Blue-crowned Laughingthrush Garrulax courtoisi


Justification of Red List Category
This species has a very small, fragmented known range and an extremely small known population which is likely to be declining owing to a number of threats. For these reasons it is precautionarily classified as Critically Endangered. However, further survey effort may reveal additional sub-populations, in which case it may warrant downlisting.

Population justification
A total wild population of more than 323 individuals was estimated in 2016 (He Fenqi in litt. 2016), but the number of mature individuals of this colonial and cooperative breeder is conservatively estimated at fewer than 250.

Trend justification
This species remains poorly known and may prove to be more common than current evidence suggests. Data from its known colonies show mild population fluctuations, but a decline of unknown severity is thought to be occurring owing to low productivity and the threat of building developments to several colonies.

Distribution and population

Garrulax courtoisi is endemic to China. It occupies an extremely small known breeding range in Jiangxi Province. In 2006 it was thought to be restricted to at least five fragmented sites during the breeding season, and was thought to number around 200 individuals (L. Gardner in litt. 2006, He Fenqi in litt. 2006, 2008; Wilkinson and He Fenqi 2010a); and was estimated at over 240 individuals in 2009 (Wilkinson and He Fenqi 2010a,b), an increase that has occurred in line with the increasing number of active breeding sites that are monitored (Wilkinson and He Fenqi 2010a). The estimate for 2010 was of more than 200 birds at six sites (Wilkinson and Gardner 2011), and a population of more than 250 individuals was estimated in 2011 (He Fenqi in litt. 2012). Surveys in Wuyuan County over the past 10 years have located additional colonies, but it has been suggested that these represent colonies that have relocated after abandoning known sites, thus the current population estimate may account for virtually the entire wild population (R.Wilkinson and Y. Foulds in litt. 2012), which was estimated at 323 individuals in 2016 (He Fenqi in litt. 2016) spread between 6 sites and 321 at 8 sites in 2015 (He Fenqi in litt. 2016). In addition, there were c.170 individuals known in captivity in April 2012 (L. Gardner in litt. 2012). The wintering grounds are not known with certainty, but are thought to be near to the breeding sites (R. Wilkinson in litt. 2007, 2008), as suggested by a record of at least four birds in Wuyuan County in October 2011 (per He Fenqi in litt. 2012). Current trends in the wild have not been estimated. The species had been unrecorded in the wild since specimens were collected in Wuyuan County, Jiangxi Province in 1919 and near Simao, Yunnan Province in 1956. Then birds of Chinese origin arrived in captivity in Europe in 1988 (Wilkinson et al. 2004, Richardson 2005). Following this revelation, the species was rediscovered in Wuyuan County in 2000 (Yuan-Hua et al. 2003). Three birds collected at Simao, Yunnan, south-western China, belong to a separate subspecies G. c. simaoensis which has not been seen in the wild for ten years following heavy trapping pressure during 1988-1993 (He Fenqi 2007, R. Wilkinson in litt. 2007, 2008). A total of at least 10 searches conducted in Yunnan and Guangxi provinces by He Fenqi and colleagues in 2002, 2004 and 2005-2009 have not been successful in locating this population (Wilkinson and Gardner 2011). Most, if not all, of the captive population may have originated from south-western China and may thus represent simaoensis, but further research is required to assess the validity of the two subspecies (Wilkinson and He Fenqi 2010c). 


It breeds in trees adjacent to villages and human habitation, also near rivers. This habitat has been termed fung shui wood and includes camphor and maple trees (Yu 2003). At one location it nests in shrubs close to human habitation. Most chicks appear to hatch in May, although some may hatch in early June (He Fenqi in litt. 2009). Nest guarding appears to be biparental, and juveniles have been observed to be fed by adults other than their parents (Wilkinson et al. 2004). It forages in trees and on the ground in vocal groups, and its diet includes loquat fruit and dragonflies (He Fenqi in litt. 2009).


