Saffron-cowled Blackbird (Xanthopsar flavus) – uplist from Vulnerable to Endangered?

This discussion was first published as part of the 2016 Red List update. At the time a decision regarding its status was pended, but to enable potential reassessment of this species as part of the 2018 Red List update this post remains open and the date of posting has been updated.

Saffron-cowled Blackbird Xanthopsar flavus is restricted to a few sites with wet grasslands and marshes in southern South America and distributed in four disjunct areas in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Paraguay (Birdlife International 2015).

It is currently listed as Vulnerable, because it was not believed to approach the threshold for Endangered under any of the IUCN Red List criteria during its last assessment. Its declining population trend is currently estimated at 30-50% in 14 years / three generations (A2cde, A3cde) and the global population size is estimated at 2,500-7,000 mature individuals (continuing decline and all subpopulations small so also listed as VU under criterion C2a(i). However, most information used for these estimations were gathered or estimated between 1986 and 2008 (see IBAs data at Birdlife International 2015).
Recent extensive fieldwork in Argentina revealed a sharp decline in numbers of all known populations, increased fragmentation/isolation of subpopulations, and confirmed the loss of all known breeding colonies in the IBAs. Fieldwork also showed a rapid increase of known threats such as loss of breeding habitat by drainage of wetlands and marshes, intensification of forestation (i.e. pines and eucalyptus trees over grasslands), agriculture and livestock farming, increased risk of nest parasitism by Molothrus bonariensis, bird trapping for trade, and lack of protected areas or other tools for providing protection for nesting sites.

It is possible that the threats observed in Argentina could be also occurring in other subpopulations in Uruguay, Brazil and Paraguay. Then, a very rapid and on-going population decline is suspected for the global population owing to habitat loss, lack of protected nesting sites (colonies), increased risk of parasitism and fragmentation of populations.


During the recent Red List assessment for birds in Argentina (Aves Argentinas 2015) Saffron-cowled Blackbird was uplisted from Endangered to Critically Endangered based on the application of the IUCN Red List Criteria at Regional and National Levels (IUCN 2012) and on the basis of new data obtained during 2013-2014 in extensive fieldwork along all subpopulations of the country. Preliminary data were obtained by Rosendo Fraga and others in Entre Rios province (Fraga et al. 2013), Adrian Di Giacomo and others in Corrientes province, and Ernesto Krauczuk and others in Corrientes and Misiones provinces. Consequently gathered data was compared with previous published work from Fraga et al. (1998), Codesido and Fraga (2009) and Di Giacomo (2005). As a result of the analysis of this new data, a reduction in the species’ population size was estimated at -80.4% between 1998-2012 (3 generations; criteria A2cde and A3cde for CR; see Annex 1) in Argentina. The population in Argentina was estimated at c.500-600 individuals with a smaller number of mature/reproductive individuals. These declines were evident for all known subpopulations, and even three of the subpopulations are currently considered extirpated (IBA Azara, IBA Puerto Valle, IBA Rincon del Socorro/Ibera). All known breeding sites (colonies) have been lost during the last years and   no breeding sites are currently protected in Argentina. During 2015 a group of institutions in Argentina have done a great effort to identify current breeding sites at IBA Cuenca del Río Aguapey in Corrientes province and IBAs Perdices and Ñandubayzal-El Potrero in Entre Ríos province. It was resulted in discovery of six small colonies with 3-21 nests each (total: 60 nests, data provided by Adrian Di Giacomo). The overall nesting success was 4% and the percentage of parasitized nests was 63%, when previous estimates from Fraga et al. (1998) were 8% and 29% respectively. In addition to the low recruitment (8 chicks fledged in 60 nests) and low percentage of adults breeding (1/2), in two of the colonies in roadsides from the IBA Perdices several adult birds were trapped by illegal bird trappers.

