This long-lived crane qualifies as Critically Endangered owing to the likelihood that its global population will decline extremely rapidly over the next three generations following the development of the Three Gorges Dam, a large number of other dams on the Yangtze River and its tributaries, and now a proposed dam at the outlet to the Poyang lake in China which threatens the wintering grounds used by the vast majority of individuals. If the impacts of these developments prove to be less damaging than is feared, the species may warrant downlisting.
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: #http://www.aerc.eu/DOCS/Bird_taxa_of _the_WP15.xls#.
Cramp, S.; Perrins, C. M. 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
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.
Grus leucogeranus (Sibley and Monroe 1990, 1993, AERC TAC 2003, Cramp and Simmons 1977-1994) has been transferred to the genus Leucogeranus following Livezey (1998) and the phylogenetic analysis presented by Krajewski et al. (2010).
Grus leucogeranus Pallas, 1773
Distribution and populationLeucogeranus leucogeranus
140 cm. Large white crane. Adults all white, except for dark red mask extending from bill to behind eye, black primaries, yellow iris and reddish legs. Male slightly larger than female. Juvenile has feathered mask and buff or cinnamon plumage. Voice Flute-like and musical.
breeds in Arctic Russia
in Yakutia and West Siberia (BirdLife International 2001). Two regional populations are recognised; the western population has a small remnant population estimated at less than 20 individuals (Van Impe 2013). The Eastern Flyway population breeds between the rivers Kolyma and Yana and south to the Morma mountains in Yakutia. Non-breeding birds, typically those up to three years old, summer in Dauria on the border between Russia, Mongolia
(Tseveenmyadag 2005) and China
. Birds have also been recorded in summer in central Mongolia (Tseveenmyadag 2007, 2008). The main wintering sites were in the middle to lower reaches of the Yangtze river; now almost the entire population winters at or very near Poyang Lake, China. Surveys of the districts and counties around the lake estimated 3,800-4,000 individuals in the winter of 2011/2012, with previous counts of 2,700 individuals in 2006 and 3,750 in 2008 (Ji Weitao and Wang Yunbao 2007, Yu Changhao et al.
2008, Li Fengshan et al.
2012). The species relies on a network of important wetlands along its migration route, which follows the Yana, Indigirka and Kolyma Rivers through Yakutia before continuing along the Aldan River and tributaries and south into China. Jilin province hosts birds during both passage periods during March to May and September to November, with numbers at Momoge National Nature Reserve peaking at 3,590 individuals in May 2012 and 3,639 individuals in late October 2012 (Jiang Hongxing 2013). High spring counts at this site appear to be increasing: 1,156 in May 2007, 2,183 in April 2008, 3,128 in May 2010 and 3,400 in May 2011 (Zou Chang-Lin et al.
2007, 2008, Jiang Hongxing 2010, Jiang Hongxing pers. comm. 2011). In Liaoning province, Huanzidong Reservoir in Shenyang region, 900 Siberian Cranes have been recorded during autumn migration (Li Fengshan 2003, Zhou Haixiang 2006), and 1,100 in spring (Bai Qing-Quan 2008), and numbers at Wolong Lake peaked at 1,200 in March 2008 (Bai Qing-Quan 2008). The first record of the species in Taiwan (China) was made in December 2014, when one individual was observed (K-C. Hung in litt
The Western/Central Flyway population is divided into Central Asian and Western Asian flocks. The Central Asian flock breeds on the basin of the Kunovat river, the north of West Siberia, Russia (Sorokin and Kotyukov 1982), and wintered at Keoladeo National Park, India
; however, none have been seen at Keoladeo since winter 2001/2002 (Vardhan 2002), and this flock may now be extinct; unconfirmed, but credible reports of the species have continued from West Siberia, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and India, however (Shilina 2008). Passage birds are recorded in Russia, Kazakhstan
(Bragin 2005, Belyalova and Fundukchiev 2007, Shilina 2008). The Western Asian flock breeds in the basin of Konda and Alymka rivers, the centre of West Siberia, Russia (Sorokin and Markin 1996, Kanai et al
. 2002), and winters in Fereydoonkenar in Iran
(recently c.10 birds [Kanai et al
. 2002], but only one wild bird has arrived since winter 2006/2007 (S. Sadeghi Zadegan et al.
