email a friend
printable version
Mangrove Finch Camarhynchus heliobates
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
Please email us with any relevant information
BirdLife Species Champion Become a BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme Supporter
For information about BirdLife Species Champions and Species Guardians visit the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme.

This species has an extremely small, severely fragmented range, and potentially as few as two viable subpopulations. Recent surveys suggest that the number of locations and mature individuals are both declining, and consequently it qualifies as Critically Endangered.

Taxonomic source(s)
SACC. 2006. A classification of the bird species of South America. Available at: #

14 cm. Dull, brownish finch. Dull brownish upperparts, more olive on rump. Whitish below with faint streaking. Pale, pointed bill and dark legs. Males can get black hoods with age as do other tree finch species Similar spp. Very similar to Woodpecker Finch Cactospiza pallida, but has smaller bill, some faint streaking on underparts and is slightly browner. Woodpecker finches are not known to get black hoods. Song is best way to differentiate from Woodpecker Finch. Voice Sequence of two-five tur notes, each phrase being repeated up to three times.

Distribution and population
This species is restricted to the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador. Historically, it was known from at least six mangrove patches on east Fernandina and east, south and west Isabela (Vargas 1997). Recent surveys have failed to record the species on Fernandina, and it seems likely that it is now extinct as a breeding bird on the island - the last reported sighting may have been in 1971 (Grant and Grant 1997). In 1997 and 1998, surveys on Isabela found breeding populations in only two areas, Playa Tortuga Negra and Caleta Black on the north-west coast of the island, with estimated populations of 37 and 21 pairs respectively (Grant and Grant 1997, Vargas 1997). Subsequent surveys have estimated the population at 36 and 16 pairs in 1999 (Vargas 1999), 24 and 14 pairs in 2007 (B. Fessl in litt. 2007), and perhaps the most thorough surveys to date recorded c. 40 pairs in each in 2009 (Fessl et al. 2010). Surveys in the fairly extensive mangroves on the south-east coast of Isabela found three to five territories which probably contained breeding birds, but further areas of potentially suitable habitat remain unsurveyed (Dvorak et al. 1997, Dvorak et al. 2004). In 2008 several other historical sites were surveyed including Punta Espinoza (Fernandina), Bahia Elizabeth, Punta Moreno and Bahia Urbina, but the only site at which birds were located was Cartago Bay (Fessl et al. 2010, G. Young and B. Fessl in litt. 2008), from which the species is now thought extirpated, with no records from the area since 2009 (G. Young in litt. 2012).

Population justification
The population is estimated to number 50-100 individuals (G. Young in litt. 2013) and 40-80 mature individuals (F. Cunninghame and G Young in litt. 2013).

Trend justification
In 1997 surveys on Isabela found breeding populations in only two areas, Playa Tortuga Negra and Caleta Black on the north-west coast of the island, with estimated populations of 37 and 21 pairs respectively (Grant & Grant 1997, Vargas 1997); but from 2006 to 2009 territory mapping only revealed a maximum of 27 and 15 pairs (B. Fessl et al. 2010). This equates to a decline of 20-29% over 10 years (three generations). However, trends appear to have stabilised since, and the population may even now be increasing (G. Young in litt. 2012).

It inhabits dense mangrove swamps, where it feeds on insects, larvae, spiders and some vegetable matter (Dvorak et al. 1997, Vargas 1997, Dvorak et al. 2004, Fessl et al. 2011).  Its breeding season coincides with the beginning of heavy rainfalls, normally in December and January, and generally lasts until the end of the rainy season, around May, although successful nesting has been recorded as late as September (G. Young in litt. 2011). Nests are placed in tall trees within patches of high mangroves that are often flooded at high tide, a habitat that is rare on the Galápagos (Fessl et al. 2011). Mangroves used by the species in the north-west appear to be structurally different from areas where it is absent suggesting it has subtle habitat preferences and suffers from habitat degradation (Dvorak et al. 2004, Fessl et al. 2011). It appears to favour mangrove with tall trees, relatively low canopy cover and abundant leaf litter and dead wood (Dvorak et al. 2004, Fessl et al. 2011). A separation of the mangroves from the sea seems to be crucial as this prevents the washing out of leaf litter etc., which represents the species's preferred feeding substrates (Dvorak et al. 2004, Fessl et al. 2011).