In Paraguay, the main populations may well show a similar pattern of decline to that in Argentina and probably some of the small subpopulations have been lost in 1998-2004 when estimates for population sizes in the IBAs were made (Rob Clay com. pers.), especially when taking into consideration that several IBAs where the species occurred ave been converted into ricefields (Arne Lesterhuis and Rob Clay com. pers.).

In Brazil and Uruguay there are no population estimates based on recent extensive fieldwork to compare with last estimations available from 1986-2002, however threats are increasing for the species (Bencke et al. 2003, Silveira and Straube 2008, Azpiroz et al. 2012a, 2012b).

The recent Brazilian Red List assessed the species as Vulnerable ounder crtierion C1, on the basis of a population of <10,000 mature individuals and an estimated continuing decline of >10% in three generations, although further data are not presented.

In Uruguay the regional population is probably <1,000 individuals (Azpiroz et al. 2012b). Currently, in Paraguay and Brazil there are no known active breeding colonies in protected areas (see Bencke et al 2006, Fonseca et al. 2004, Dias and Mauricio 2002). In Uruguay there is a nesting site protected at Reserva Potrerillo de Santa Teresa (A. Azpiroz com. pers.).

Currently, in southern South America there is considerable concern about the loss of natural grasslands that is driving population declines in threatened grassland birds (see review Azpiroz et al. 2012a). Up to 50-75% of natural grassland habitat has been lost over the past century, and continue disappearing for agricultural use, forestation, intensive livestock farming, dams, and urban development. Only 1% of remnant natural grasslands are protected and these protected areas are not protecting breeding sites of Saffron-cowled Blackbirds (Azpiroz et al. 2012a, Di Giacomo et al. 2010). As the species is restricted to several sites in this region, and loss of habitat being suspected as the key threat to the species at critical breeding sites, trends in the Argentina population are thought to be representative of the overall global trend.

At the global level, considering the numbers of individuals estimated for each subpopulation in the IBAs (see Birdlife International 2015, Bencke et al. 2006, Clay et al. 2008, Di Giacomo 2005, Dias and Mauricio 2002, Codesido and Fraga 2009, Fonseca et al. 2004) from Argentina (2013-2014), Brazil (2008), Uruguay (1986-2008), and Paraguay (1998-2004), the global population size approaches <2,500 mature individuals, declining, with most subpopulations having <250 individuals suggesting it may warrant listing as Endangered under criterion C2a(i).

Comments on this proposal, including trends from elsewhere within the species range and threats to the species are welcome.

Proposal submitted by Adrian di Giacomo, edited by Andy Symes


Aves Argentinas y Secretaría de Ambiente y Desarrollo Sustentable de la Nación (2015) Recategorización de las aves silvestres de Argentina. Aves Argentinas, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Azpiroz, A. B., Isacch, J. P., Dias, R. A., Di Giacomo, A. S., Fontana, C. S. and Palarea, C. M. (2012a) Ecology and conservation of grassland birds in southeastern South America: a review. Journal of Field Ornithology 83: 217–246.

Azpiroz, A. B., M. Alfaro, and S. Jimenez (2012b) Lista roja de las aves del Uruguay. DINAMA, Montevideo, Uruguay.

Bencke, G.A., C. S. Fontana, R. A. Dias, G. N. Mauricio, and J. K. F. Mahler, Jr. (2003) Aves. In: Livro vermelho da fauna ameac¸ada de extincao no Rio Grande do Sul (C. S. Fontana, G. A. Bencke, and R. E. dos Reis, eds.), pp. 189–479. Edipucrs, Porto Alegre, Brazil.Bencke,G.A., G. N. Mauricio, P. F. Develey and J. M. Goerk (2006) Areas importantes para a conservaca das aves no Brasil: parte 1-estados do domnia da Mata Atlantica. SAVE Brasil, Sao Paulo.

BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Xanthopsar flavus. Downloaded from on 07/08/2015.

