Archived 2014 discussion: Greater Flameback (Chrysocolaptes lucidus) is being split: list C. strictus as Vulnerable and C. xanthocephalus as Near Threatened?

This is part of a consultation on the Red List implications of extensive changes to BirdLife’s taxonomy for non-passerines

Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International will soon publish the HBW-BirdLife Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World, building off the Handbook of the Birds of the World series, and BirdLife’s annually updated taxonomic checklist.

The new Checklist will be based on the application of criteria for recognising species limits described by Tobias et al. (2010). Full details of the specific scores and the basis of these for each new taxonomic revision will be provided in the Checklist.

Following publication, an open and transparent mechanism will be established to allow people to comment on the taxonomic revisions or suggest new ones, and provide new information of relevance in order to inform regular updates. We are also actively seeking input via a discussion topic here regarding some potential taxonomic revisions that currently lack sufficient information.

The new Checklist will form the taxonomic basis of BirdLife’s assessments of the status of the world’s birds for the IUCN Red List. The taxonomic changes that will appear in volume 1 of the checklist (for non-passerines) will begin to be incorporated into the 2014 Red List update, with the remainder, and those for passerines (which will appear in volume 2 of the checklist), to be incorporated into subsequent Red List updates.

Preliminary Red List assessments have been carried out for the newly split or lumped taxa. We are now requesting comments and feedback on these preliminary assessments.

Greater Flameback Chrysocolaptes lucidus is being split into C. lucidus, C. guttacristatus, C. stricklandi, C. strictus, C. haematribon, C. erythrocephalus and C. xanthocephalus, following the application by Collar (2011) of criteria set out by Tobias et al. (2010).

Prior to this taxonomic change, C. lucidus (BirdLife species factsheet) was listed as being of Least Concern, on the basis that it was not thought to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under any of the IUCN criteria.

The pre-split species is characterised as preferring forested habitats, generally from the lowlands to montane elevations, commonly occurring in evergreen forest and open deciduous woodland, as well as secondary forest, forest edge, riparian woodland, old plantations, trees near cultivation and human settlements, and in mangroves, being virtually restricted to mangroves in the Thai-Malay Peninsula, Sumatra and Borneo (Winkler et al. 1995).

C. strictus (incorporating kangeanensis) appears to be known only from eastern Java and Bali (Winkler et al. 1995); however, Collar (2011) implies that it is known from much of Java except the north-west, where chersonesus (here incorporated in C. guttacristatus) is present. There are apparently few recent records of C. strictus (Winkler et al. 1995), although Baluran National Park seems to be an important site for the species (e.g. Robson 2008, Mizuka 2012). Habitat use characterised for the pre-split species suggests fairly high tolerance of habitat modification; however, surveys on Java provide evidence that at least one of the Javan taxa in the C. lucidus complex is amongst those lowland forest species on the island that are most susceptible to fragmentation (Lambert and Collar 2002, citing data collected by B. van Balen).

This species could thus qualify as Vulnerable under criteria A2c+4c;C2a(ii), on the basis that given its scarcity it may have a small population, perhaps including fewer than 10,000 mature individuals, precautionarily assumed to form a single subpopulation, that could have undergone a rapid population decline (30-49%) over the past 15 years (estimate of three generations), owing to on-going habitat loss and degradation. It may also qualify as Vulnerable under criterion B1ab(ii,iii,v), if it is thought to occur at fewer than 11 locations or if suitable habitat is considered severely fragmented (over 50% in patches too small to support viable populations), as the species has a small range (assuming it is extant only in eastern Java and Bali), with an Extent of Occurrence estimated at only 19,200 km2.

C. xanthocephalus occurs on Negros, Guimaras, Panay, Masbate and Ticao in the Philippines (Winkler et al. 1995, Collar 2011). Deforestation has been rapid and extensive within this species’s range, thus it may be appropriate to list it as Near Threatened under criteria A2c+3c+4c, as it could be in moderately rapid population decline (approaching 30% over 15 years), owing to on-going habitat loss and degradation. The rate of decline may not be more rapid than this if the species tolerates substantial habitat modification.

