Archived 2012-2013 topics: Giant Nuthatch (Sitta magna): uplist to Endangered?

BirdLife species factsheet for Giant Nuthatch Giant Nuthatch Sitta magna is restricted to the mountains of south-west China, central and east Myanmar and north-west Thailand. The majority of records are from Yunnan (China), with only two known localities in Myanmar, both of which are thought to have lost the species in the last 20 years (T. Htin Hla in litt. 2012), and nine known localities in Thailand, at which it is declining. It is currently listed as Vulnerable under criterion C2a(i) because it has a small population, which is likely to be declining and severely fragmented owing to the loss and degradation of conifer and mixed forest habitats through logging, fuelwood collection, shifting cultivation and fire. However, recent information suggests that the species’s population may be even smaller than first thought. Recent comprehensive surveys in Myanmar’s Shan states have been unsuccessful in locating the species (T. Htin Hla in litt. 2012) and so it is likely to be extirpated in this area. Furthermore, the global population was previously estimated to number 2,500-9,999 mature individuals, rounded to 3,500-15,000 individuals, based on an assessment of recent records and surveys by BirdLife International (2001). However, the number of mature individuals has recently been suggested to be in the region of 800-2000, with only 6-50 mature individuals in the largest subpopulation (Han Lianxian in litt. 2012). If this information is confirmed, this species would warrant uplisting to Endangered under criterion C2a(i), on the basis that the population is <2,500 mature individuals, all subpopulations are ≤250 mature individuals and the population is in continuing decline owing to on-going habitat loss and degradation across its range. Further information is required on this species’s distribution, estimated population size, size of the largest subpopulation, and level of threat to its habitat.  Reference: BirdLife International (2001) Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International: Cambridge, U.K.

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7 Responses to Archived 2012-2013 topics: Giant Nuthatch (Sitta magna): uplist to Endangered?

  1. Tangential info: I made some effort to look for this species in the part of Lao PDR where, if it occurs at all, it would be most likely to be (Xaignabouli province, W of the Mekong in the N of the country) – not only did I not find the bird, I could hardly find any suitable forest. Logging is extremely heavy there. It has been suggested in the past it might occur in Lao, and it still cannot be said that it doesn’t. But the chance of any reasonable population there must be very low now, assuming the logging patterns I saw in the parts of Xaignabouli I visited are typical of the province (which I believe to be so).

  2. Simon Mahood says:

    I’ve never seen this bird, but it’s a big nuthatch, so presumably it requires big trees? Can someone confirm this? These will be preferentially logged and probably now exist only in small patches, inherently vulnerable to loss. Remaining sub-populations would therefore be highly susceptible to extinction, simply by the loss of a few big trees. Can anyone confirm that logging of large trees has caused it to be lost from sites where it previously occurred?

  3. John Pilgrim says:

    In response to SM’s comment, I have only seen this species at Doi Chiang Dao, and noted that the forest in which I saw it there was comprised of very large trees (compared to available forest in the region). No causation implied, but a line of hypothesis/correlation to pursue, for sure…

  4. James Eaton says:

    Given its apparent requirement for big trees, this must surely require upgrading – this was presumed the reason it is no longer found at Kalaw in Shan state Myanmar. Yunnan and bordering Myanmar have undergone quiet severe logging operations in the recent past….

  5. Ben Han says:

    I support upgrading. Definitely Giant Nuthatch requires big trees for breeding, and this species prefer broadleaf and pine mixed forests in Yunnan. The forest ownership reform in China will pose a big threat to such type of habitats here. Patches of pine forests were increasingly replaced by eucalyptus trees to pursue more economic benefits. Four years drought in Yunnan has caused low successful breeding rate, too. We failed to find and located any breeding hole in a typical habitat this year in spring 2013, and in the past we normally can spot 1-2 breeding holes. This birds needs more attention from global and local communities, and more human-intervened approaches for protection.

  6. Lianxian Han says:

    We surveyd some pine forests in Yunnan and according to our data, there are usually 3-4 breeding pairs in a 100 sq. km area A, 3-5 individuals in another 40 sq. km area B, 6-7 individuals in a 90 sq. km area C. 800 individuals is a relatively low estimation and 2000 are optimistically high estimation on this basis. Still, there is a great part of areas remain unsurveyed, but I doubt there will be a high density of the population in these areas. In 2010, we monitored three nests at area A, 2 of them were destroyed by snakes or human beings, only 1 nest with 4 nestlings inside was successfully survived. Also, we did not observe any obvious sign of population increment in these areas. So, I support the level upgrade of this species, and we will continue our conservation jobs in Yunnan when any resources become available.

  7. Joe Taylor says:

    The following comments were received from Lianxian Han on 20 August 2013:

    The estimation [of 800-2,000] is only for the population in Yunnan province, and our data refers to the mature individuals. I think we only surveyed half or less than a half area of our province, lots of pine forests still need to be checked if there exists any population. 4-year continuous drought in Yunnan may cause a low successful breeding rate.

    Overall, the population is low and it confused us for years that we did not observe any sign of population increment for 4-5 years since we start to monitor Giant Nuthatch. As always, only a few individuals are active in a certain given forest patch, and we did not find dispersed individuals in surrounding patches.

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