Clay, R.P., J.L. Cartes, H. del Castillo ad A. Lesterhuis Editores (2008) Areas importantes para la conservación de las aves en Paraguay. 1ª Edicion. Asociación Guyra Paraguay, Asunción, Paraguay.

Codesido, M.; Fraga, R. M. (2009) Distributions of threatened grassland passerines of Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay, with new locality records and notes on their natural history and habitat. Ornitologia Neotropical 20: 585-595.

Dias, R. A., & G. N. Mauricio. 2002. Natural history notes and conservation of a Saffron-cowled Blackbird Xantopsar flavus population in the southern coastal plain of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. Bird Conserv. Int. 112: 255–268

Di Giacomo, A. S. Ed. (2005) Areas importantes para la conservacion de las aves en la Argentina. Sitios prioritarios para la conservacion de la biodiversidad. Aves Argentinas / Asociacion Ornitologica del Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Di Giacomo, A.S., P. Vickery, H. Casañas, O. Spitznagel, C. Ostrosky, S. Krapovickas, y A. Bosso (2010) Landscape associations of globally threatened grassland birds in the Aguapey River Important Bird Area, Corrientes, Argentina. Bird Conservation International 20: 62–73.

Fonseca, V.S., da S.; Petry, M.V.; Fonseca, F. L., de S. (2004) A new breeding colony of the Saffron-cowled Blackbird (Xantopsar flavus) in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.  Ornitologia Neotropical 15: 133-137.

Fraga, R. (2011) Saffron-cowled Blackbird (Xanthopsar flavus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2014) Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 12 June 2015)

Fraga, R. M., Pugnali, G., and Casañas, H. (1998) Natural history and conservation status of the endangered Saffron-cowled Blackbird Xanthopsar flavus in Argentina. Bird Conservation International 8: 255–267.

Fraga, R.M., E. Jordan, G. Puente, R. Rivollier and M. Dellacasa (2013) Estado poblacional del Tordo Amarillo Xanthopsar flavus en Entre Ríos, Argentina. Informe para Beca Conservar la Argentina 2012, Aves Argentinas, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

IUCN (2012) Guidelines for Appication of iUCN red List Criteria at regional and National Levels. Version 4.0. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

López-Lanús, B., A.S. Di Giacomo, A. Azpiroz, P. Haynes, A. Galimberti, A. Keyel, A. Ocampo, R. Güller, R. Moller Jensen, M. Mattalía, H. Cardozo, C. Giarduz, G. Papini y A.G. Di Giacomo (2013) Inventario focal de fauna de las estancias La Higuera, María Concepción, La Sirena y Virocay en el sitio piloto Aguapey: Corrientes, Argentina. Pp. 153-197 en G.D. Marino, F. Miñarro, M.E. Zaccagnini y B. López-Lanús (eds.). Pastizales y sabanas del cono sur de Sudamérica: iniciativas para su conservación en la Argentina. Temas de Naturaleza y Conservación, Monografía de Aves Argentinas Nº 9. Aves Argentinas/AOP, Fundación Vida Silvestre Argentina e Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Silveira, L. F. and F. C. Straube (2008) Aves: Livro vermelho da fauna brasileira ameaçada de extinção. Ministério do Meio Ambiente and Fundação Biodiversitas

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11 Responses to Saffron-cowled Blackbird (Xanthopsar flavus) – uplist from Vulnerable to Endangered?

  1. Dr. Andrés Bosso Head of the Northeast Region, National Park Administration, Argentina says:

    I agree with this proposal to upgrade this species from Vulnerable to Endangered. I would like to add that the colonies detected in Corrientes and Entre Ríosare not included in a estate and formal protected area. So, the future for this species is quite uncertain if the causes of extinction don´t stop.

    Thanks for considering this comment.

