Archived 2012-2013 topics: Rufous-headed Robin (Luscinia ruficeps): uplist to Endangered?

BirdLife species factsheet for Rufous-headed Robin Rufous-headed Robin Luscinia ruficeps is known to breed at four sites in north-central Sichuan and southern Shaanxi, south-west China, and has been recorded once in winter in peninsular Malaysia (and recently in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in November 2012 – see It is currently listed as Vulnerable under criterion C2a(i) because it has a small, declining population as a result of forest destruction and possibly dam construction. The paucity of records of this species suggests that it probably has a localised distribution and a small population. The population was previously estimated to number 2,500-9,999 mature individuals (rounded to 3,500-15,000 individuals), based on an analysis of records in BirdLife International (2001), who noted that it can occur at high densities in suitable habitat. However, it has recently been suggested that that there are fewer than 2,500-9,999 mature individuals (J. Hornskov in litt. 2012). It is likely that the population is more localised than the suitable habitat for this species and so, in addition to problems associated with development and habitat degradation at the breeding grounds, it may also be under threat within its wintering grounds (J. Hornskov in litt. 2012). Dam construction in particular is likely to be strongly affecting habitat at these wintering sites, as well as habitat used on migration (J. Hornskov in litt. 2012), and possibly successional habitats utilised during the breeding season. If there is sufficient information to suggest that the population of this species is likely to number fewer than 2,500 mature individuals, the population is inferred to be undergoing a continuing decline, and ≥95% mature individuals are in one subpopulation (on the basis that most/all individuals of this species winter in one subpopulation), this species would warrant uplisting to Endangered under criterion C2a(ii) of the IUCN Red List. Further information is required on this species’s likely distribution, population size, trends and size of the largest subpopulation. Reference: BirdLife International (2001) Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International: Cambridge, U.K.

This entry was posted in Archive, Asia and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Archived 2012-2013 topics: Rufous-headed Robin (Luscinia ruficeps): uplist to Endangered?

  1. Duncan Wilson says:

    I’m certainly no expert on Rufous-headed Robin, but it’s my understanding that the species is still effectively known from a couple of small valleys with a handful of breeding birds, plus a once-per generation record of a wintering / passage migrant.

    Unless I am completely wrong (always a strong possibility), how does this translate to a population estimate that is even an order of magnitude below the estimated minimum of 2,500? Surely with a species that is apparently extremely rare and peculiarly local even within its known range, estimates should be based on what is known rather than what might be?

    I’m not sure how there can ever be definitive information that a species like this has a population is below a certain level, but isn’t it more appropriate to ask if there is information to suggest that the global population is even into three figures?

  2. Simon Mahood says:

    This proposal states that RHR is known to breed at four sites, however of these there have been no records at one site since 1905 and two other locations have just one record each from the 1980’s of males behaving territorially at an appropriate time of year (see TBA, BL 2001). At only one site are there recent breeding records, and within this site very few spots for the species are known. The situation has not changed since the publication of TBA, i.e. right now it is known to breed at one site, where it is restricted to a very narrow elevational range (2,400-2,800 m: one of the narrowest of any bird species), within this it is further restricted to a very specific habitat type. Even if its distribution is extrapolated over its entire historical range and all intervening areas, when you consider only areas that support suitable habitat at an appropriate elevation the population is likely to be very small.

    Dam construction might be a threat on the breeding grounds, but not at the only known site (which is well protected). Overgrazing or even succession might be more important threats. An urgent need is to identify additional sites and search for the birds there.

    Threats on the wintering/passage sites are hard to quantify owing to a paucity of records. It is stated above that in both, habitat might be threatened by dam construction. However, there is no evidence for this. I can confirm that there are no hydropower plans for my garden (the only known passage site), and given the non-specialist nature of the habitat that it supports (bare soil, potted plants) I would suggest that passage habitat is not threatened. The only winter record was at 2,000 m elevation, so if this is typical then non-breeding habitat is unlikely to be threatened by hydropower dams, encroachment for other reasons might be more important. It might have a very small wintering range or very specific habitat on the wintering grounds.

    All available data suggest that it has a very small population. Trying to guess whether it is c.10,000, 1,000 or 100 is not something that I am able to do. Nonetheless, intuitively I would support uplisting to EN.

  3. What is the basis to assume that “on the basis that most/all individuals of this species winter in one subpopulation”? It is obviously not indicated directly by what is known of winter records. So, is any congener known to have such a wintering pattern?

  4. John Pilgrim says:

    The comment on hydropower dam threats on the wintering grounds appears to be a complete red herring, given only one wintering record ever. Agreed with SM that the population is likely to be very small.

    I note that the similarly patchily-distributed Blackthroat is suggested on these forums for downlisting. I cannot see reasons for treating the two species much differently, given very small known breeding populations in very small areas and almost unknown wintering ranges.

  5. Craig Robson says:

    It seems likely that there are unknown breeding populations, but I agree with Simon that whatever the true population is, it is likely to be relatively small. I would suggest at least EN, but there is that data-deficient element. There are similarities with Blackthroat but their habitats differ somewhat – certainly in winter anyway. I would have Blackthroat a threat-step down from RHR.

  6. James Eaton says:

    I agree with Simon’s comment except for one worrying aspect:

    ”Dam construction might be a threat on the breeding grounds, but not at the only known site (which is well protected). Overgrazing or even succession might be more important threats. An urgent need is to identify additional sites and search for the birds there.”

    In the 3 known areas at the current breeding site, I have not recorded the species at 1 area since 2004 when the dam that was built in the valley flooded a large area of ideal breeding habitat – willow with a dense understorey, this along with the introduction of cattle grazing in the valley appears to have rendered this site sub-optimal now.

    I agree that its status should mirror the almost equally unknown Blackthroat, though at least Blackthroat is now known from two breeding sites, with a greater number of singing birds compared to RHR, so I would agree with Craig as to having Blackthroat one grade below RHR.

Comments are closed.