Blackish-headed Spinetail Synallaxis tithys


Justification of Red List Category
A re-assessment of this species's extent of occurrence using a Minimum Convex Polygon means this species no longer meets the threshold for Endangered. However, it is considered to be experiencing a rapid decline, and has a small and fragmented population size. Therefore, it is listed as Vulnerable.

Population justification
The population is estimated to number 2,500-9,999 mature individuals based on an assessment of known records, descriptions of abundance and range size. This is consistent with recorded population density estimates for congeners or close relatives with a similar body size, and the fact that only a proportion of the estimated Extent of Occurrence is likely to be occupied. This estimate is equivalent to 3,750-14,999 individuals, rounded here to 3,500-15,000 individuals.

Trend justification
A rapid and on-going population decline is suspected, owing to rates of habitat loss.

Distribution and population

Synallaxis tithys occurs in the Tumbesian region of south-west Ecuador (Manabí, Guayas, El Oro and Loja) and immediately adjacent north-west Peru (Tumbes and Piura). In a study conducted in Peru in 2009-2010, it was found at 19 new localities, 9 in Tumbes and 10 in Piura, extending its known range southwards by 110 km (Crespo and More 2013). Extant suitable habitat is highly fragmented, making the species's distribution patchy. It is generally uncommon, but locally relatively common (Lowen 1998, Jiggins et al. 1999). Tracewski et al. (2016) estimated the maximum Area of Occupancy (calculated as the remaining tree area within the species’s range) to be c.2,567 km2, rounded here to 2,600 km2.


It inhabits dense undergrowth, occasionally the midstorey, of deciduous and evergreen forest, from sea-level to 1,290 m (Lowen 1998, Crespo and More 2013). Studies during the dry season have found it in heavily degraded secondary forest and hedgerows within cultivation (Pople et al. 1997). It favours vine-tangles, foraging alone in pairs, or in small family groups, and sometimes joining mixed-species flocks (Pople et al. 1997, Crespo and More 2013). It appears to undertake seasonal movements. Insects constitute the majority of its diet. A juvenile was trapped in August (Jiggins et al. 1999), with egg-laying apparently in March (Remsen and Sharpe 2016).


Below 900 m, the rate of deforestation in west Ecuador in 1958-1988 was 57% per decade, but in the higher parts of its range, deforestation has been slower and a greater proportion of forest remains (Wege and Long 1995). It does not occur above c.1,100 m, thus it must be one of the most threatened Tumbesian forest species. All forest-types within its range have greatly diminished owing to agricultural clearance (Wege and Long 1995). Persistent grazing by goats and cattle removes understorey, prevents forest regeneration and is a serious current threat (Pople et al. 1997, Jiggins et al. 1999, Crespo and More 2013). Rapid habitat loss continues, and will soon remove almost all extant forest.

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
Occurs in several protected areas such as Machalilla National Park (large but requires stronger protection), Cerro Blanco Protection Forest (recently enlarged to 50 km2) (E. Horstmann in litt. 2000), Arenillas Military Reserve (the largest intact area of dry forest and thorn-scrub in south-west Ecuador) and Algodonal Reserve, all Ecuador (Wege and Long 1995); and Tumbes National Reserve, Cerros de Amotape National Park, El Angolo Hunting Reserve and Angostura-Faical Regional Conservation Area, all Peru (Crespo and More 2013). Algodonal Reserve is a very small (0.35 km2) part of a larger, disturbed dry forest (c.30 km2) at Hacienda Jujal, with even larger forested areas in adjacent Peru (Jiggins et al. 1999). Some 15 Peruvian sites are within a 2358 km2 block of existing protected areas (Crespo and More 2013).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Survey areas of known and potential occurrence (Jiggins et al. 1999). Assess the population viability in degraded habitats. Strengthen habitat protection in Tumbes Reserved Zone and Machalilla National Park. Work with local communities around Hacienda Jujal to enlarge the conservation area and secure extant forest from external threats (Jiggins et al. 1999).


14.5 cm. Dark grey spinetail with rufous on wing. Dark grey head and neck, becoming black on foreface. Olivaceous-grey back and rump, bright cinnamon-rufous wing-coverts and sooty tail. Black throat with whitish malar. Rest of underparts grey, palest on mid-belly. Voice Song a slightly ascending trill, repeated at several-second intervals.


Text account compilers
Sharpe, C.J., Westrip, J., Stuart, T., Pople, R., Isherwood, I., Symes, A.

Crespo, SIC, Horstman, E.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Synallaxis tithys. Downloaded from on 13/07/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 13/07/2020.