This species is declining owing to predation and disease as a result of the presence of invasive species. Rattus rattus abundance is high at both breeding sites and is believed to be the major reason for the high nesting failure due to predation (70% in 2007) and low fledgling success (Fessl et al. 2010). Other possible introduced predators include feral cats (especially important during the post-fledging phase), Smooth-billed Ani Crotophaga ani and fire ants Solenopsis spp., although fire ants seemed to have been successfully exterminated in 1997 (Grant and Grant 1997, Vargas 1997, 1999). The blood-sucking nest parasite Philornis downsi represents a significant threat, as it is present in all nests and infestation is high (with a mean of 42 parasites per nest). The first case of nesting mortality due to Philornis parasitisation was recorded in 2007, and this threat is becoming relatively more prominent as invasive rodents are now controlled (G. Young in litt. 2012). Avian pox may also represent a significant threat to the species, which may also be inherently susceptible to the effects of inbreeding (Fessl et al. 2010). Research has shown that the species favours structurally distinct mangroves and hence may be susceptible to human modification of this habitat, and it may be especially susceptible to sea level rise driven by climate change (D. Wiedenfeld in litt. 2012). Habitat loss through the felling of large trees and collection of wood for fires may be a threat near Puerto Villamil (Young et al. 2013).

Conservation and Research Actions Underway
The habitat of this species is protected within the Galápagos National Park and, in 1979, the islands were declared a World Heritage Site, although this was classified as threatened in 2007. An action plan was published 2010 (in English and Spanish) following a workshop in 2008. Predator control is ongoing as are studies into the control of Philornis downsi, with a workshop on this specific subject held in early 2012 (G. Young and B. Fessl in litt. 2008, G. Young in litt. 2011, Fessl et al. 2010, Charles Darwin Foundation 2014). A study of breeding biology commenced in 1999 (Vargas 1999) and a follow up study started in 2006. Blood samples are being analysed to investigate the genetic structure of the remaining population and to clarify whether hybridisation is occurring, although preliminary results for the latter are negative (H. Vargas and F. Cruz in litt. 2000). Preliminary results, however, do appear to indicate that the species is highly inbred (Fessl et al. 2010).

A Darwin Initiative funded Mangrove Finch project coordinated by Galápagos National Park, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Charles Darwin Foundation began in 2007 (G. Young in litt. 2007) with the aim of clarifying the need and proceedings for a breeding or translocation project. Possible sites for reintroduction have been visited on Isabela and habitat suitability assessments undertaken. Remote mapping of mangrove has taken place throughout Isabela with the aim of locating suitable sites, and captive trials have used Woodpecker Finch in order to train personnel and develop husbandry techniques that were then transferred to Mangrove Finch (G. Young and B. Fessl in litt. 2008). The first trial translocation took place in May 2010 when nine wild-trapped birds were taken to Bahia Urbina (25 km south of Playa Tortuga Negra) following intense rat control at this site (Cunninghame et al. 2011). Translocated birds proved hardy and, while able to find sufficient food and habitat at release site, may have returned to their source site (where one male was recorded after c.6 months). A conservation education programme has engaged local schoolchildren, and produced a film highlighting the species's importance. A course has been run for local guides (G. Young in litt. 2011). In 2014, the head-starting and release of young was trialled and plans are in place to continue this in 2015 (G. Young in litt. 2014).

