Friday, 20 December 2013

Sangihe & Talaud birds: the most threatened in the world?

Posted by Stuart Marsden, Nigel Collar & Roland Wirth

We hope to soon start a project which will examine the status and conservation needs of endemic birds on the remote islands of Sangihe and Talaud. Here, Stu, Nigel Collar (BirdLife International) and Roland Wirth (ZGAP) discuss the islands’ incredible ornithological importance, the lack of recent knowledge of their birds,  and, with the recent seizure of a large illegal shipment of endemic parrots on Talaud, the desperate need for conservation action on the islands.    
The Sangihe and Talaud islands, Indonesia, situated to the south of the Philippines and north of Sulawesi

The small and remote Indonesian islands of Sangihe and Talaud hold the highest concentration of highly threatened bird species anywhere in Asia (and possibly the world). The islands, with a land area of only 2,000 sq km, have long been noted for their endemism and conservation importance, but only now is the degree of this importance truly emerging. Fifteen years ago, Stattersfield et al. (1998) listed five species of bird restricted to the Sangihe and Talaud ‘Endemic Bird Area’. Since then, however, a proliferation of taxonomic revisions and discoveries has resulted in the addition of several more species - Sangihe now possesses nine endemic bird species and Talaud four. Incredibly, there are six Critically endangered, three Endangered, and two Vulnerable bird species in an area a little larger than Greater London.

Talaud Kingfisher (Photo: James Eaton -

Roll call of rarity

Sangihe Dwarf Kingfisher Ceyx sangirensis                           [Critically Endangered]
Sangihe Shrike-thrush Colluricincla sanghirensis                  Critically Endangered
Sangihe Golden Bulbul Thapsinillas platenae                       [Critically Endangered]
Caerulean Paradise-flycatcher Eutrichomyias rowleyi         Critically Endangered
Sangihe White-eye Zosterops nehrkorni                                  Critically Endangered
Siau Scops-owl Otus siaoensis                                                    Critically Endangered
Elegant Sunbird Aethopyga duyvenbodei                                Endangered
Talaud Rail Gymnocrex talaudensis                                          Endangered
Red-and-blue Lory Eos histrio                                                    Endangered
Talaud Bush-hen Amaurornis magnirostris                           Vulnerable
Grey Imperial-pigeon Ducula pickeringii                                 Vulnerable
Nicobar Pigeon Caloenas nicobarica                                         Near Threatened
Sangihe Hanging-parrot Loriculus catamene                          Near Threatened
Sangihe Kingfisher Cittura sanghirensis                                 [Near Threatened]
Talaud Kingfisher Todiramphus enigma                                  Near Threatened

One of the few non-threatened endemic birds on Sangihe and the only one named after Nigel: Sangihe Scops-owl Otus collari (Photo: James Eaton,

Most of these species are dependent on the islands’ dwindling forest. Critically, there appears to have been no update on the status of birds in the islands since the Action Sampiri expeditions of the mid- to late 1990s (Riley 1997; Riley & Wardill 2001), which were financed in part by Loro Parque FundaciĆ³n. There are, however, reports of declines in some forest species, e.g. Caerulean Paradise-flycatcher and Sangihe Shrike-thrush (Sykes 2009), numbers of which appear to lie in the region of just 20‒50 individuals each. Moreover, this century, despite annual visits by bird tours, the Sangihe Golden Bulbul appears to have been seen only twice and the Sangihe Dwarf-kingfisher and Sangihe White-eye not at all. 

One of only three specimens of Sangihe Golden Bulbul. This from Naturalis, Leiden (Photo: Nigel Collar)

A recent visit to northern Sulawesi by Roland Wirth revealed potentially devastating news for the islands’ birds. A consignment of 111 Red-and-blue Lories were seized by police in Talaud in November 2013. These birds were bound for the Philippines. Reports suggest that 800 or as many as 1,800 lories per year are taken from the island by this one dealer. As well as trade in its own parrots, Talaud appears to also be a major stepping stone of wildlife trade from elsewhere in Indonesia to the Philippines. A rare Javan leopard Panthera pardus melas was also confiscated in the Talaud islands some time ago. 

Shipment of 111 Red-and-blue Lories confiscated in Talaud. All birds were covered in honey solution, so birds would lick each other and remain quiet during the smuggling (Photo: Tasikoki Wildlife Rescue Center).

According to Michael Wangko of the local NGO KOMPAK, there are now fewer than ten known roosts left occupied by lories on the island - each with just 100-300 birds. Parrots are captured at these roosts by covering branches with sticky bird lime or snares made of nylon fishing line. The surviving birds are now being cared for by Simon Purser and staff at the Tasikoki Wildlife Rescue Centre ( in northern Sulawesi.

Our project aims to

  1. Estimate densities, population sizes and examine habitat associations of all birds;
  2. Identify current forest coverage and forest loss over the last 20 years;
  3. Evaluate human use of and impacts on protected areas and other key sites
  4. Evaluate trade and trapping pressure on all parrot species
  5. Make recommendations for habitat management, site regulation and policy improvement.


Riley, J. (1997) Biological surveys and conservation priorities on the Sangihe and Talaud 
islands, Indonesia: the final report of Action Sampiri 1995–1997. Cambridge, UK: CSB Conservation Publications.

Riley, J. & Wardill, J. C. (2001)The rediscovery of the Cerulean Paradise-flycatcher Eutrichomyias rowleyi on Sangihe, Indonesia. Forktail 17: 45–55.

Stattersfield, A. J., Crosby, M. J., Long, M. J. &Wege, D. C. (1998) Endemic Bird Areas of the world: priorities for biodiversity conservation. Cambridge, UK: BirdLife International (Conservation Series 7).

Sykes, B. (2009) OBC conservation: news update and requests for practical help. BirdingASIA 12: 107–108.


  1. Finally your Indonesia project is kick off!

  2. Nice one! We always do need info like this esp in East Indonesia.
    But a rare Javan leopard Panthera pardus melas in the Talaud islands?

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Triple-M Tour in Tahuna district, Tour Guide/Rent Boat/Rent Car/spoken English/French/Russian. mobile. +62-821-947-55-831

  5. Tahuna district is the administrative capital in Sangihe island *)