Giant Nuthatch Sitta magna


Justification of Red List Category
This species has been uplisted from Vulnerable because of evidence that its population is smaller than previously thought. It qualifies as Endangered on the basis that it is thought to have a very small population, which is inferred to be in decline owing to the loss and degradation of conifer and mixed forest habitats through logging, fuelwood collection, shifting cultivation and fire.

Population justification
The population was previously estimated to number 2,500-9,999 mature individuals based on an assessment of recent records and surveys by BirdLife International (2001). However, recent evidence implies that the population could be smaller than this. The population in Yunnan, which accounts for the majority of records, has been estimated at 800-2,000 mature individuals, with only 6-50 mature individuals in the largest subpopulation (Han Lianxian in litt. 2012, 2013). The global population is therefore placed in the band for 1,000-2,499 mature individuals, roughly equivalent to 1,500-3,800 individuals in total.

Trend justification
A moderate and on-going population decline is suspected to be occurring, owing to on-going habitat loss and degradation across the species's range.

Distribution and population

Sitta magna is endemic to the mountains of south-western China, central and eastern Myanmar and north-western Thailand. The majority of records are from Yunnan (China), with only two known localities in Myanmar, both of which are thought to have lost the species in the last 20 years, and nine known localities in Thailand, at which it is declining. Recent comprehensive surveys in Myanmar's Shan states have been unsuccessful in locating the species (T. Htin Hla in litt. 2012). Speculative searches in Xaignabouli province, Laos, have also been unsuccessful at locating the species or much suitable habitat (J. W. Duckworth in litt. 2013). Recent surveys in Yunnan found the species to be present at low densities in most areas of mature pine forest visited (Anon. 2007), with no sign of any population increase (Lianxian Han in litt. 2013). Fieldwork in Yunnan has led to an estimate of 800-2,000 mature individuals for the province (Han Lianxian in litt. 2013), suggesting that the global population falls in the band for 1,000-2,499 mature individuals. Overall, the population is likely to be declining and becoming increasingly fragmented.


It is resident in mature conifer or open mixed conifer/broadleaf forest, being almost entirely confined to areas with large, mature Pinus kesiya, often with a major component of oak Quercus spp., at 1,000-2,500 m (Han Lianxian in litt. 2012, B. Han in litt. 2013). It is generally found in pairs, usually foraging high in pines, although nests have been found in oaks.


Pine forest habitats are being destroyed or degraded by commercial logging and exploitation for fuelwood and kindling. In Yunnan, although mass logging has been banned in many forest areas, scraping of bark for pine resin and lightwood are known to be causing widespread mortality of mature trees (Anon. 2007). Fragments of pine forest are also increasingly being replaced with eucalyptus plantations (B. Han in litt. 2013). Reforms to laws governing the ownership of forested land in China are expected to increase the threat posed to mature forest (B. Han in litt. 2013). Shifting cultivation has already resulted in the clearance of substantial tracts of suitable habitat and uncontrolled burning poses a significant threat, as conifers are more combustible than other forest trees. Older pines are especially vulnerable to frequent burning. The species has also been recorded for sale in wildlife markets, although this is unlikely to represent a significant threat. A recent four-year drought in Yunnan is thought to have negatively affected the species's breeding success (B. Han in litt. 2013).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
It has been recorded in numerous protected areas, including various nature reserves in China (Han Lianxian in litt. 2012), and Doi Chang Dao Wildlife Sanctuary and Doi Khun Tan National Park, Thailand. A public awareness program, involving leaflets, posters and community outreach, has been initiated in Yunnan (Anon. 2007).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct further surveys to establish its distribution and estimate the total population size. Carry out research to assess the level of threat to the species's habitat. Establish further protected areas around sites supporting healthy populations and ensure pine stands are maintained. Control large-scale logging of commercially valuable pine species on which it depends. Tighten and enforce restrictions on the scraping of mature pine trees for resin and firewood, in order to reduce incidental tree mortality. Continue awareness programmes and promote alternative livelihoods in areas where shifting cultivation and pine-felling are damaging habitat.


19.5 cm. Very large, long-billed nuthatch. Broad, black bands through eye to sides of nape. Pale grey centre of crown, paler than mantle. Chestnut vent marked with white. Female has buff wash below, duller head-bands and duller, less contrastingly pale crown centre. Juvenile resembles female but has narrowly dark-fringed crown feathers, duller head-bands and upperparts and warm brown fringes to greater coverts and tertials. Similar spp. Chestnut-vented Nuthatch S. nagaensis smaller with narrower head-bands and buff wash below. Crown colour matches mantle and buff wash to underparts. Voice Rapidly repeated gd-da-da or dig-er-up, sometimes more melodic kid-der-ku with louder last note, or harsher gu-drr gu-drr gu-drr. Also, trumpet-like naa and clear piping kip.


Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Gilroy, J., Khwaja, N. & Taylor, J.

Han, B., Htin Hla, T., Lianxian, H. & Duckworth, J.W.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Sitta magna. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 15/08/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 15/08/2020.