C. haematribon is found on Luzon, Polillo, Marinduque and Cataduanes in the Philippines (Collar 2011).

C. lucidus (as defined following the taxonomic change, and incorporating rufopunctatus and montanus) is found on Mindanao, Samar, Biliran, Leyte, Calicoan, Bohol, Panaon, Basilan and Samal in the Philippines (Collar 2011).

C. erythrocephalus is found on Balabac, Palawan and the Calamian group in the Philippines.

C. stricklandi is endemic to Sri Lanka.

C. guttacristatus (incorporating socialis, chersonesus and andrewsi) is very widespread, occurring along the west coast of India, eastern India and the Himalayas, to southern China, continental South-East Asia (including the Thai-Malay Peninsula), Sumatra, coastal north-western Java and north-eastern Borneo (Collar 2011).

C. lucidus, C. haematribon, C. erythrocephalus, C. stricklandi and C. guttacristatus are thought likely to be listed as being of Least Concern, on the basis that they are not thought to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under any of the IUCN criteria. However, it is noted that they may all be in decline owing to the loss and alteration of habitats, particularly C. lucidus, C. haematribon and C. erythrocephalus, as they are thought to have experienced rapid and extensive deforestation within their fairly restricted ranges and could be undergoing moderate population declines (<25% over 15 years).

Comments are invited on these suggested categories and further information is requested.


Collar, N. J. (2011) Species limits in some Philippine birds including the Greater Flameback Chrysocolaptes lucidus. Forktail 27: 29–38.

Lambert, F. R. and Collar, N. J. (2002) The future for Sundaic lowland forest birds: long-term effects of commercial logging and fragmentation. Forktail 18: 127–146.

Mizuka, Y. (2012) East Java – March 2012. The Wilderness Alternative:

Robson, C. (2008) Java & Bali, 12 – 27 July 2008: Tour Report. Sunbird Tours:

Tobias, J. A., Seddon, N., Spottiswoode, C. N., Pilgrim, J. D., Fishpool, L. D. C. and Collar, N. J. (2010) Quantitative criteria for species delimitation. Ibis 152: 724–746.

Winkler, H., Christie, D. A. and Nurney, D. (1995) Woodpeckers: a guide to the woodpeckers, piculets and wrynecks of the world. Robertsbridge, UK: Pica Press.

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13 Responses to Archived 2014 discussion: Greater Flameback (Chrysocolaptes lucidus) is being split: list C. strictus as Vulnerable and C. xanthocephalus as Near Threatened?

  1. Simon Mahood says:

    In a separate forum topic you propose that D. everetti (split from D. javanense) should be classified as Near Threatened. Here, you propose that C. erythrocephalus (split from C. lucidus), with an identical range to D. everetti (Balabac, Palawan and the Calamian group in the Philippines), should be Least Concern. Typically Common Flameback tolerates a greater degree of habitat degradation than Greater Flameback (the latter is more of a proper forest bird) and therefore this treatment cannot be correct. Either both should have the same threat category, or C. erythrocephalus should have a higher threat category than D. everetti.

    This inconsistency highlights the need to critically examine the proposed threat categories for all new species within the Greater Flameback complex. This is something that I am not knowledgeable enough to do.

  2. Joe Taylor says:

    Following Simon’s comment, discussions would be welcomed on the likely population size of C. erythrocephalus (relevant to criterion C2), as well as the likely population trend in this species and D. everetti. The tentative assessment for D. everetti may be too pessimistic.

  3. Desmond Allen says:

    I certainly concur with Simon re everettit and erythrocephalus. On the basis of the number of photos of these two that are being taken, everetti is clearly much commoner.
    ‘C. xanthocephalus occurs on Negros, Guimaras, Panay, Masbate and Ticao in the Philippines (Winkler et al. 1995, Collar 2011).’
    Do you have any better references to indicate that it still occurs (rather than occurred) on Guimaras, Masbate and Ticao?
    ‘The rate of decline may not be more rapid than this because the species appears to tolerate substantial habitat modification.’
    What is your reference for this? Despite considerable photographic activity on both Negros and Panay (eg Panay Bird Club) I know of only one photo of this species in existence – from Canlaon.
    If it restricted to West Visayan forests, Vulnerable might be the lowest suitable category.