2009, P. Khalafbeigi in litt
. 2010). This individual has been named 'Omid', meaning hope and has become the focus of education programmes including a BBC Persia documentary (Vuosalo 2013). Birds use the Volga river delta as a migration stopover (Rusanov and Chernyavskaya 1996, Kanai et al
. 2002, Shilina 2008) passing through Azerbaijan
during migration (E. Sultanov et al.
2008, 2011). Only two sightings were reported from the Volga Delta in 2012 (Rusanov et al.
2013). From 1991 to 2010, 139 captive-bred birds were released at breeding grounds (Kunovat River Basin), migration stopovers (south of Tyumen Region and Volga Delta) and wintering grounds in Iran (Shilina et al.
2011). Six birds were released in the Volga delta in 2012 (Rusanov et al.
2013). The global population is about 3,750, of which over 99% belongs to the Eastern Flyway (Hirschfeld 2008).Population justification
The population is estimated at 3,500-4,000 individuals, based on a count of 3,750 at Poyang Lake in 2008 (Yu Changhao et al
. 2008) and counts of 3,400 at Momoge in May 2011 and at Poyang in early 2012. The western subpopulation numbers four individuals (E. Ilyashenko in litt
. 2002).Trend justification
This species's population is suspected to have decreased rapidly over the last three generations, in line with levels of wetland conversion (for development and agriculture), hunting (especially on passage) and disturbance. Construction of the Three Gorges Dam has changed the hydrological pattern of the lower Yangtze River, resulting in lower water levels in winter. Poyang Lake thus drains more rapidly into the Yangtze during the low water period. In addition, as of 2001, over 9,600 dams had been constructed on the five rivers feeding into Poyang Lake (more are still being constructed). As a result of water diversions and climate fluctuations, floods and droughts are increasingly frequent at Poyang. In response, it is probable that a dam will be constructed at the outlet to Poyang Lake to stabilize winter water levels. Operation of its sluice gates has not been determined, but early proposals called for significantly increased water levels through the winter season, which would make most or all current foraging areas for the cranes inaccessible, perhaps causing extremely rapid declines in the next three generations.EcologyBehaviour
This species is migratory (del Hoyo et al
. It arrives on its breeding grounds in late May (
Johnsgard 1983), and eggs are generally laid in June
. Breeding occurs in territorial pairs at a density estimated in the 1970s to be around one pair per 625 km2
Johnsgard 1983). The main autumn migration usually begins towards the end of September
, although birds (thought to be non-breeders [Cramp and Simmons 1980]
) have been recorded on passage over the Volga delta as late as October-December
(Cramp and Simmons 1980)
. This migration was recorded in the 1960s to occur in groups of 12-15 individuals
. The species arrived on its wintering grounds in Pakistan in October, but seldom earlier than November-December further east
(Cramp and Simmons 1980,
Johnsgard 1983). The spring migration commences in late-March or early-April
(Cramp and Simmons 1980),
with birds travelling in pairs or small groups of up to 10 (
It is the most aquatic member of its family, breeding and wintering in wetlands, and shows a general preference for wide expanses of shallow (up to 30 cm) fresh water with good visibility. It discriminates strongly in favour of sites that are infrequently visited by man
(Cramp and Simmons 1980)
It breeds in the lowland taiga and taiga-tundra transition zone (del Hoyo et al
where it occurs in moss-covered marshland
Johnsgard 1983), tidal bogs, marshes and other wetland depressions with unrestricted visibility (del Hoyo et al
. It may also breed on brushland interspersed with woods
(Cramp and Simmons 1980)
. The preferred nesting habitat in Yakutia was found to consist of damp tidal flat with well-developed vegetative cover made up of typical polygonal swamp associations of sedges and cottongrass (Eriophorum
) forming sparse, short stands
Johnsgard 1983). In late springs some birds have been known to nest on drier, more hilly areas of polygonal tundra, and non-breeders sometimes occur on high, hilly banks of rivers and lakes and in small depressions between large, elongated hills
Johnsgard 1983). Non-breeding
Resting areas and stopovers on migration tend to consist of large, isolated wetlands (del Hoyo et al
. Bogs and salt-licks used by ungulates, particularly Alces alces
, offer greater foraging resources as trampling by the ungulates exposes rhizomes and roots on which the cranes forage (Degtyarev and Sleptsov 2013).
