Beautiful Nuthatch Sitta formosa


Justification of Red List Category
This nuthatch has a small, declining, severely fragmented population as a result of loss, degradation and fragmentation of evergreen and semi-evergreen forest. It therefore qualifies as Vulnerable.

Population justification
The population is estimated to number 2,500-9,999 mature individuals, based on an assessment of recent records and surveys by BirdLife International (2001). This equates to 3,750-14,999 individuals, rounded here to 3,500-15,000 individuals.

Trend justification
A moderate population decline is thought to be ongoing, owing to the moderately rapid loss and degradation of habitats across the range and locally high hunting pressure.

Distribution and population

Sitta formosa has a broad range encompassing Bhutan, north-east India (with recent records from Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Nagaland and northern West Bengal [A. Choudhury in litt. 2020]), west, north and east Myanmar (including Kachin, Mt Sarameti, Arakan Hills, and Salween-Mekong watershed east of Mong Hang), Huanglianshan Nature Reserve in south-east Yunnan, China, East (Vogel et al. 2003) and West Tonkin, north Viet Nam, and north and central Laos (including the Annamite Range), with a few records from extreme north-west Thailand (including records from Doi Phu Kha National Park in Nan Province). It is rare and very locally distributed throughout this range. Recent records suggest that Bhutan, Arunachal Pradesh in India, north Myanmar and Laos support the most important populations. Records in north-east Bangladesh and the Khasi Hills of Meghalaya, India require further confirmation (Rasmussen and Anderton 2012). 


It occurs in mature broadleaved forests, although it has been reported from open country with scattered trees in Myanmar. It frequents the middle and upper canopies of large trees draped in mosses, lichens, orchids and other epiphytes. In central Laos it appears to be associated with Fokienia trees. It is essentially resident, but occurs from 1,500-2,400 m in the breeding season, descending at other times, generally not below 600 m, although it has been recorded as low as 300 m in the eastern Himalayas. Its diet is largely unknown but is likely to include small insects. 


The main threat is forest loss, degradation and fragmentation, predominantly as a result of shifting cultivation, but more locally large-scale timber extraction (e.g. logging of the valuable Fokienia hodginsii in central Laos and north Vietnam), overgrazing, burning and wood cutting (north-east India), and developmental activities such as road and dam constructions. High hunting pressure in parts of its range is unlikely to be more than a minor threat.

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
Populations are known to occur in several protected areas, including Thrumshing La National Park (Bhutan), Namdapha National Park, Eagle's Nest Wildlife Sanctuary, Sessa orchid Sanctuary, Talle Wildlife Sanctuary, Mehao Wildlife Sanctuary, Mouling National Park, Kamlang Wildlife Sanctuary and Buxa Tiger Reserve (India), Nakai-Nam Theun, Nam Xam and Phou Louay National Biodiversity Conservation Areas (Laos), and also Huanglianshan Nature Reserve (China).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct further surveys for the species in current "gaps" within its broad range to clarify its current distribution and population status. Identify sites supporting key populations of this and other threatened montane species. Make recommendations for the establishment of protected areas, proposing linkage to existing reserves where possible. Campaign against further large-scale montane timber extraction within its range. Promote widespread conservation awareness initiatives in hill and mountain communities aimed at reducing habitat loss and fragmentation resulting from shifting agriculture.


16.5 cm. Dazzling, large nuthatch. Black upperside with brilliant blue to white streaks on crown, nape and mantle, broad blue band along scapulars to back and rump and two narrow, white wing-bars. Dull rufous-buff underparts with paler throat and head-sides. Voice Rapid high, tremulous chit'it'it'it'it'it'it'it and shorter, hesitant chit-it chit-it chit-it and chit'it-it, chirririt-it. Hints Check mixed-species flocks foraging in large trees at high altitude.


Text account compilers
Fernando, E.

Benstead, P., Choudhury, A., Gilroy, J. & Westrip, J.R.S.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Sitta formosa. Downloaded from on 27/06/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 27/06/2022.