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Black Sicklebill Epimachus fastuosus
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
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This species, the largest-plumed member of its family, is listed as Vulnerable based on an estimated small population which is believed to be declining owing to hunting. The overall rate of decline is unknown but is extrapolated from historic and recent data from the few study sites. However, it may be secure in the large areas of its range which are inaccessible and largely uninhabited. Should this species be found to be stable, or increasing, it would qualify for downlisting to a lower category of threat.

Taxonomic source(s)
Sibley, C. G.; Monroe, B. L. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the world. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.

Male 100 cm, female 48 cm. Large bird-of-paradise with long, decurved bill and very long tail. Male largely black, but in suitable light scale-like feathers show intense iridescence of metallic green-blues with purple washes. Female warm brown with chestnut wing-feather fringes and fine, dark brown barring on off-white underparts. Male iris red and female iris red-brown. Similar spp. Brown Sicklebill E. meyeri (which replaces it at higher altitudes) has finer, more decurved bill and pale blue eyes, male is browner and female has no chestnut on wings. Buff-tailed Sicklebill E. albertsii has short, rounded tail. Female Astrapia spp. have short bills. Voice Male gives paired, sharp, liquid quik, quik and simple nasal contact calls. Hints Ask guides below Ambua Lodge.

Distribution and population
Epimachus fastuosus is patchily distributed in the mountains of western and central New Guinea, from the Vogelkop of Papua (formerly Irian Jaya), Indonesia, to the Torricelli and Bewani Mountains in Papua New Guinea and in the central ranges eastward to the Kratke Range. It is unknown from large areas - in some cases these areas have never been surveyed, in others it is definitely absent (Frith and Beehler 1998). It is generally scarce to rare or locally absent, and often where reported to be locally common, for instance on Mt Bosavi, it occurs at low population densities (Coates 1990, Frith and Beehler 1998, I. Burrows in litt. 1999). In the Tamrau Mountains on Vogelkop it is thought to be common (B. Beehler in litt. 2007, 2012), as well as in the highly populous Tari Valley of central Papua New Guinea (including sightings in coffee gardens and close to cultivated and populated areas) and the Foja Mts of western New Guinea (B. Beehler in litt. 2012). Most of its range in Papua has not been surveyed recently but it may prove to be locally common, as in the Arfak Mountains (D. Gibbs verbally 2000).

Population justification
The population size is preliminarily estimated to fall into the band 2,500-9,999 mature individuals. This equates to 3,750-14,999 individuals, rounded here to 3,500-15,000 individuals.

Trend justification
The species suffers from some hunting pressure within its range because its long plumes are used in traditional head-dresses. Human population growth within its altitudinal range may lead to further negative impacts in the future. Shifting agriculture and logging drive forest loss which may also have a negative impact. Based on this information, a moderate and on-going population decline is suspected.

It is restricted to mid-montane forest at 1,800-2,150 m, occasionally from 1,280-2,550 m (Frith and Beehler 1998). It is usually found in primary forest, and is less often recorded in adjacent secondary growth and garden edges (B. Whitney in litt. 2000, B. Beehler in litt. 2012). It forages equally for fruit and small animals in the forest canopy, often probing moss and epiphytes for arthropods (Beehler and Pruett-Jones 1983, Kwapena 1985, Frith and Beehler 1998).

It is hunted for its tail feathers and for food; however, there has been a reduction in hunting due to a law preventing the killing of birds with non-traditional means (i.e. shotguns) (B. Beehler in litt. 2012). Hunters target adult males and, although the species persists in areas lacking these males, breeding success has not been investigated (B. Whitney in litt. 2000). Hunting occurs mainly for collection of feathers for traditional customary practices, although birds or feathers are occasionally sold to tourists (van den Bergh 2009), even though it is illegal to take them out of the country. Although the species is hunted for its plumes, it is not worn as commonly as other species and is not frequently sold (particularly in the highlands). However, a few tribal groups still use the species’s plumes and so hunting is likely to be concentrated in certain areas (B. Beehler in litt. 2012, M. Supuma in litt. 2012). Forest in the favoured geographic and altitudinal range is under pressure for clearance for agriculture by the large and increasing human population. This species may be intolerant of secondary forest, both caused by shifting agriculture and logging (Diamond 1972, Kwapena 1985, Frith and Beehler 1998); however, there remains substantial rugged inaccessible habitat for this species in both eastern and western New Guinea (B. Beehler in litt. 2012).

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. It is protected by law in both countries. However, 93% of landownership rests with traditional custodians, presenting a challenge to the species protection.
Conservation Actions Proposed
Run an awareness campaign educating people about the species and its conservation and promote alternative materials for use in traditional head-dresses. Survey gaps within the known range. Estimate population densities and sizes at known sites. Research rates of forest loss in preferred altitudinal range. Monitor numbers at the most accessible sites such as Ambua Lodge. Monitor effects of hunting bans at Ok Tedi and Crater Mountain. Monitor trade prices and quantities. Investigate hunting levels and attitudes to control amongst hunters. Create large, locally-managed forest reserves with an enforced hunting ban. Run awareness programmes for landowners. Enforce existing legislation. Utilise as a flagship species for ecotourism ventures.

Beehler, B. M.; Pruett-Jones, S. G. 1983. Display dispersion and diet of birds-of-paradise, a comparison of nine species. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 13: 229-238.

Coates, B. J. 1990. The birds of Papua New Guinea, 2: passerines. Dove, Alderley, Australia.

Diamond, J. M. 1972. Avifauna of the eastern highlands of New Guinea. Nuttall Ornithological Club, Cambridge, USA.

Frith, C. B.; Beehler, B. M. 1998. The birds of paradise. Oxford University Press, Inc, New York.

Kwapena, N. 1985. The ecology and conservation of six species of birds of paradise in Papua New Guinea. Navu Kwapena, Hong Kong.

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
Bird, J., Derhé, M., Dutson, G., O'Brien, A., Stattersfield, A.

Beehler, B., Burrows, I., Whitney, B., Supuma, M.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Epimachus fastuosus. Downloaded from on 26/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from 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

ARKive species - Black sicklebill (Epimachus fastuosus) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Vulnerable
Family Paradisaeidae (Birds of paradise)
Species name author (Hermann, 1783)
Population size 2500-9999 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 78,200 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species