Graceful Prinia – Current status in Qatar

During 2021, the International Ornithological Congress announced a number of taxonomic revisions to the IOC World Bird List. One of these revisions was to Graceful Prinia, a familiar sight in Qatar where it is a resident local breeder. Graceful Prinia (Prinia gracilis) sensu stricto has thus been split and a new species, Delicate Prinia (P. lepida) has been established. The split is supported by differences in structure, plumage, song and DNA (Alström et al., 2021).  Differences are subtle and to complicate the picture, both species include a number of subspecies.

Delicate Prinia occurs from the easternmost parts of the Arabian peninsula northwards and eastwards into Iran, Iraq and India. Graceful Prinia occurs in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Oman. The status of Graceful Prinia and Delicate Prinia in Qatar and adjacent parts of Saudi Arabia is currently under investigation since these are at the boundary of the distribution of the two species. It currently appears likely that both are present in Qatar but details of their exact distribution remain to be established.

Distribution of Graceful Prinia and Delicate Prinia, after Ahlström, 2021

Key distinguishing field characteristics are:

Graceful Prinia – Structurally larger/bulkier with a relatively short tail. Upper tail barring is very feint, but a subterminal under tail bar is prominent. Plumage tends towards cooler, greyer tones. Song is rather staccato, or slower with gaps between separate bursts. May prefer drier habitats, including parks and gardens including Bidda park, Doha

Delicate Prinia – Structurally more slight, with a longer and thinner tail. Upper tail markings are relatively prominent. Under tail markings are rather feint. Plumage tends towards warmer tones. Song is more continuous, and sounds faster. May prefer wetter habitats such as reed beds, such as can be found at Irkaya Farm.

Delicate Prinia in a Reed Bed in Qatar
Delicate Prinia © Simon Tull. Note the feint under-tail markings. Irkaya Farm, March 2021

The tail markings and in particular the song are the key defining field characteristics. Clear views of the upper side and under side of the tail are thus important, as are video/audio recordings. Unless either or both are clear, for now at least, it is better to record sightings as Graceful/Delicate Prinia, a convention followed by Ebird.

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