    All the best,

  2. Rosendo Manuel Fraga says:

    I agree that there is a decline of the species in Argentina. I have not done recent field work in Corrientes, so my opinion is for the Entre Ríos population. The nesting success there seems lower, and the species is breeding as isolated pairs rather than in colonies. I believe that Saffon-cowled Blackbirds are more successful when breeding in small (20-30 pairs) synchronized colonies.
    No one seems to believe that strictly protected areas for colonial nesting are needed in Entre Ríos, but I do. Saffron-cowled Blackbirds have nested year after year in in sites as close as 200 m in the past. I think this strategy is feasible.

  3. James Westrip (BirdLife) says:

    Based on available information, our proposal for the 2016 Red List would be to pend the decision on this species and keep this discussion open until 2017, while leaving the current Red List category unchanged in the 2016 update.

    Final 2016 Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in early December, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

  4. Adrian Di Giacomo, CONICET & AVES ARGENTINAS says:

    I think it is not necessary to wait another year considering the strong evidence provided by the southern cone ornithologists in the document submitted for discussion. The information is very accurate in terms of: decrease in population size, drastic decline in reproductive success, loss of colonies, increased threats (high parasitism, habitat loss, capture of individuals). Sadly, a more recent information (November 1, 2016): the only two colonies identified in 2015 in Argentina, have disappeared by vegetation cutting (Entre Rios) and by a new eucalyptus plantation (Corrientes).

  5. Hannah Wheatley (BirdLife) says:

    Preliminary proposals

    Based on available information, our proposal for the 2017 Red List would be to pend the decision on this species and keep this discussion open until 2018, while leaving the current Red List category unchanged in the 2017 update.

    Final 2017 Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in early December, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

  6. Adrian Di Giacomo says:

    I consider that the BLI proposal for the 2017 Red List should be re-considered in light of the evidence submitted in the previous report (written in 2015 and updated in 2016). This report includes current published information and personal communications of colleagues from Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina. Added to this report, there is a master’s thesis done in RGS where population decline also is recognized, as the reduction of the reproductive habitat and the increase of the threats (Biologia reprodutiva do Veste-amarela (Xanthopsar flavus, Gmelin 1788) nos Campos de Cima da Serra, Sul do Brasil, 2013, UNISINOS, Autor, Moura, Emily Jean Toriani).

  7. María Inés Pereda (Aves Argentinas) says:

    As Aves Argentina’s (BirdLife in Argentina) coordinator for the Saffron-cowled Blackbird Project, I believe that the uprise of the species category is not only necessary but a true fact. After two consecutive field campaigns in search for species colonies in Argentina, we were able to find (in total) only 15 colonies and a total of 58 nests in both years. The species has very little habitat left to form the colonies and built their nests; they were often found at the verges of roads and exposed to illegal poaching (we’ve recorded four poaching instances in two colonies during November 2015). Even more, in Corrientes’ historical nesting sites, where colonies were found in 2015, Pinus sp and Eucalyptus plantations were found in 2016. In Entre Rios, the intensification of monoculture and cattle ranching has left the colonies to the mercy of harvesting machines and cows running over them and with parasitism rates higher than those reported in the past. With no protected sites, it is necessary not to delay this proposal to be able to advocate for the policies needed to protect these species from their main threats.


  8. Adrián Azpiroz says:

    Dear All,
    The status of many southern South American grassland birds has been deteriorating significantly, especially in the last several decades along with agriculture intensification. Whenever researchers have looked at certain species in detail (as in the case of Di Giacomo’s and Fraga’s studies), their findings usually show clear threats and alarming trends.
    Concerning Uruguay, the status of Saffron-cowled Blackbird has not been thoroughly revised in the last 15 years. The species is currently considered “Vulnerable” at the national level. A “quick” analysis suggests that it’s overall range within in the country has not changed substantially. However, there is also evidence (just as in the case of Argentina) that sites that used to hold some breeding colonies have disappeared due to agriculture recently. Given the serious situation revealed by our Argentinean colleagues, we will try to make an updated assessment of the SCB status in Uruguay as soon as possible.
    Following the thread of this discussion I understand BLI authorities are not prone to up-list this species. But the reasons behind this decision are not clear to me. It would be very useful to know exactly what is the position of BLI international specialists on the matter and why do you think that an up-listing is not recommend at the moment. I plan to submit a proposal for another grassland species myself and the consideration of these details would surely help during the process.