Evidence from interviews with bird-trappers, dealers and villagers in western Jiangxi implicates trapping for the bird trade as a major cause of the species's recent decline, with 400 birds reported to have been taken between 1987 and 1992, and trapping continuing until 1998 when a bird export ban reduced profitability (Wilkinson and He Fenqi 2010a,b). The targeting of this species was driven by higher prices and trappers report moving on to other sites once they had wiped out local populations (Wilkinson and He Fenqi 2010a).

Road building developments have destroyed nesting and roosting habitat at more than one breeding site. Urban development and disturbance have also caused breeding site abandonment (Wilkinson and Gardner 2011). A local threat is that of nests inside schools being destroyed by students (He Fenqi in litt. 2009). The birds receive no legal protection against developments such as resorts, which are being promoted in Wuyuan County.

The species's non-breeding range is probably largely unprotected (Wilkinson and He Fenqi 2010a). The species's occurrence in human-modified habitats may make it more susceptible to native predators (R. Wirth in litt. 2012), and disturbance by photographers appears to cause the species to nest higher up. Its very small population may now be prone to the loss of genetic diversity (R. Wilkinson and Y. Foulds in litt. 2012).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
A number of small Special Protected Areas were established by the local government of Wuyuan County, Jiangxi Province, and supported by German NGO ZGAP, French organisation CEPA, Leeds Castle, Chester Zoo and WWF-China, following the signing of several Memoranda of Understanding with the Wuyuan Forestry Bureau and local villages (Wilkinson and He Fenqi 2010a). Conservation efforts are also supported by other donors and the Hong Kong Birdwatching Society (Wilkinson and He Fenqi 2010a). A European studbook is maintained to co-ordinate the captive population held in zoos and private collections (144 birds at 25 institutions in April 2012 [L. Gardner in litt. 2012]), and the US captive zoo population (c.21 in April 2012 [L. Gardner in litt. 2012]) is also managed. A small population is held in Hong Kong (L. Gardner in litt. 2012) and an unknown number of birds are held by private breeders, some of which will be included in the European studbook (R. Wilkinson and Y. Foulds in litt. 2012). An international studbook has now been approved for development (L. Gardner in litt. 2012, R. Wilkinson and Y. Foulds in litt. 2012). There is uncertainty over the subspecific identity of captive birds, but this matter should be helped by taxonomic research into the relationship between G. c. courtoisi, G. c. simaoensis and G. galbanus (Wilkinson and He Fenqi 2010a). A Conservation Action Plan for the species was established in October 2007 and has been reviewed annually, with the latest review in April 2011 (R. Wilkinson and Y. Foulds in litt. 2012). Between 2000 and 2010, ten searches for the species were carried out in south-western China (Wilkinson and He Fenqi 2010b). Searches have taken place in counties bordering Wuyuan, north-east Jiangxi, and G. c. simaoensis has been searched for in the vicinity of the type locality in southern Yunnan. Awareness and education work was conducted in at least five local schools in summer 2009, establishing a bird monitoring group in each (He Fenqi in litt. 2009), and similar work was conducted in 2010-2011 (HKBWS 2011), as funded by the Ocean Park Conservation Fund.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct further surveys in an attempt to identify the wintering range and any additional breeding sub-populations. Establish formal protection for the species against infrastructure development. Continue education work to raise awareness of the conservation status of this species, particularly in local schools in villages where breeding has been recorded (He Fenqi in litt. 2009).


23 cm. A small laughingthrush. It has a rich blue crown and nape, blue-shaded outer primaries, and an olive-tinged brown back, black mask, yellow throat and belly with a greyish breast-band. Has a white vent, grey proximal portion of the tail with a black distal end tipped with white. Similar spp. none within the species range


Text account compilers
Bird, J., Butchart, S., Taylor, J., Temple, H., Wheatley, H., Martin, R., Symes, A.

Wirth, R., Wilkinson, R., Gardner, L., Foulds, Y., He, F.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2019) Species factsheet: Garrulax courtoisi. Downloaded from on 18/10/2019. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2019) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 18/10/2019.