It winters in the shallows and mudflats of seasonal lakes of the Yangtze Basin (del Hoyo et al
, as well as steppes near water, open jheels and swamps
Johnsgard 1983). Those that winter in India and Iran use artificial water impoundments and flooded rice fields (del Hoyo et al
This species is omnivorous (del Hoyo et al
During the summer its diet is broad, consisting primarily of roots, rhizomes, seeds, sprouts of sedges and other plant materials, but also insects, fish, rodents and other small animals (del Hoyo et al
During the non-breeding season it feeds mainly on roots, bulbs, tubers (especially of sedges), rhizomes, sprouts and stems of aquatic plants, and sometimes aquatic animals if these are readily available (del Hoyo et al
It builds a large mound of grass and sedge 50-80 cm in diameter emerging above water 25-60 cm deep (del Hoyo et al
. It typically lays two eggs but generally does not fledge more than one chick. Threats
The key threat is wetland loss and degradation at wintering sites and staging areas through diversion of water for human use, agricultural development, the development of oilfields and increased human utilisation. The most significant threat to the eastern flyway is a proposed dam at the outlet of Poyang Lake to stabilize water flows for navigation, irrigation, and other economic purposes-to be built in part in response to impacts of the Three Gorges Dam on water levels in the Yangtze River. Management of water levels to sustain ecosystem function will be critical to the long-term viability of this species (Harris and Zhuang 2010). Severe drought caused Poyang Lake to shrink dramatically in the winters of 2003-2004, 2006-2007 (Anon 2007), and 2010-2011. The most recent drought forced birds to feed in suboptimal upland habitat. Construction of the Three Gorges Dam changed the hydrological pattern of the lower Yangtze river and may have a major impact on the wintering population. In Western Siberia the establishment of oilfields and associated urban developments are significant causes of habitat loss and degradation (Van Impe 2013).
Increasing levels of human disturbance are also a problem, particularly at Poyang Lake. Along eastern migration routes, water has been diverted from the Zhalong and Momoge National Nature Reserve for human use. Although water releases to sustain wetland functions have been negotiated, sustaining these releases over the long term will be important, especially for Momoge. Also canals and fragmentation within the reserve have altered water flow. Limited fresh water has caused marshes in the Huanghe Delta National Reserve to dry up, and the harvesting of reeds by people has seriously disturbed cranes (Shan Kai et al
. 2007). A hydro-electric scheme is also proposed for the headwaters of the Aldan River basin, the construction of power lines northwards to Yakutsk, and oil and gas prospecting (Prentice and Stishov 2007). Overhunting of Alces alces
reduces availability of rhizomes and roots usually exposed by trampling (Degtyarev and Sleptsov 2013). Disturbance from boating activities is also a problem at stopover sites. Hunting on passage and wintering grounds in Iran is the key threat to the Central/Western population (G. Sundar in litt.
