Pacific Royal Flycatcher Onychorhynchus occidentalis


Justification of Red List Category
Rapid rates of deforestation have reduced this species's now small and severely fragmented range and population. It therefore qualifies 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
This species is suspected to be declining rapidly, as a consequence of extremely high rates of habitat loss within its range (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001).

Distribution and population

Onychorhynchus occidentalis occurs in west Ecuador (from Esmeraldas south to El Oro) and immediately adjacent north-west Peru (Tumbes), where it is restricted to small, isolated forest patches. It is scarce (J. Hornbuckle in litt. 1999; E. Horstmann in litt. 2000, 2007; Ridgely and Tudor 1994; Ridgely et al. 1998), apparently naturally occurring at low densities. It appears to be on the verge of extinction in most of its range (Parker and Carr 1992).


It occurs in humid and deciduous lowland forest below 600m, with exceptional records as high as 900 m (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001, Schulenberg et al. 2007). At least in the Cerro Blanco area it appears to favour semi-deciduous forest in ravines (E. Horstmann in litt. 2000, 2007), but it has also been recorded in degraded secondary scrub (E. Horstmann in litt. 2000, 2007; Pople et al. 1997). It is possible that it may forage in a wide range of habitats, but is reliant on intact, moister forest during the breeding season (Pople et al. 1997). It forages from the understorey to subcanopy, and is often recorded within low-level mixed-species flocks (Pople et al. 1997). Nests are suspended from branches and vines above shady streams (Ridgely and Tudor 1994), and have been found in January and April, with a juvenile collected in May.


Below 900 m, the rate of deforestation in west Ecuador in 1958-1988 was 57% per decade. It is therefore particularly threatened because it only occurs below c.900 m. Persistent grazing by goats and cattle prevents forest regeneration, and is a serious threat (Clements and Shany 2001; Pople et al. 1997). Rapid habitat loss is ongoing, and will soon remove almost all unprotected forest. Threats also apply to protected areas, with logging occurring in Cordillera de Molleturo Protection Forest (Wege and Long 1995). Machalilla National Park and Tumbes National Reserve are affected by illegal settling and deforestation, livestock-grazing, and habitat clearance by people with land rights. Uncontrolled forest fires started by to clear land for agriculture, or to clear vegetation to kill ticks and improve pastures for grazing, are a major threat in the Cordillera Chongon-Colonche (E. Horstmann in litt. 2000, 2007). It may be able to survive temporarily in degraded forest (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
It occurs in six protected areas: Río Palenque Scientific Centre, Jauneche Biological Reserve Station, Machalilla National Park, Cerro Blanco Protection Forest and Manglares-Churute Ecological Reserve, Ecuador, and Tumbes National Reserve, Peru (Wege and Long 1995), and probably also within Cordillera de Molleturo Protection Forest, Cañar, Ecuador (Wege and Long 1995). The 776 km2 partially forested Chongón-Colonche Protected Forest may support the species, however the reforestation here focuses on non-native and/or commercially valuable trees such as Cedrela odorata and Prosopis juliflora and provides little or no incentive to maintain or enrich existing native forest (E. Horstmann in litt. 2000, 2007). The Pro-Forest Foundation has successfully restored approximately 150 ha of habitat in the Cerro Blanco Protected Forest (E. Horstmann in litt. 2012). The species is included in field identification cards and posters of threatened bird species of the Ecuadorian Dry Tropical Forest, which has been distributed to more than 3,000 school children in the Cerro Blanco buffer zone (E. Horstmann in litt. 2012). Native forest remnants have been identified in six properties and work has begun with landowners to protect ravines with springs, which is the preferred habitat of this species (E. Horstmann in litt. 2012).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Survey areas of known and potential occurrence (Pople et al. 1997). Exclude roaming livestock from known sites (Pople et al. 1997). Prevent further loss and degradation of habitat within protected areas. Map forest within the Cordillera Chongón-Colonche to identify sites for future protection (E. Horstmann in litt. 2000, 2007).


16-16.5 cm. Large-billed flycatcher, with spectacular, but rarely seen, crest. Largely uniform dull brown upperparts, with rufous rump and tail. Whitish throat, with rest of underparts ochraceous-orange. Striking crest is usually left flat, imparting hammerhead shape to head, but when raised is remarkable combination of scarlet, black and blue (yellow replaces red in female). Voice Clear pree-o, reminiscent of a jacamar or manakin.


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

Hornbuckle, J., Horstman, E.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Onychorhynchus occidentalis. Downloaded from on 21/09/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 21/09/2020.