The Black Sicklebill (Epimachus fastosus) is endemic to the island of New Guinea, where it is patchily distributed in the Vogelkop peninsula in the Indonesian part of the island and through the Central Ranges of the island into Papua New Guinea. It has been described as absent from some areas (Frith and Beehler 1998), but recent records suggest that its distribution through the Central Ranges is continuous (Beehler and Pratt 2016). The species is generally scarce to rare (or locally absent), often occurring at low population densities (Coates 1990, Frith and Beehler 1998, I. Burrows in litt. 1999), although in some areas it is thought to be common, such as the Tamrau Mountains on Vogelkop (B. Beehler in litt. 2007, 2012), as well as in the Tari Valley of central Papua New Guinea and the Foja Mountains (B. Beehler in litt. 2012). Given this information, the population size of this species is currently placed in the range 2,500-9,999 mature individuals.
It generally occurs in primary mid-montane forest, although it will occur (albeit at lower densities) in secondary growth and garden edges (Frith and Beehler 1998, B. Whitney in litt. 2000, B. Beehler in litt. 2012). Its preference for such forest may mean it is suffering negative consequences of habitat loss and degradation. However, between 2002 and 2014 the rates of forest loss and degradation in the highlands region of Papua New Guinea have been low (<1% lost; 1% logged) (Bryan and Shearman 2015), and so this may not be having a great impact on the species. The species may also be threatened by hunting for food and traditional uses; particularly males as their long tail plumes are used in head-dresses. However, the impact of this on the species has likely reduced as the introduction of a law in Papua New Guinea that prevents the killing of birds by non-traditional means (i.e. shotguns) has led to a reduction in hunting (B. Beehler in litt. 2012). Despite this, the species may be suspected to be undergoing a decline, possibly in the range of 1-10% over 3 generations (c.24 years) (G. Dutson in litt. 2016).
This rate of decline would not approach the threshold for Vulnerable under criterion A, and given the high level of uncertainty over this potential rate of decline (being ‘suspected’ rather than directly observed or estimated) it should not be used to assess the species against criterion C1. The large range of this species means that it would not approach the threshold for Vulnerable under criterion B, and the population size is too large to approach the threshold for Vulnerable under criterion D. It does, however, meet the threshold value for Vulnerable under criterion C2 (<10,000 mature individuals). The species is currently listed as Vulnerable under criterion C2a(i) on the basis that it has a small, fragmented population that is likely declining (see BirdLife International 2017). However, the recent information suggesting that the species’s distribution throughout the Central Ranges is continuous, would in turn suggest that the largest sub-population of this species exceeds 1,000 mature individuals. Therefore, the species would no longer approach, let alone meet, the threshold for Vulnerable under criterion C2a(i), and as the Vogelkop sub-population is likely not continuous with the rest of the global population, it would not approach the threshold for Vulnerable under criterion C2a(ii) either. Therefore, the species likely does not approach the threshold for Vulnerable under any criterion, and so it is proposed that it be downlisted to Least Concern.
We welcome any comments and further information regarding this proposed downlisting.
Beehler, B. M. and Pratt, T. K. 2016. Birds of New Guinea. Distribution, taxonomy, and systematics. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.
BirdLife International. 2017. Species factsheet: Epimachus fastosus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 30/03/2017.
Bryan, J. E., and Shearman, P. L. (Eds). 2015. The State of the Forests of Papua New Guinea 2014: Measuring change over the period 2002-2014. University of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby.
Coates, B. J. 1990. The birds of Papua New Guinea, 2: passerines. Dove, Alderley, Australia.
Frith, C. B. and Beehler, B. M. 1998. The birds of paradise. Oxford University Press, Inc, New York.