Pale-throated Wren-babbler Spelaeornis kinneari


Justification of Red List Category
This species has a small occupied range, in which it is restricted to fewer than 10 locations, and its habitat is declining as it is cleared to make way for cultivation. The species has been listed as Vulnerable since 2011, until it was downlisted in 2017 to Near Threatened because of the recognition of potential range extensions, and a change to the use of Minimum Convex Polygons for measuring a species’s Extent of Occurrence. The extension of the species’s range appears, however, to have been erroneous as it was assumed that the species occurs throughout the entire Hoang Lien Son range and included an uncertain and now rejected record from Guangxi, China (S. Mahood in litt. 2017). With the removal of areas where the species is not definitely known to occur from the species’s map, the Extent of Occurrence is smaller than previously estimated. Habitat loss and degradation within the species's range is considered to be resulting in continuing declines in Area of Occupancy, area and quality of habitat, as well as population size. The species is therefore classified as Vulnerable.

Population justification
The global population size has not been quantified, but the species is described as locally common, although rare in China (Collar and Robson 2017).

Trend justification
This species's population is suspected to be undergoing a decline owing to on-going deforestation driven largely by the expansion of agriculture.

Distribution and population

Spelaeornis kinneari occurs in the Fan Si Pan Mountains in West Tonkin, Vietnam, and has more recently been found in south-eastern Yunnan and north-western Guanxi, China (Collar and Robson 2017). Tracewski et al. (2016) estimated the maximum Area of Occupancy (calculated as the remaining tree area within the species’s range) to be c.3,009 km2, rounded here to 3,000 km2.


This species inhabits the understorey of broadleaf evergreen forest and overgrown forest gaps at 1,600-2,500 m in Vietnam, with probable records at 1,400-1,600 m in China (Collar and Robson 2017). Its diet is unknown, but the species forages close to the ground like its congeners and it probably feeds on small invertebrates (Collar and Robson 2017).


The main threat to this species is deforestation, which is driven in large part by the expansion of agriculture, with a particular threat coming from the spread of intensive cardamom cultivation (J. Pilgrim in litt. 2011), which the species may not tolerate. Cardamom growing in north-western Vietnam has increased markedly during the last decade (J. Pilgrim in litt. 2011). Fan Si Pan is currently being heavily impacted by development for tourism, both on site with the development of a cable car, and nearby with recreational facilities and hotels (J. Pilgrim in litt. 2016).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
It occurs in Hoang Lien National Park (Vietnam) and may occur in Cenwanglaoshan Nature Reserve (China) (Collar and Robson 2017), with a potential record from Pia Oac Nature Reserve (Vietnam) (T. Kompier in litt. 2016). No targeted actions are known.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Carry out surveys at known sites to obtain a total population estimate. Search for the species at new sites. Monitor land-use changes in the species's range. Increase the area of suitable habitat in its range that has protected status.


11-12 cm. A small dark wren-babbler with a pale throat. The male is dark bronze-brown with black scaling above, becoming plainer and more deep ochrous-brown on its fluffy rump feathers. The upperwing and tail are dark brown with a slight rufous tinge. Head sides dark brownish-grey with vague blackish-brown preocular patch and submoustachial area. Chin and throat dirty white with some faint brown mottling, becoming stronger on the upper breast and changing to deep bronze-grey underparts with blackish scaling and a few white tips; lower flanks plain brown. Iris brown; bill blackish; legs brownish-flesh.


Text account compilers
Hermes, C., Derhé, M., Gilroy, J., Martin, R., Taylor, J., Westrip, J.

Mahood, S., Kompier, T., Pilgrim, J.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Spelaeornis kinneari. Downloaded from on 16/07/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 16/07/2020.