2004), and inhibits recovery. Poisoning targeted at waterbirds in China, e.g. Huanzidong Reservoir, Shenyang Region, may also affect this species. Pesticide use and pollution is a threat in India. Climate change may be a long term threat to breeding sites, with changes in the permafrost layer causing expansion of lakes and the loss of islands, peninsulas and low-lying shorelines (Harris 2008, Van Impe 2013). The expansion of lakes and subsequent habitat modification has been on-going in the breeding grounds of the eastern population since the 1950s (Pshennikov and Germogenov 2008).Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I. CMS Appendix I and II. It is legally protected in all range states. Eleven range states signed a Memorandum of Understanding under the Convention for Migratory Species (CMS MoU) and develop Conservation Plans every three years. To help protect key wetland sites, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Crane Foundation conducted the UNEP/GEF Siberian Crane Wetland Project from 2003-2009, conceived in 1998, to protect and manage a network of sites across Asia critical to Siberian Cranes and 26 other threatened species (del Hoyo et al.
1996, G. Sundar in litt
. 2004, Mirande 2007, 2010, Prentice 2010). Achievements include improved protection for over 2.4 million hectares through designation of four new reserves, expansion of three others and upgraded legal protection status at another three, the designation of five new Ramsar sites, new management plans and improved capacity for many sites, and an extensive environmental education programme (Prentice 2010). Since 2002, Crane Day Celebrations in seven Siberian Crane Range States, including Siberian Crane Festivals in West Siberia and Kazakhstan, promote conservation of this endangered species and its habitats (Moore and Ilyashenko 2010). Hunting societies throughout the former Soviet Union countries (Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan) have been engaged and now distribute information about crane conservation when issuing hunting licenses (Ilyashenko and Mirande 2013). Volunteer committees among hunters have been created in Afganistan and Pakistan to share information on crane conservation and extensive poster campaigns and a documentary film have been distributed (Ilyashenko and Mirande 2013). A set of four national stamps were published in Iran in 2008 to help raise public awareness of the Siberian Crane and the importance of wetland conservation within the country (Fazeli 2007), and a documentary on the species focusing on the last returning individual in Iran was broadcast in 2011 (Vuosalo 2013).
Some birds have been marked and fitted with satellite transmitters (Germogenov et al.
2007). Researchers monitoring breeding sites in the remote Yakutia region incorporated remote sensing given the difficulties monitoring on the ground (Stishov and Bysykatova 2008). Key protected areas where monitoring occurs include Kytalyk, Chaygurgino, and Middle Aldan (Russia), Momoge, Poyang and Dongting (China), and Naurzum (Kazakhstan). The North East Asian Crane Site Network has been established under the East Asia-Australasian Flyway Partnership. Twelve important Siberian Crane sites along both Western and Central Flyways are designated in the Western/Central Asian Site Network for the Siberian Crane and other waterbirds established under CMS MoU and UNEP/GEF SCWP, and another 24 sites are proposed for inclusion. Four flourishing colonies of captive Siberian Cranes successfully raise the species for education and conservation purposes. The fifth issue of the International Studbook was published in 2009 (Kashentseva and Belterman 2009). Captive-raised birds have been released in an effort to maintain the Central Asian (G. Sundar in litt.
2004) and Western Asian flocks (S. Sadeghi Zadegan et al.
2009). From 1991 to 2010, 139 captive-bred birds were released at breeding grounds (Kunovat River Basin), migration stopovers (south of Tyumen Region and Volga Delta) and wintering grounds in Iran (Shilina et al.
2011). Russian scientists started the "Flight of Hope" project which replicates the methodologies that have successfully helped to boost Whooping Crane populations in North America (G. Sundar in litt
. 2004, Shilina et al.
