Archived 2014 discussion: Sulawesi Kingfisher (Ceyx fallax) is being split: list C. sangirensis as Critically Endangered and C. fallax 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.

Sulawesi Kingfisher Ceyx fallax is being split into C. fallax and C. sangirensis, following the application of criteria set out by Tobias et al. (2010).

Prior to this taxonomic change, C. fallax (BirdLife species factsheet) was listed as Near Threatened under criteria C1;C2a(i), on the basis that it probably had a moderately small population (approaching as few as 10,000 mature individuals), as it is scarce and patchily distributed within its restricted range, and was likely to be in continuing decline owing to on-going habitat loss and degradation.

C. sangirensis is known from the island of Sangihe (Fry and Fry 1999, del Hoyo et al. 2001), and is listed in some sources as occurring on the Talaud Islands, Indonesia (e.g. del Hoyo et al. 2001). It is not clear whether it has ever been recorded on or likely to occur on Siau or any other nearby islands. C. sangirensis is presumed to rely heavily on lowland primary forest (Fry and Fry 1999, del Hoyo et al. 2001), but may tolerate some habitat degradation and fragmentation.

Surveys on Sangihe in 1998-1999 did not yield any records of this taxon, leading to a suspicion that it could be extinct there (Riley 2002). On Sangihe, lowland primary forest is thought to have been completely or almost completely removed, although the species could persist in inaccessible forested gullies on the margin of its upper elevation limit, and it has been noted that other species of this genus can be difficult to find (J. Eaton in litt. 2013, F. Lambert in litt. 2013).

The status of this species on Talaud seems uncertain. Riley (1997) did not record the species during fieldwork in 1995, and suggested that it was one of a suite of species that had suffered population reductions as a result of habitat loss. The only source cited by Riley (1997) for records of this species on Talaud is Meyer (1879 per Meyer and Wiglesworth 1898 in Riley 1997), who reported it to be quite common, but soon after this Blasius (1888 in Riley 1997) stated that other collectors did not find it. This raises the question of whether Meyer’s identifications or notes could have been erroneous, and whether the species has ever been reliably recorded on the Talaud Islands.

Unless confirmed records come to light, under the precautionary principle it could be assumed that this newly-defined species is not extant on the Talaud Islands (either extirpated or having never occurred there). It appears to be very rare or extirpated on Sangihe. On this basis, C. sangirensis is likely to qualify as Critically Endangered under criterion C2a(ii), as any remaining extant population is likely to be extremely small, probably numbering far fewer than 250 mature individuals, precautionarily assumed to form a single subpopulation, which is inferred to be in continuing decline owing to on-going habitat loss and degradation. Given the apparent dearth of recent records, the species could be listed as ‘Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct)’.

C. fallax (as defined following the taxonomic change) is patchily distributed across mainland Sulawesi, as well as on Lembeh Island, where it occupies primary forest, and sometimes selectively logged and tall secondary forest, in the lowlands and hills, from the coast to 1,000 m, but mostly below 600 m (Fry and Fry 1999, del Hoyo et al. 2001). It is suggested that the species be listed as Near Threatened under criteria C1+2a(ii), on the basis that it probably has a moderately small population (approaching as few as 10,000 mature individuals, all in one subpopulation), which is inferred to be in continuing decline owing to on-going and extensive habitat destruction and degradation.

Comments on these suggested categories and further information, particularly on the status of C. sangirensis, would be welcomed.


del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (2001) Handbook of the birds of the world, Vol 6: Mousebirds to Hornbills. Barcelona, Spain: Lynx Edicions.

Fry, C. H. and Fry, K. (1999) Kingfishers, bee-eaters & rollers. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Riley, J. (1997) The birds of Sangihe and Talaud, North Sulawesi. Kukila 9: 3–36.

Riley, J. (2002) Population sizes and the status of endemic and restricted-range bird species on Sangihe Island, Indonesia. Bird Conservation International 12: 53–78.

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.

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8 Responses to Archived 2014 discussion: Sulawesi Kingfisher (Ceyx fallax) is being split: list C. sangirensis as Critically Endangered and C. fallax as Near Threatened?

  1. Simon Mahood says:

    I have no experience of either of these species. However, from an objective perspective it is hard to follow the logic that a species should only be classified as CR rather than CR (PE) when it hasn’t been seen for 20 years; especially when the only island from which it is definitely known has suffered ongoing habitat loss and degradation during that period, and has suffered recent faunal loss c.f. Sangihe White-eye (surely this should be uplisted to CR (PE) as well).

  2. Jon Riley says:

    I can’t see how sangirensis is anything other than extinct. I didn’t record it and given how easy it easy to see C. fallax on mainland Sulawesi can’t imagine how it could be missed. Presumably the last record is from specimen data many years ago.

