The Red-billed Firefinch in Algeria is expanding its range northward. This range expansion is mainly aided by human activities, but natural range expansion may have been involved as well (e.g. at Djanet and Tassili n’Ajjer region) .
The Red-billed Firefinch (Lagonosticta senegala) was introduced at Tamanrasset around 1940, and also present at El-Goléa, northern Sahara, since at least 1972 (Isenmann & Moali 2000).
Currently, the species still present at the known sites cited above:
Tamanrasset, Tamanrasset Province:
The species is still present in the town and it’s easily seen there in good numbers. Observed there as recently as last February (photo 1).
El-Goléa, Ghardaïa Province:
The species is still present at this site as well. Abdelwahab Chedad observed a group of 7-10 birds in January 2016 at Hassi el-Gara near El-Goléa wetland (photo 2). However, there is no indication on whether the species is abundant as is the case at Djanet for example.
Recent range expansion:
The species has also spread (introduced and/or naturally) to the following areas in the last two or three decades:
Djanet, Illizi Province:
Very abundant and easily seen at Djanet town, the oasis and the nearby villages as well (e.g. at Efri). The species is observed regularly at Djanet by Bilel Gueroui, who photographed there a Sudan Golden Sparrow last January. Isenmann & Moali (2000) explicitly wrote that “the species has never been recorded at Djanet…”, so apparently the species has spread to that region during the last 17 years.
Khaled Ayyach, who also said that the species can be seen in big numbers at Djanet, added that he didn’t observe a single caged bird during his 2 years stay in the town. This can only suggest that the Red-billed Firefinches may have spread naturally to Djanet and Tassili n’Ajjer in general.
In Salah, Tamanrasset Province:
Farid Belbachir wrote in his article about the Africain Silverbill published in 2000: “Red-billed Firefinch…introduced recently to In-Salah, where we observed it from 29 September to 6 October 1997″. Farid Belbachir said that the species is still present at this town, and added in the comments that it was introduced there around the 1990s.
Hassi Moumene, Tamanrasset Province:
A gas field located some 60 Km from the town of In Salah. Robert Minshull observed a pair copulating at this site earlier this month, and added that it’s likely to breed in a reed bed within the camp base (see Rob’s full comment below).
Was the Red-billed Firefinch really introduced at Tamanrasset?
Because the species present just to the south in Mali (Adrar Tigharghar) and Niger (Aïr Mountains), one may think why the species in considered ‘introduced’ in Tamanrasset? The information about the species introduction to Tamanrasset is attributed to Heim de Balsac & Mayaud (1962). Having no access to this reference, I asked this question to some Algerian colleagues, and Farid Belbachir (University of Béjaïa) kindly gave this answer:
“It appears that the species was introduced at Tamanrasset by a former French garrison leader named Florimond. The inhabitants of Tamanrasset attribute the name ‘ferrima’ to the Red-billed Firefinch, a name which could be a deformation of ‘Florimond’”.
Belbachir, F. 2000. Première observation d’une colonie de Capucin bec-d’argent Euodice cantans, dans le Sahara Central algérien. Alauda 68: 149–151.
Heim de Balsac, H. & Mayaud, N. 1962. Les oiseaux du Nord-Ouest de l’Afrique. Lechevalier, Paris.
Isenmann, P. & Moali, A. 2000. Oiseaux d’Algérie / Birds of Algeria. SEOF, Paris.
Acknowledgements / Remerciements:
Many thanks to Farid Belbachir, Khaled Ayyach, Samir Amarouche, Abdelwahab Awaf Chedad and Bilel Gueroui for providing the information and the photographs. Thanks also to Ali Mehadji for his interest in the discussion.