email a friend
printable version
Sulu Woodpecker Dendrocopos ramsayi

This woodpecker qualifies as Vulnerable because its range and population are both regarded as very small and undergoing rapid declines as a result of habitat loss.

Taxonomic note
Dendrocopos maculatus (Sibley and Monroe 1990, 1993) has been split into D. maculatus and D. ramsayi following Collar et al. (1999), who initially placed it in the genus Picoides. Subsequently, the genus Dendrocopos has been used, following Winkler and Christie (2002). Because this split was made in a BirdLife publication, the justification is repeated here in full (but the references are not supplied). Both Hachisuka (1931-1935) and Voous (1947) treated ramsayi as a separate species, and indeed it is so distinctive as to be arguably closer to Sulawesi Woodpecker P. temminckii than it is to P. maculatus (this view is also expressed, with the comment that ramsayi is "the ancestor common to both", by White and Bruce 1986), and given the evident morphological proximity of Brown-capped P. moluccensis, Grey-capped P. canicapillus and Pygmy Woodpeckers P. kizuki to both maculatus (non-Sulu forms) and ramsayi, there is no compelling reason to combine the latter two as a single species. Sulu birds differ from other Philippine forms in: replacing all black or dark brown with a mid-brown; lacking virtually all white spotting on wings and coverts; lacking black or dark brown spotting or streaking on the undersides; showing an ill-defined yellow or yellowish-orange breast-band, plus (in the male) a far more strongly developed red area on the nape. The specific separation of ramsayi is all the more arguable for the geographically closest representative of maculatus - fulvifasciatus of Mindanao and Basilan showing the strongest pied effect. The notion that these two forms are "bridged" by maculatus, with a throw-away description of ramsayi as "aberrant" (Salomonsen 1953), not only fails to deal with the suggestion of Voous (1947) that ramsayi represents an early invasion of the Philippines, but also misses the point that maculatus is not geographically interposed between the two forms it is supposed to bridge. It is worth noting that in the paper in which both ramsayi and fulvifasciatus were first established, the formal description of ramsayi compared it to temminckii rather than to maculatus (Hargitt 1881).

Picoides ramsayi BirdLife International (2000), Picoides ramsayi ramsayi BirdLife International (2000)

13-14 cm. Small, relatively plain woodpecker. White throat, sub-moustachial stripe and supercilium, which extends to nape. Rest of head brown. Male shows red patch on sides of crown, extending to nape. Brown upperparts (though these can appear quite golden in males), unbarred though shows broad, irregular white streaking on back and largely white rump. Off-white underparts with brown breast-band, often bordered yellow. Lightly streaked flanks. Voice Similar to Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker P. maculatus though louder and lower in pitch, a staccato kikikikikikikiki rising at the start. Hints Prefers higher branches, especially dead trees. Joins mixed feeding flocks.

Distribution and population
Dendrocopos ramsayi is endemic to the Sulu archipelago in the Philippines, where it is known historically from eight islands, including Jolo, Siasi, Sanga-sanga and Sibutu (Collar et al. 1999). Formerly thought to be widespread and abundant, the species was regarded as rare by the early 1970s. It persists on Tawitawi and fringing coralline islands. In 1998, the species was found to survive outside of dipterocarp forest, being recorded within Bardatal village, in bushes fringing mangrove, in heavily logged forest and in less degraded forest (Allen 1998). In 2008, one pair was seen in heavily degraded farm habitat (D. Allen in litt. 2012).

Population justification
The population is estimated to number 2,500-9,999 mature individuals based on an assessment of known records, descriptions of abundance and range size. This is consistent with recorded population density estimates for congeners or close relatives with a similar body size, and the fact that only a proportion of the estimated Extent of Occurrence is likely to be occupied. This estimate is equivalent to 3,750-14,999 individuals, rounded here to 3,500-15,000 individuals.

Trend justification
The species's is suspected to be in rapid decline within its range owing to widespread logging and forest clearance.

It inhabits forest clearings, forest edge, mangroves and cultivated areas, in addition to primary forest, although it has been speculated that it avoids dense forest. However, its habitat preferences are poorly understood. Its tolerance of degraded habitats implies that it should be more numerous than is the case.

Extensive forest destruction throughout the archipelago presumably precipitated its decline. By the mid-1990s, rapid clearance of primary forest on Tawitawi had rendered remaining lowland patches highly degraded. Military activity and insurgency continue to present a serious obstacle to general conservation activity in the Sulus, but may indirectly conserve habitat by inhibiting logging or mining operations.

Conservation Actions Underway
There are no formal protected areas in the archipelago. A proposal exists to provide conservation funding for the Tawitawi/Sulu Coastal Area, although the likely benefits to the species are unknown. In 1997, an awareness campaign focusing on the conservation of terrestrial biodiversity on Tawitawi was initiated.Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct surveys of all remaining forest tracts to identify further key sites and determine its habitat requirements. Urgently afford formal protection to any sites supporting populations, including Batu-batu. Campaign for rapid designation of further remnant forest patches as protected areas. Seek clarification of the proposal for conservation funding for the Tawitawi/Sulu Coastal Area. Continue and expand environmental awareness programmes.

Allen, D. 1998. Tawitawi: August 1998..

Collar, N. J.; Mallari, N. A. D.; Tabaranza, B. R. J. 1999. Threatened birds of the Philippines: the Haribon Foundation/BirdLife International Red Data Book. Bookmark, Makati City.

Further web sources of information
Detailed species accounts from the Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book (BirdLife International 2001).

Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Bird, J., Davidson, P., Peet, N., Taylor, J., Allinson, T

Allen, D., Hutchinson, R.

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

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2014) Species factsheet: Dendrocopos ramsayi. Downloaded from on 17/04/2014. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2014) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 17/04/2014.

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.

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Vulnerable
Family Picidae (Woodpeckers)
Species name author (Hargitt, 1881)
Population size 2500-9999 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 1,800 km2
Country endemic? Yes
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species