  3. Augusto Faustino says:

    On a trip to Sangihe that last 4 days (from 12 to 15 July 2003) and 2 different remnant forest were visit, no kingfishers were observed.

  4. Craig Robson says:

    I have only visited limited areas on Sangihe, but I would certainly not give up hope that the species survives. Some other species in this genus can adapt to garden-like wooded ‘agriculture’ that mimics forest, as in parts of Sri Lanka for example. Do we know if the ‘species’ was found near small forest streams and wetlands? If so, similar areas could remain in plantation/garden areas that were not covered during previous forest surveys. Or am I just being overly positive?

  5. Joe Taylor says:

    Further to the posting of this discussion topic, please note the IUCN guidelines for defining Possibly Extinct taxa:

    “Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct) taxa are those that are, on the balance of evidence, likely to be extinct, but for which there is a small chance that they may be extant. Hence they should not be listed as Extinct until adequate surveys have failed to record the species and local or unconfirmed reports have been investigated and discounted. ‘Possibly Extinct in the Wild’ correspondingly applies to such species known to survive in captivity.

    Note that ‘Possibly Extinct’ is a tag, and not a new Red List Category.

    Different standards of evidence are required from assessors when deciding to assign a taxon to the Extinct or Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct) categories. Assignment to the Extinct category requires evidence beyond reasonable doubt that the last individual of the taxon has died. Assignment of the ‘Possibly Extinct’ tag requires that on the balance of evidence, the taxon is likely to be extinct, but there is a small chance that it may be extant. Relevant types of evidence supporting a listing of extinction include (Butchart et al. 2006):
    • For species with recent last records, the decline has been well documented.
    • Severe threatening processes are known to have occurred (e.g., extensive habitat loss, the spread of alien invasive predators, intensive hunting, etc.).
    • The species possesses attributes known to predispose taxa to extinction, e.g. flightlessness (for birds)
    • Recent surveys have been apparently adequate and appropriate to the species’ detectability, but have failed to detect the species.

    Such evidence should be balanced against the following considerations (Butchart et al. 2006):
    • Recent field work has been inadequate (any surveys have been insufficiently intensive/extensive, or inappropriately timed; or the species’ range is inaccessible, remote, unsafe or inadequately known).
    • The species is difficult to detect (it is cryptic, inconspicuous, nocturnal, nomadic, silent or its vocalisations are unknown, identification is difficult, or the species occurs at low densities).
    • There have been reasonably convincing recent local reports or unconfirmed sightings.
    • Suitable habitat (free of introduced predators and pathogens if relevant) remains within the species’ known range, and/or allospecies or congeners may survive despite similar threatening processes.

    Similar considerations apply when assigning a taxon to either the Extinct in the Wild or Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct in the Wild) categories.”


    IUCN Standards and Petitions Subcommittee (2013) Guidelines for Using the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria. Version 10.1. Prepared by the Standards and Petitions Subcommittee. Downloadable from

  6. Joe Taylor says:

    The following comments were received from Burung Indonesia on 27 February 2014:

    Burung Indonesia has conducted avifauna survey on the island of Sangihe, in 2004 – 2006 (Mamengko, 2006) and 2009 (Rosyadi, 2009). During the surveys, there hasn’t any observations of Ceyx sangirensis. Last short visit (2 days) in the forest Sahendaruman mountains (January 2014) also failed to found this species (Bashari, pers.obs).

    Status of the proposed split Ceyx sangirensis as Critically Endangered is possible. The most recent record of this species in Sangihe was in 1997 (in Riley, 2002 ; Szabo et al, 2012), and Burung Indonesia work on Sangihe in 2004-2006 has failed to found this species, also the last remaining natural forest in Sangihe was only 550 ha left (Mamengko & Mole, 2005).


    Mamengko, C. L. 2006. Survei Populasi dan Habitat Seriwang Sangihe (Eutrichomyias rowleyi) di kawasan Gunung Sahandaruman, Sangihe. BirdLife Indonesia, Sangihe–Talaud. Laporan Teknis.

    Mamengko, C. L. and J. Mole. 2005. Monitoring Partisipatif Tutupan Hutan Kawasan Gunung Sahandaruman, Sangihe. BirdLife Indonesia Program Sangihe-Talaud. Laporan Teknis.

    Rosyadi, I. (dalam persiapan). Survey Burung di Hutan Lindung Sahendaruman. Burung Indonesia. Bogor.

  7. 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. fallax as Near Threatened under criterion C1

    C. sangirensis as Critically Endangered under criterion C2a(ii)

    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.

  8. 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.

Comments are closed.