  4. Ivan Sarenas says:

    I have a photo of erythrocephalus from years ago, which is what Desmond may have referred to. A February 2013 trip of 2 days up Kanlaon yielded no sightings or heard calls from this species. Three years ago I did see (in three days in Panay forests) a lone individual. I do feel it is rare also because I do not see this bird in a lot of trip reports from birdwatching tours.

  5. Simon Mahood says:

    It seems that there are quite a few species that are largely restricted to lowland forest within the Western Visayas. Surely all of these should have a similar threat category? It seems that there is broad agreement that the proposed threat status of recently split species at least (such as the flameback and scops-owl) is overly optimistic. The paucity of recent records of widespread threatened lowland specialists (such as Celestial Monarch) in the Western Visayas further highlights the threatened status of this avifauna.

  6. Martjan Lammertink says:

    Regarding xanthocephalus, I agree with previous comments that there are few recent reports of this species, which indicates it is rare. I am surprised that in the consultation for its Red List category there is no estimate of its global population. With such an estimate, a worrisome picture emerges that points to a higher category than Near-Threatened. This is an obligate forest species, as it is a woodpecker and the only recent reports that I am aware of come from the most important forest fragments on Negros. The islands with largest remaining forest area in its range are Negros (501 km2 forest) and Panay (984 km2 forest) (Curio 2002). There are no density estimates for xanthocephalus, but as a proxy, on Lingga island in Indonesia, C. guttacristatus averaged 2.1 individuals /km2 (Lammertink 2007). On Negros a similar density would correspond to 1,050 individuals. However, that number must be lowered to get from total population to mature individuals, to take into account that xanthocephalus is harder to find (i.e. lower density) than guttacristatus, and to account for some forest fragments on the island not being occupied. Thus the Negros population may well be under 500 mature individuals. Similarly the Panay population probably is less than 1,000 mature individuals. The populations on Guimaras, Masbate and Ticao must be tiny if extant. The global population likely is well under 2,500 mature individuals. Combined with decline rates inferred from ongoing forest loss, the species should be listed as Vulnerable if not Endangered.

    Curio, E. (2002) Prioritisation of Philippine Island avifaunas for conservation: a
    new combinatorial measure. Biological Conservation, 106, 373-380.

    Lammertink, M. (2007) Community ecology and logging responses of Southeast Asian woodpeckers (Picidae, Aves). PhD thesis, Universiteit van Amsterdam.

    • Desmond Allen says:

      Is Curio 2002 available for download somewhere? Certainly there has been a great loss of lowland forest in southern Negros since the data was collected for a 2002 paper. Do those area estimates include only lowland forest? How high does it range? There is next to no suitable forest on Guimaras, according to Google earth. I will be pleasantly surprised if the total population on all islands is more than 5oo adults.

  7. Martjan Lammertink says:

    Certainly deforestation likely proceeded since Curio (2002), but it was the only island-specific figure I could find. It represented forest for the entire elevation range on the islands. Frank Lambert recorded xanthocephalus at 900 m on Mt Canlaon, Negros ( and that is the highest elevation record that I am aware of. I believe your upper population estimate of 500 mature individuals could be correct.

  8. Pratap Singh says:

    The species distributed in India C. guttacristatus is quite common and there is no apparent threat to the bird and its habitat. Hence it is justified to be in Least Concern category

  9. Joe Taylor says:

    Preliminary proposals

    Based on available information and comments posted above, our preliminary proposals for the 2014 Red List would be to treat:

    C. lucidus as Least Concern

    C. strictus as Vulnerable under criterion C2a(i)

    C. xanthocephalus as Endangered under criterion C2a(i)

    C. haematribon as Least Concern

    C. erythrocephalus as Endangered under criterion C2a(i)

    C. stricklandi as Least Concern

    C. guttacristatus as Least Concern

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline of 31 March, after which recommended categorisations will be put forward to IUCN.

    The final Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in mid-2014, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

  10. Andy Symes says:

    Recommended categorisations to be put forward to IUCN

    Following further review, there have been no changes to our preliminary proposals for the 2014 Red List status of these species.

    The final categorisations will be published later in 2014, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by BirdLife and IUCN.

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