In common with most large wetland species in Asia, this species is undergoing a population reduction, which is suspected to be moderately rapid. It faces the full gambit of threats, from hunting and disturbance at breeding colonies to drainage and conversion of foraging habitats to agriculture. It consequently qualifies as Near Threatened.
Distribution and populationThreskiornis melanocephalus
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.
occurs in Japan
(scarce non-breeding visitor), mainland China
(probably breeds in Heilongjiang, but this is not confirmed; non-breeding visitors are rare along the east and south coasts, occasionally inland to Sichuan and Yunnan), Hong Kong
(China) (regular winter visitor in small numbers with occasional summer records), Pakistan
(scarce resident, principally in the Indus delta region), Nepal
(frequent resident and summer visitor to the south-east), India
(widespread and locally common in the west, scarce in the east; possibly increasing locally due to the spread of man-made wetlands), Sri Lanka
(common resident in the lowlands, particularly the dry zone), Bangladesh
(local visitor to coastal regions and the north-east), Philippines
(rare non-breeding visitor to the south), Myanmar
(uncommon but widespread non-breeding visitor, 730 counted in 1991), Thailand
(formerly common resident, now uncommon winter visitor), Laos (only one record, a single bird prior to 1950), Vietnam
(previously an abundant breeder, now a few large colonies remaining and still locally common), Cambodia
(a fairly common resident in early 1960s; now scarce and local with small numbers breeding around Tonle Sap), Peninsular Malaysia
(formerly occurred and probably bred in the west, but few recent records), Indonesia
(scarce non-breeding visitor to Sumatra and northern Borneo, possibly breeding in Sumatra with c.2,000 birds estimated; numerous breeding colonies were recorded in Java early in the 20th century, but now local and declining (Collar et al.
2000). The Sumatran population is thought to have undergone a very rapid decline in recent decades (Iqbal and Hasudungan in press). While the East Asian population is extremely small (Q. Wang in litt.
2002 to Wetlands International 2002), those in South-East Asia and South Asia probably number fewer than 10,000 individuals each (Byers et al.
1995). Population justification
The population is estimated to number up to 10,000 individuals in south Asia, plus up to another 10,000 in south-east Asia and up to 100 in east Asia (Q. Wang in litt.
2002). This is likely to total fewer than 20,000 mature individuals, and so the population is placed in the band 10,000-19,999 mature individuals. This equates to 15,000-29,999 individuals in total, rounded here to 15,000-30,000 individuals.Trend justification
The species is suspected to be in moderately rapid decline owing to hunting, egg collecting, disturbance at breeding colonies, drainage and agricultural conversion.Ecology
It inhabits freshwater marshes, lakes, rivers, flooded grasslands, paddy fields, tidal creeks, mudflats, saltmarshes and coastal lagoons, usually in extreme lowlands, but occasionally up to 950 m, tending to be nomadic in response to water levels and feeding conditions. Threats
It is vulnerable to drainage, disturbance, pollution, agricultural conversion, hunting and collection of eggs and nestlings from colonies. A combination of these factors has probably caused the decline. Conservation Actions Underway
Conservation actions to reduce chick and egg collection and other forms of disturbance to the breeding colony at Prek Toal (the only known breeding colony in South-east Asia) have been in place since the late 1990s, with permanent teams of protectors employed since 2001. Since 2001, c.95% of waterbird egg and chick collection has been prevented at Prek Toal. Conservation Actions Proposed
Regularly monitor the population at selected sites across its range, particularly at important colonies. Asses the effects of the various threats on population levels. Conduct local education programmes to discourage hunting and disturbance, and to encourage the protection of nesting areas.
Byers, C.; Olsson, U.; Curson, J. 1995. Buntings and sparrows: a guide to the buntings and North American sparrows. Pica Press, Robertsbridge, U.K.
Byers, O. 1995. Stork, ibis and spoonbill conservation assessment and management plan: working document. IUCN/SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group, Apple Valley, Minnesota, U.S.A.
Iqbal, M. and Hasudungan, F. In press. Rapid Declining of Black-headed Ibis Threskiornis melanocephalus in Sumatra, Indonesia.
Wetlands International. 2002. Waterbird population estimates. Wetlands International, Wageningen, Netherlands.
Further web sources of information
Detailed species accounts from the Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book (BirdLife International 2001).
Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species
Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection
Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Mahood, S., Pilgrim, J., Taylor, J., Allinson, T
Wang, Q., Mahood, S.
IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Symes, A.
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Threskiornis melanocephalus. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 31/05/2016.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 31/05/2016.
This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000)
Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004)
Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.
To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife
To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.
Additional resources for this species