Plain-tailed Warbling-finch Microspingus alticola


Justification of Red List Category
This species probably has a very small population. Remaining habitat is declining, and all severely fragmented subpopulations are considered to be very small (Collar et al. 1992). As a result, the species is listed as Endangered.

Population justification
The population is estimated to number 1,000-2,499 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 667-1,666 mature individuals, rounded here to 600-1,700 mature individuals.

Trend justification
Recent data on population size and trend are lacking, but on-going active threats imply that population declines are likely to be continuing at a slow rate.

Distribution and population

Poospiza alticola is restricted to the high Andes of north-central Peru (south Cajamarca, east La Libertad and east Ancash), where it is largely rare to uncommon (Clements and Shany 2001). Most reports are from the Cordillera Blanca, Ancash, where it is common at Morococha (G. Servat in litt. 1999, W.-P. Vellinga in litt. 1999) and within Huascarán National Park (Clements and Shany 2001, G. Engblom in litt. 2001). High-altitude woodlands are now highly fragmented and diminishing (Fjeldså and Kessler 1996). Even in apparently optimal habitat, this species usually occurs at low densities (1-4 individuals per day have been recorded at several sites), and the population is probably very small (Frimer and Møller Nielsen 1989).


It occupies shrubby forest and mixed Polylepis-Gynoxys woodland at 3,100-4,600 m (Schulenberg et al. 2007), rarely to 2,900 m (Clements and Shany 2001), and in some areas it is apparently a Gynoxys (Compositae) specialist, or even dependent on the plant (G. Servat in litt. 1999). The species's abundance is apparently not related to forest extent (G. Servat in litt. 1999), nor to the abundance of Tit-like Dacnis Xenodacnis parina, an apparent competitor. It feeds on sugary secretions (although this is disputed [G. Servat in litt. 1999]) and insects from the undersides of Gynoxys leaves (Fjeldså and Kessler 1996, G. Servat in litt. 1999), and from Polylepis and Alnus (G. Servat in litt. 1999). Breeding probably occurs in December-February.


Cutting for firewood and a lack of regeneration, caused by burning and intensive grazing, are reducing mixed Polylepis-Gynoxys woodlands (Fjeldså and Kessler 1996). Gynoxys itself has been variously described as unpalatable, favoured for grazing (Fjeldså and Kessler 1996), and particularly vulnerable to grazing of shoots, which prevents regeneration (G. Servat in litt. 1999). Other factors include the change from camelid- to sheep- and cattle-farming, and erosion and soil degradation caused by agricultural intensification, road construction and the inadequacy of afforestation projects (particularly the use of exotic tree species) (Fjeldså and Kessler 1996).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
High-altitude forests have been surveyed and conservation measures taken (Fjeldså and Kessler 1996), although they have yet to deliver any benefits to the species (H. Lloyd in litt. 2007). It occurs in Huascarán National Park, Ancash, but habitat degradation continues, even within this reserve (Frimer and Møller Nielsen 1989, Fjeldså and Kessler 1996).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Survey to determine its distribution and population size (Fjeldså and Kessler 1996, G. Servat in litt. 1999), especially on the east slope of the Cordillera Blanca (W.-P. Vellinga in litt. 1999). Survey the extent and degree of isolation/connectivity of Polylepis-Gynoxys in north-central Peru, and determine the effect of fragmentation on this species (Fjeldså and Kessler 1996, G. Servat in litt. 1999). Improve and clarify the management plan for Huascarán National Park (Frimer and Møller Nielsen 1989, Fjeldså and Kessler 1996, H. Lloyd in litt. 2007). Encourage local people to take a leading role in land-use management and restoration schemes (Fjeldså and Kessler 1996, G. Servat in litt. 1999).


15.5 cm. Grey-and-rufous finch. Dark slaty head with long eyebrow and white moustache. Whiter throat and underparts, with rufous sides of breast becoming cinnamon on sides of belly and crissum. Grey-brown upperparts. Duskier wings and tail. Pale edging to wing-coverts and flight feathers. Juvenile dusky upperparts, throat and breast. Less rufous underparts. Similar spp. Chestnut-breasted Mountain-finch P. caesar has rufous breast. Voice A high pitch harsh cheet-weet cheet-weet.


Text account compilers
Gilroy, J., Pople, R., Sharpe, C J

Vellinga, W., Servat, G., Lloyd, H., Engblom, G.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Species factsheet: Microspingus alticola. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 06/12/2021. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2021) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 06/12/2021.