2011). Conservation Actions Proposed
Strengthen conservation of major wetlands in China that serve as critical migration and wintering habitat for the East Asian population through research, management, and policy activities. This includes: 1) water management at Poyang needs to sustain wetland productivity and ensure that extensive mudflats and shallow water areas are available throughout the winter, 2) strengthen integrated water management at migratory stopover sites in north-east China, guided by on-going monitoring of the condition of these wetlands, to support wetland ecosystems that can support cranes, 3) maintain or improve water quality at key stopover and migration sites to avoid detrimental ecosystem change or direct impacts on crane survival, 4) continue long-term research on the effects of changes in water levels on water plants and water birds at Poyang and at sites in north-east China, and 5) protect and manage additional stopover sites, especially from Liaoning to Jiangxi Provinces, based on further investigation of migratory habitats.
Determine movements and behavior of birds during their first summer to identify and manage key sites for sub-adult birds. Investigate potential impacts of climate change on Yakutian breeding grounds. Identify, legally protect and manage key staging areas in Yakutia, accompanied by mitigation of development impacts along the flyway. Provide technical assistance on wildlife health monitoring and management practices at staging and wintering areas. Incorporate management of Western/Central Asian Site Network for Siberian Cranes and other Migratory Waterbirds under the broader Central Asia Flyway Initiative for migratory birds and continue support for captive breeding programmes. Foster relationships with hunters to improve awareness and promote sustainable hunting of waterbirds, and to engage hunters to protect and report sightings of Siberian Cranes, especially in Western and Central Asia. Cooperate with gas and oil companies in Russia and China to minimize disturbance and habitat degradation.
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Faseli, A. 2007. Siberan Crane national stamp published in Iran. Siberian Crane Flyway News: 14.
Germogenov, N. I.; Degtyarev, A. G.; Labutin, Y. V.; Solomonov, N. G.; Pshennikov, A. E.; Sleptsov, S. M.; Yegorov, N. N.; Bysykatova, I. P.; Vladimirtseva, M. V.; Archibald, G.; Harris, J.; Nagendran, M.; Higuchi, H.; Kanai, Y.; Chan, S.; Ueta, M. 2007. Banding and monitoring of Siberian Cranes in Yakutia. China Crane News 11(1): 26-37.
Harris, J. 2008. Cranes respond to climate change. ICF Bugle 34(3): 1-3, 14-15.
Harris, J. and Zhuang Hao. 2010. An Ecosystem Approach to Resolving Conflicts Among Ecological and Economic Priorities for Poyang Lake Wetlands. Unpublished report. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
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Ilyashenko, E. 2002. Siberian Crane wintering and spring migration: western population. Siberian Crane Flyway News: 3-4.
Ilyashenko, E., and Mirande, C. 2013. Hunter Education Along the Siberian Crane Central Asian Flyway. Siberian Crane Flyway News 12: 25-27.
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Ji Weitao; Wang Yunbao. 2007. Survey of wintering waterbirds surrounding Poyang Lake, China, in Winter 2006/2007. Siberian Crane Flyway News: 10.
Jiang Hongxing. 2010. The maximum daily counting reaches 3128 Siberian Cranes during 2010 spring migration at Momoge National Nature Reserve of Jilin Province. Newsletter of China Ornithological Society 19(1): 28.
Jiang Hongxing. 2013. Migratory Siberian Cranes at Momoge National Nature Reserve, Northeast China, in 2012. Siberian Crane Flyway News 12: p10.
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Kanai, Y.; Nagendran, M.; Ueta, M.; Markin, Y.; Rinne, J.; Sorokin, A. G.; Higuchi, H.; Archibald, G. W. 2002. Discovery of breeding grounds of a Siberian Crane Grus leucogeranus flock that winters in Iran, via satellite telemetry. Bird Conservation International 12: 327-333.
Kashentseva T. and Belterman R. 2011. The Fifth Issue of the International Siberian Crane Studbook.
Li Fengshan, Wu Jiandong, Harris, J., Burnham, J. 2012. Number and distribution of cranes wintering at Poyang Lake, China during 2011-2012. Chinese Birds 3(3): 180-190.