Conservation and Research Actions Proposed
Continue to survey for further populations. Establish yearly monitoring at Playa Tortuga Negra and Caleta Black. Continue control measures for rats, wasps, ants, cats and fire ants at Playa Tortuga Negra and Caleta Black, and monitor effects on the population (Grant and Grant 1997). Further study the impact of Philornis downsi on adults and nestlings, and develop effective control methods, which may include application of control agents directly into nests (D. Wiedenfeld in litt. 2012), pheromone disturbance, or the release of sterile males (Charles Darwin Foundation 2014). Study the impact of Galapagos Hawk Buteo galapagoensis. Facilitate printing of the species action plan in Spanish and English (G. Young in litt. 2011). Restore the Ramsar site at Vilamill. Establish translocation techniques to re-establish individuals at former sites following rat control, using head-started young birds less likely to return to their natal site (G. Young in litt. 2012). A recent study found that some species of Darwin's finches can be encouraged to 'self-fumigate' their nests through the provision of permethrin-treated cotton fibres, resulting in the significantly fewer P. downsi and more successfly fledged offspring. It is suggested this may be an effective method of reducing nestling mortality for the Mangrove Finch (Knutie et al. 2014).

Charles Darwin Foundation. 2014. Philornis downsi: Buscando Una Solución. Available at: (Accessed: 07/08/2015).

Cunninghame, F.; Young, H. G.; Fessl, B. 2011. A trial conservation translocation of the Mangrove Finch in the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador. In: Soorae, P.S. (ed.), Global reintroduction perspectives 3, pp. 151-156. Environment Agency, Abu Dhabi.

Dvorak, M.; Tebbich, S.; Fessl, B. 1997. Mangrove Finch Survey 1997 on the south-eastern coast of Isabela, Galápagos Islands.

Dvorak, M.; Vargas, H.; Fessel, B.; Tebbich, S. 2004. On the verge of extinction: a survey of the mangrove finch Cactospiza heliobates and its habitat on the Galápagos Islands. Oryx 38: 171-179.

Fessl, B.; Loaiza, A. D.; Tebbich, S.; Young, H. G. 2011. Feeding and nesting requirements of the Critically Endangered Mangrove Finch Camarhynchus heliobates. Journal of Ornithology 152: 453-460.

Fessl, B.; Tebbich, S. 2002. Philornis downsi - a recently discovered parasite on the Galápagos archipelago - a threat for Darwin's finches? Ibis 144: 445-451.

Fessl, B.; Young, H. G.; Young, R. P.; Rodríguez-Matamoros, J.; Dvorak, M.; Tebbich, S.; Fa, J. E. 2010. How to save the rarest Darwin's finch from extinction: the Mangrove Finch on Isabela Island. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 365: 1019-1030.

Grant, P. R.; Grant, R. 1997. The rarest of Darwin's Finches. Conservation Biology 11: 119-216.

IUCN. 2015. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015-4. Available at: (Accessed: 19 November 2015).

Knutie, S.A., McNew, S.M., Bartlow, A.W., Vargas, D.A. and Clayton, D.H. 2014. Darwin's finches combat introduced nest parasites with fumigated cotton. Current Biology 24(9): R355-R356.

McCarthy, M. 2009. Desperate bid to save finches that changed the world. Available at: #

Vargas, H. 1997. Mangrove Finch conservation project.

Vargas, H. 1999. Mangrove Finch conservation project.

Young, H.G., Cunninghame, F., Fessl, B. and Vargas, F.H. 2013. Mangrove Finch Camarhynchus heliobates: An Obligate Mangrove Specialist from the Galápagos Islands. In: G. Gleason and T.R. Victor (eds), Mangrove Ecosystems: Biogeography, Genetic Diversity and Conservation Strategies, Nova, New York.

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)

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., Bird, J., Harding, M., Isherwood, I., McClellan, R., Pople, R., Sharpe, C J, Symes, A., Khwaja, N. & Wright, L

Cruz, F., Fessl, B., Vargas, H., Young, G., Wiedenfeld, D. & Cunninghame, F.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Camarhynchus heliobates. Downloaded from on 22/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 22/10/2016.

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 - Mangrove finch (Camarhynchus heliobates) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Critically Endangered
Family Emberizidae (Buntings, American sparrows and allies)
Species name author (Snodgrass & Heller, 1901)
Population size 40-80 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 1 km2
Country endemic? Yes
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species