Justification of Red List Category
This species occurs at only one locality and has a very small range. Thanks to conservation action and despite the spread of invasives, the species is stable, but the population size remains very small. Therefore, this species is now listed as Vulnerable.
Based on the probability of re-sighting ringed birds and observations between 2006-2008 the population was estimated at 1,608 ± 326 mature individuals, or c.800 pairs, roughly corresponding with a 2008 estimate of 1,064 ± 304 individuals obtained through distance-sampling methods and range size analysis, thus a population of c.1,300 individuals was estimated, roughly equivalent to 860-870 mature individuals. In 2012 the population was estimated at 230-760 pairs, which equates to 450-1,500 mature individuals or 675-2,250 individuals (Veríssimo 2013, BirdLife International 2015), and in 2016 the population size was estimated at 627-1,996 mature individuals (J. Teodósio in litt. 2016).
Annual census figures from 2002-2008 indicate that although there is some fluctuation the population is not currently declining (BirdLife International 2009) and there is evidence of recent population recovery (Ceia et al. 2011a). The current population trend is estimated to be stable (BirdLife International 2015). An annual survival rate was recently estimated at 0.62 which may have substantially contributed to the recent recovery of the population (Monticelli et al. 2010).
This species is endemic to the Azores, Portugal, where it is confined to the east of the island of São Miguel. It was locally abundant in the 19th century, when it was regarded as a pest of fruit orchards, but became rare after 1920 as a result of forest clearance and hunting. It was previously thought that the species was almost entirely confined to c.6 km2 of native forest on the slopes around Pico da Vara. However, a more complete survey in 2008 revealed that the species occupies only 83 km2, with an estimated extent of occurrence of 144 km2 (Ceia et al. 2011a). Estimates based on annual point count surveys between 2002 and 2005 range between 203 and 331 individuals (Ramos et al. 2005), whereas analysis of ringed birds between 2005 and 2008 gives a total population estimate of 1,608 ± 326 mature individuals (Monticelli et al. 2010), and a study using distance-sampling methods in 2008 gave an estimate of 1,064 ± 304 individuals (Ceia et al. 2011a).
This species appears to depend on the native laurissilva forest during the winter and spring , although seeds from the exotic Clethra arborea may be a critical food in December-January (Ceia et al. 2011b). In the summer and autumn (May-November) its habitat use is more conservative, and birds utilise bare ground, vegetation less than two metres high and also forest margins. Exotic vegetation such as plantations of Japanese red cedar Cryptomeria japonica within 200 m of native forest are also used during summer (Ceia et al. 2009). The diet comprises of at least 37 different plants of which 13 are known to be important (Ramos 1995). The species appears entirely dependent on native forest for food during many months of the year (Ramos 1995, Ceia et al. 2011b). Movements of up to 5.8 km between native forest patches have been recorded as birds move to feed on ripening seeds (Ceia 2008). Birds breed from mid-June to late August, with a clutch size of 3 eggs (Teodósio et al. 2009).
The historical decline and its extremely small range are believed to be a consequence of the widespread clearance of native forest for forestry plantations and agriculture. The spread of alien invasive plant species (especially Hedychium gardnerianum, Clethra arborea and Pittosporum undulatum), which have largely overrun the remaining patches of natural vegetation, suppress the natural fruit, seed and bud food supply to the species (G. Hilton in litt. 2006). The species exhibits a preference for non-invaded laurel forest habitat (Ceia et al. 2011), and is entirely absent from highly invaded areas (e.g. P. undulatum copses; Ceia et al. 2009). Food shortages are potentially a problem throughout the year, but are most severe in late winter (Ceia et al. 2011b). Random environmental and demographic factors can affect such small populations and inbreeding may reduce reproductive output. Predation by introduced rats and mustelids may also be affecting nesting success (G. Hilton in litt. 2006, Ceia 2008, Teodósio et al. 2009).
Conservation Actions Underway
The species is protected under Portuguese law. Pico da Vara/Ribeira do Guilherme has been designated as a Special Protected Area, and this was enlarged to 6,067 ha in 2005 (LIFE Priolo Project 2007). Ecological research was conducted during 1991-1993 and habitat management began in 1995. A short booklet on the species has been distributed to schools in São Miguel. A species action plan was published in 1996, and a second action plan was produced in 2009 (Teodósio et al. 2009). A number of actions have already been implemented as part of an ongoing EU LIFE-Nature project for the species, including the development of a management plan for the SPA, the clearance of invasive plant species and replanting with native species in over 70 ha in the core of the species's range and the planting of traditional fruit trees at lower altitudes (Teodósio 2005, Teodósio 2006, LIFE Priolo Project 2007). During 2005-2007, 156 individuals were captured and colour-ringed (Ceia 2008), and 'visual recapture' monitoring of these birds continues (SPEA 2009). As part of the BirdLife International Preventing Extinctions programme Species Guardian SPEA (Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves) are implementing the following actions (SPEA 2009): habitat management including the creation of fruit tree orchards, clearance of alien invasive plant species and planting native species in the core area and buffer zones; raising public awareness through production of a website, CD-ROM, brochures and school kits, and through collaboration with the regional Ministry of Tourism on nature trails and tourist information; evaluating the economic benefits of the project and analysing the ecosystem services offered by the protected area; establishing an interactive Environmental Interpretation Centre with displays about the species, native laurel forest and the threats both face; and researching and monitoring population size, distribution and habitat quality. The first complete census took place in 2008, involving 48 volunteers surveying all suitable habitat in a single day (SPEA 2009). The São Miguel Natural Park, including Pico de Vara SPA, was classified in July 2008, and a management plan is to be developed by the regional government. In September 2006, recently fledged juveniles were seen at Salto do Cavalo (R. Ceia in litt. 2012).
17 cm. Medium-sized, plump, short-winged, long-tailed, dull coloured finch. Black cap and facial area, tail and wings. Grey lesser covert and greater covert wing-bar. Brown back. Grey nape and uppertail-coverts. Pinkish-brown underparts. Some males appear to have slight reddish-tawny underparts, but this is often difficult to see. Voice Plaintive phew contact call.
Text account compilers
Calvert, R., Derhé, M., Ekstrom, J., Harding, M., Peet, N., Pople, R., Symes, A., Ashpole, J, Burfield, I. & Westrip, J.
Hilton, G., Ramos, J., Teodósio, J. & Ceia, R.
BirdLife International (2017) Species factsheet: Pyrrhula murina. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 19/10/2017. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2017) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 19/10/2017.