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Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Muscicapidae
Genus: Sheppardia
Haagner, 1909
Type species
Sheppardia gunningi[1]
Haagner, 1909

See text.

The akalats (stressed on the second syllable)[2] are medium-sized insectivorous birds in the genus Sheppardia. They were formerly placed in the thrush family, Turdidae, but are more often now treated as part of the Old World flycatcher family, Muscicapidae.

The genus contains 11 Sub-Saharan forest-dwelling species:[3]

Taxonomy and etymology

The genus Sheppardia was introduced in 1909 by the South African ornithologist Alwin Karl Haagner with the East coast akalat (Sheppardia gunningi) as the type species.[5] The name of the genus was chosen to honour the collector and farmer P. A. Sheppard.[5][6][7]

Richard Bowdler Sharpe, who had never visited Africa, associated the akalats, in their Bulu appellation, with birds of "different kinds" occurring in the forest understorey.[8] His main collector in West Africa, George L. Bates, denoted them more specifically as "little members of the genus Turdinus, which are called in Fang and Bulu "Akalat"....".[9] The latter genus denoted a group of Old World babblers, currently classed as near-babblers in the genus Illadopsis.

David Armitage Bannerman's volumes on West African birds, published from 1930 through to 1951, became well-established reference works for the region, and retained the name akalat for Trichastoma, which is Illadopsis. Reichenow however classed Turdinus batesi as an Alethe,[10] then in the Turdidae (thrushes and flycatchers), followed by Jackson and Sclater in 1938 who applied it to Sheppardia specifically.[11] Mackworth-Praed and Grant (1953, 1955) and Williams (1963 - 1980s) retained their usage. In 1964 the name was still recorded as denoting both groups, namely the Malococincla, i.e. Illadopsis near-babblers in West Africa, and the Sheppardia chats in East African literature,[12] though the latter convention prevailed in modern times.

Yet the calls of the aforementioned species only doubtfully agree with the akalat's appellation as an omen of death. It is recorded that the akalat's forest song, respectively referred to as "boofio" and "woofio" by the Bulu and Ntumu peoples, is believed by them to predict the death of a near parent who bids them farewell with this song.[13]


  1. ^ "Muscicapidae". The Trust for Avian Systematics. Retrieved 2023-07-15.
  2. ^ As recorded by George L. Bates
  3. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David (eds.). "Chats, Old World flycatchers". World Bird List Version 6.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 20 May 2016.
  4. ^ "Species Updates – IOC World Bird List". Retrieved 2021-06-18.
  5. ^ a b Haagner, Alwin Karl (1909). "Descriptions of two new species of flycatchers from the Portuguese south-east Africa". Annals of the Transvaal Museum. 1: 179–180 [180].
  6. ^ Jobling, James A. (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 355. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  7. ^ Plug, C. "S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science". S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science. Retrieved 22 July 2021.
  8. ^ Sharpe, R.B. (1904). "On further collections of birds from the Efulen District of Camaroon, West Africa, Part II". Ibis. 46 (4): 591–638. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919x.1904.tb00524.x.
  9. ^ Sharpe, R.B. (1908). "On further collections of birds from the Efulen District of Camaroon, West Africa, Part V". Ibis. 46 (9): 117–129 [119]. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919X.1908.tb05213.x.
  10. ^ Reichenow, A. (1905). Die Vögel Afrikas, Vol. 3. Neudamm: J. Neumann.
  11. ^ Jackson, F.J. & Sclater W.L. (1938). The birds of Kenya Colony and the Uganda Protectorate, Vol. 2. London: Gurney & Jackson.
  12. ^ A New Dictionary of Birds, ed. Sir A. Landsborough Thomson (London, Nelson, 1964)
  13. ^ Culture Vive, Phénomène des Présages Chez les Fang/Beti, under Beti-Fang-Bulu, retrieved 4 July 2017[permanent dead link]: Un autre présage de mort est le chant de l’oiseau appelé «akalat», chez les Bulu «Boofio», chez les Ntumu «Woofio». Ce chant est toujours entendu dans la forêt et prédit la mort d’un proche parent qui par ce chant vous fait ses adieux.
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