinus lathami) and the ‘Red-tailed’ francolins (Francolinus/Ortygornis/Peliperdix spp.). Ostrich 91(2).

MANDIWANA-NEUDANI, T.G., LITTLE, R.M., CROWE, T.M. & BOWIE, R.C.K. (2019a) Taxonomy, phylogeny and biogeography of African spurfowls Galliformes, Phasianidae, Phasianinae, Coturnicini: Pternistis spp. Ostrich 90: 145–172.

MANDIWANA-NEUDANI, T.G., LITTLE, R.M., CROWE, T.M. & BOWIE, R.C.K. (2019b) Taxonomy, phylogeny and biogeography of ‘true’ francolins: Galliformes, Phasianidae, Phasianinae, Gallini; Francolinus, Ortygornis, Afrocolinus gen. nov., Peliperdix and Scleroptila spp. Ostrich 90: 191–221.


FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town,

Cape Town, South Africa. {rob.little@uct.ac.za}