Brown mesite -- 褐拟鹑 (Mesitornis unicolor)

Brown mesite warming chick at nest
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Brown mesite fact file

Brown mesite description

GenusMesitornis (1)

A ground-dwelling bird of Madagascar, the brown mesite (Mesitornis unicolori) is a fairly slim bird with dark brown upperparts and paler, pinkish underparts (3) (4). Its dark plumage provides the brown mesite with effective camouflage in its shady forest habitat (4).

The brown mesite has a pale greyish head, with a white streak behind each eye, and a rather slim, short, greyish bill. The tail is long, broad (3) (4), and despite not being able to fly, the short wings of the brown mesite are actually well-developed (2).

The brown mesite rarely sings, but when it does it produces a loud rolling ‘chooi-woop, chooi-woop(3). The male and female may also perform a synchronized duet, lasting between 30 and 60 seconds. The brown mesite is most commonly heard singing in the early hours of the morning, half an hour either side of sunrise (4).

Also known as
Brown roatelo.
Mésite unicolore.
Length: 30 cm (2)

Brown mesite biology

The brown mesite, which is thought to live in small family groups of two to three individuals (3) (4), has never been observed in flight (2). Instead it can be seen walking slowly across the forest floor as it forages for insects, seeds and small fruit, turning leaves over with its bill and occasionally plucking an insect from a low hanging leaf or stem (2) (3) (4). Rarely, it may break into a short run as it chases insects from the leaf litter (4).

The brown mesite roosts and nests just above the ground (2) (4). The nest is a rather loose platform constructed from twigs and lined with leaves and plant fibres (4). One to three eggs are laid (4), which are dull white with brown markings at one end (5). The chicks leave the nest shortly after hatching (5).


Brown mesite range

The brown mesite occurs only on the island of Madagascar, where it has a patchy distribution in the humid evergreen forest that runs in a narrow strip down the eastern side of the island (2) (3).  


Brown mesite habitat

A ground-dwelling inhabitant of undisturbed primary evergreen rainforest, the brown mesite seems to prefer steep slopes and dark areas with leaf litter and little herbaceous growth. It occurs from sea level up to 1,200 metres, but is most frequently found below 800 metres (3) (4).


Brown mesite status

The brown mesite is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Brown mesite threats

The Madagascan rainforest in which the brown mesite occurs is a highly threatened habitat. Between 1950 and 1985, the eastern rainforest of Madagascar declined by 50 percent (6), and the destruction continues as slash-and-burn cultivation by local farmers and commercial timber exploitation take their toll (3).

Hunting is also believed to pose a threat to the brown mesite in some areas, as does predation by dogs and rats, particularly around villages (3).


Brown mesite conservation

As this species’ survival is dependent on the existence of undisturbed primary rainforest, preservation of the remaining forest patches is vital (2). The brown mesite currently occurs in numerous protected areas throughout its range, including seven national parks, but it has been recommended that additional remaining areas of rainforest on the east coast should also be protected (3). Thankfully, numerous conservation organisations are working to conserve the remaining unique and biodiverse natural habitat of Madagascar, which will help the brown mesite and the numerous other fascinating species that live there (7) (8).


Find out more

Discover more about conservation in Madagascar:

 Find out more about bird conservation:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

This species information was authored as part of the Arkive and Universities Scheme.


Evergreen forest
Forest consisting mainly of evergreen trees, which retain leaves all year round. This is in contrast to deciduous trees, which completely lose their leaves for part of the year.
Primary evergreen rainforest
Rainforest consisting mainly of evergreen trees, which retain leaves all year round, that has remained undisturbed for a long time and has reached a mature condition.
Primary rainforest
Rainforest that has remained undisturbed for a long time and has reached a mature condition.
The cutting and burning of forests or woodlands to create space for agriculture or livestock.


  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2010)
  2. Roots, C. (2006) Flightless Birds. Greenwood Press, Connecticut.
  3. BirdLife International (November, 2010)
  4. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (2001) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  5. Burton, M. and Burton, R. (2002) International Wildlife Encyclopedia. Marshall Cavendish, New York.
  6. Green, G.M. and Sussman, R.W. (1990) Deforestation history of the eastern rain forests of Madagascar from satellite images. Science, 248: 212-215.
  7. Conservation International (March, 2011)
  8. Wildlife Conservation Society (March, 2011)

Image credit

Brown mesite warming chick at nest  
Brown mesite warming chick at nest

© Dominique Halleux / Biosphoto

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