Archived 2016 topics: White-winged Magpie (Urocissa whiteheadi) is being split: list U. whiteheadi as Vulnerable or Near Threatened?

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

Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International will soon publish the second volume of 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 2 of the checklist (for passerines) will begin to be incorporated into the 2016 Red List update, with the remainder 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.

White-winged Magpie Urocissa whiteheadi is being split into U. whiteheadi and U. xanthomelana, following the application of criteria set out by Tobias et al. (2010).

Prior to this taxonomic change, U. whiteheadi was listed as Least Concern, on the basis that it did not approach the threshold for Vulnerable under any criterion. U. whiteheadi (as now defined following the taxonomic change) is found only on the island of Hainan, China, in the forest that remains on the island (Madge 2016). There was extensive deforestation on Hainan during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and forest continues to be lost on the island (Madge 2016, see Global Forest Watch webpage: The continuing loss of forest means this species is likely in decline.

The species has been described as rare, and when reported it is only found in small numbers in the remnant forest on Hainan, particularly on the south of the island (Madge 2016). Its scarcity and population structure mean this species likely approaches or meets the threshold for Vulnerable under criterion C2a(ii) (a declining population of <10,000 mature individuals, with all individuals found in a single sub-population). Therefore, the species likely warrants listing as either Vulnerable or Near Threatened under this criterion.

U. xanthomelana is widespread on mainland Asia, occurring in southern China, northern Vietnam and northern and central Laos (Madge 2016). It is not thought to approach the threshold for Vulnerable under any criterion and so it would warrant listing as Least Concern.

Comments are invited on these proposed categories and further information would be welcomed.


Madge, S. 2016. White-winged Magpie (Urocissa whiteheadi). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 7 October 2016).

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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3 Responses to Archived 2016 topics: White-winged Magpie (Urocissa whiteheadi) is being split: list U. whiteheadi as Vulnerable or Near Threatened?

  1. Simon Mahood says:

    U. xanthomelana has a similar (but smaller) distribution, habitat and elevational preferences to Picus rabori. It should have a similar threat status.

    The nominate is hard to find on Hainan. It is typically missed by tour groups. Large arboreal passerines are heavily hunted on Hainan and this species might have been more abundant at lower elevations where human populations are highest and most forest has gone. EN would be a better reflection of status.

  2. Zheng Xi says:

    Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden has been conducting extensive field surveys on Hainan Island since 1998. We have only recorded U. whiteheadi in three nature reserves in the central uplands of Hainan: Bawangling (IBA CN506, also home for the CR Hainan Gibbon), Yinggeling (IBA CN505) and Jianfengling (IBA CN510) (full suite of survey reports could be found in: With more than 1,000 man-days’ effort covering various habitats in Hainan, the records were mostly at the edge of mature forests, which receive less protection than the core zone and under constant pressure from hunting and deforestation by rubber plantation.

    We also contacted the Hainan Bird Watching Society and other experienced field workers in Hainan about sightings of the species concerned. It turns out that they have the similar conclusion that the bird is definitely rare and has only been found in the sites mentioned above.

    Under criterion B1(a)(b)(iii) (total areas of the three nature reserves less than 1,000km², 1/3 are mature highland forests which the species has never been seen; low number of locations; continuing degradation of habitats), we feel the species could be considered a higher listing as EN.

  3. James Westrip (BirdLife) says:

    Based on available information, our preliminary proposal for the 2016 Red List would be to list:

    U. xanthomelana as Near Threatened under criteria A2c+3c+4c.

    U. whiteheadi as Endangered under criterion C2a(ii).

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline of 28 October, after which the recommended categorisations will be put forward to IUCN.

    Please note that we will then only post final recommended categorisations on forum discussions where these differ from the initial proposal.

    The 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.

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