Li Fengshan. 2003. Siberian Crane GEF project. China Crane News 7(1): 7.
Markin, Y.; Sorokin, A.; Ermakov, A.; Shilina, A. 2007. About monitoring on Siberian and Eurasian Cranes in West Siberia, Russia, in 2006. Siberian Crane Flyway News: 4-6.
Mirande, C. 2007. Safeguarding a chain of important wetlands - the midterm review of our Siberian Crane Wetland Project. China Crane News 11(1): 21-22.
Mirande, C. and Prentice, C. 2010. Conservation of flyway wetlands in Asia using the Siberian Crane as a flagship species: an overview of t outcomes of the UNEP/GEF Siberian Crane Wetland project. In: Prentice, C. (ed.), Conservation of Flyway Wetlands in East and West/Central Asia. Proceedings of the Project Completion Workshop of the UNEP/GEF Siberian Crane Wetland Project, 14-15 October 2009, Harbin, China. . International Crane Foundation, Baraboo (Wisconsin), USA.
Moore, S. G. and Ilyashenko, E. 2010. Regional flyway education programs: increasing public awareness of crane conservation along the crane flyways of Eurasia and North America. UNEP/GEF Siberian Crane Wetlands Project - Project Completion Workshop Proceedings.
Prentice, C.; Stishov, M. 2007. A visit to the Siberian Crane staging areas in the Aldan and Maya River valleys of Southern Yakutia in 2006. Siberian Crane Flyway News: 17-18.
Pshennikov, A.; Germogenov, N. 2008. Changes in landscape elements on the Siberian Crane eastern population breeding grounds and their long-term dynamics according to aerial and remote sensing data. Siberian Crane Flyway News: 6-7.
Rusanov, G., Kashin, A., Litvinova, N., Mitrophanov, S. and Taranov, Y. 2013. Siberian Crane Sightings in the Volga Delta, Russia, in 2011 and 2012. Siberian Crane Flyway News 12: p7.
Shan Kai; Zhu Shuyu; Yu Hailing. 2007. Survey of northward migratory cranes in Huangha Delta NR, China, in 2007. Siberian Crane Flyway News: 8.
Shilina, A. P., Sorokin, A. G., Markin, Y. M. and Ermakov, A. M. 2011. The Siberian Crane reintroduction: past, present, future. Moscow.
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Stishov, M.; Bysykatova, I. 2008. Monitoring of the Siberian Crane breeding sites in Kytalyk, Yakutia, Russia. Siberian Crane Flyway News: 4-5.
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Yu Changhao; Wu Yinghao; Ying Qing. 2008. Ground survey of waterbirds in the Poyang Lake region in Winter 2007/2008. Siberian Crane Flyway News: 15.
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Zadegan, S.S. 2005. The Siberian Crane wintering in Iran in 2004/2005 and 2005/2006. Newsletter of the Crane Working Group of Eurasia: 50-51.
Zhou Haixiang. 2006. The finding and protection of Siberian Crane and other waterfowls in key migratory sites in Liaoning. China Crane News 10(2): 32-34.
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Further web sources of information
Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) species/site profile. This species has been identified as an AZE trigger due to its IUCN Red List status and limited range.
Click here for more information about the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE)
Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) Memorandum of Understanding and Conservation Plan
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
International Crane Foundation Species Field Guide
Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan
Status, Survey and Conservation Action Plan
View photos and videos and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection
Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Bird, J., Calvert, R., Capper, D., Chan, S., Peet, N., Pilgrim, J., Symes, A., Taylor, J., Allinson, T, Martin, R & Ashpole, J
Khalafbeigi, P., Li, Z., Sultanov, E., Sundar, G., Zadegan, S., Harris, J., Ilyashenko, E., Mirande, C., Vladimirtseva, M. & Hung, K.
IUCN Red List evaluators
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Leucogeranus leucogeranus. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 26/10/2016.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 26/10/2016.
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