    Adrián Azpiroz – Uruguay

  9. Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

    Thanks to all for their comments so far. As several contributors have queried why the current proposal is to pend the decision rather than going ahead with an uplisting, I’ve outlined some of the reasons in brief here:

    In order to accurately assess the global status of the species, we need up-to-date information from Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, all of which are believed to have (or at least historically had) larger populations of the species than Argentina.

    As an example of why we are reluctant to uplist to globally EN on the current evidence, please consider the current national assessment from Brazil.
    The current Brazilian listing as VU under criterion C1 implies two things:
    a) it is not suspected to be undergoing very rapid population declines in Brazil (>50% in three generations) – otherwise it would be listed as nationally EN under criterion A.
    b) within the country there are not fewer than 2,500 mature individuals with all subpopulations fewer than 250 mature individuals – otherwise it would be listed as nationally EN under criterion C2a(i).

    Overall, this suggests that either the 2014 Brazilian Red List underestimated the national threat status of the species (which is possible, but we would need some evidence from Brazil to indicate that this is the case), or that at the global level, despite worrying trends from the Argentinian part of the range, and concerns from other range states, it probably does not (yet) warrant listing as globally Endangered.

  10. Adrián Azpiroz - Uruguay says:

    Dear Andy,
    Thanks for the clarifications. I’m not so sure about the other three countries having larger historical populations than Argentina but that’s not the point right now. It would be nice to hear from our Brazilian and Paraguayan colleagues. As I mentioned before, we (Uruguay) have not conducted an overall assessment on this species recently. Our national red list of birds will be revised next year and that will be a good opportunity to reassess the status of SCB within our country.
    Best wishes,

    Adrián Azpiroz

  11. Numa Taiel Nazar says:

    Habiendo leído sobre la situación en que se encuentra el tordo amarillo,seria conveniente elevar su categoría de amenaza de vulnerable a en peligro.
    La especie en la Argentina esta muy cerca de la extinción ya que su hábitat carece totalmente de protección.
    Desde mi punto de vista lo mejor que se podría hacer para asegurar el futuro de la especie en seria,primero que nada,elevar su categoría de amenaza,y segundo pero no menos importante,crear áreas protegidas en sus hábitat,en lo posible algún parque nacional que logre proteger un importante remanente poblacional,yo,siendo un chico de secundaria apasionado a la conservación de las especies recomendaría iniciar un proyecto para proteger la cuenca del Rio Aguapey,adquiriendo tierras por medio de la compra que la puede llevar adelante el gobierno o una ong como lo son las fundaciones Flora y Fauna o Banco de bosques,aprovechando la ocasión,una considerable extensión cercana a las setenta mil hectáreas y haciendo que el tordo amarillo actúe como especie paraguas protegiendo a los venados de las pampas(Ozotoceros bezoarticus leucogaster),ciervos de los pantanos(Blastocerus dichotomus),al aguará guazú(Chrysocyon brachyurus),a la monjita dominicana(Xolmis dominicanus),al yetapá de collar(Alectrurus risora) y a diversos capuchinos(Sporophila sp.).Haciendo que se pueda proteger un refugio tan vital para todas estas especies tan amenazadas,y restaurando aquellas tierras que por una u otra actividad se encuentran deterioradas. Sabiendo como se encuentra la situación en Argentina y en todo el mundo espero que puedan tomar acciones efectivas para proteger a la especie,pero no se demoren mas porque de nosotros depende el futuro del colorido habitante de los pastizales,no dejemos que se vaya un ave tan emblemática de nuestra avifauna y se convierta en una leyenda de los campos,no esperemos a que el pobre tordo tenga que depender de un milagro,hagamos algo y ya.
    Numa Taiel Nazar

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