Red-faced Malkoha Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus


Justification of Red List Category
This species qualifies as Vulnerable because it has a small, declining population as a result of loss and degradation of its forest habitat.

Population justification
The population has been considered unlikely to number more than a few thousand individuals based on available records and survey results, and so it is retained in the band 2,500-9,999 mature individuals. This equates to 3,750-14,999 individuals, rounded here to 3,500-15,000 individuals. A recent estimate though suggests the population size may now be no greater than several hundred individuals.

Trend justification
The species is believed to be declining, owing to the on-going loss of forest habitat within its range.

Distribution and population

Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus is endemic to Sri Lanka, primarily occurring in the wet zone of the south-west of the island and locally in the dry zone. The majority of records come from Wasgomua, Yala, Udawalawa, Galoya and Lahugala forests (Kaluthota 2007). There are unconfirmed records from Tamil Nadu, India. Historical records suggest it was widespread at the end of the 19th century, but its population has since declined, become increasingly fragmented and numbers are now no more than a few thousand individuals, perhaps as low as several hundred.


It is mainly confined to undisturbed, tall, humid lowland forest with dense, tangled undergrowth, although there are scattered populations in dry zone riverine forest. Most records are from below 920 m, although it has been recorded up to 1,540 m. It forages solitarily or frequently in mixed-species flocks, usually in the canopy. Its diet consists primarily of invertebrates (Salgado 2006), but also includes fruit and berries. Breeding has been recorded from January-May, but it may also breed from August-September. Nests are placed on high bushes in the dense forest undergrowth. It may make seasonal altitudinal movements.


The main threat is the extensive clearance and degradation of forests, particularly in the wet zone, through logging, fuelwood collection, conversion to agriculture and tree plantations, gem mining, settlement and fire. As a primarily canopy-dwelling species, it has been particularly badly affected by selective logging. Some protected forests continue to be degraded and suffer further fragmentation. Historically, hunting was possibly a threat but it is unlikely to be a serious problem today.

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
It is legally protected in Sri Lanka. A moratorium was passed in 1990 to protect wet zone forests from logging, but encroachment continues. It occurs in several national parks and forest reserves, most notably Sinharaja National Heritage Wilderness Area, Gal-Oya National Park, Senanayake Samudra Sanctuary, Uda Walawe National Park and Peak Wilderness Sanctuary. A survey of the biodiversity of 200 forest sites was carried out in 1991-1996.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct a comprehensive survey in order to produce management recommendations for this species in conservation forests and other protected areas. Encourage protection of remaining important areas of forest holding this and other threatened species, including proposals to designate conservation forests, and ensure their effective management. Research its ecology, particularly its habitat requirements and possible seasonal movements. Maintain the current ban on the logging of wet zone forests. Promote programmes to create awareness of the value of biological resources amongst local communities.


46 cm. Unmistakable malkoha with extensive red facial skin and whitish underparts, with black lower throat and upper breast. Juveniles are duller with more restricted and duller red facial skin. Voice Occasional short, yelping whistles, low kra and hollow kok.


Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Bird, J., Crosby, M., Derhé, M., Peet, N.

de Silva Wijeyeratne, G.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus. Downloaded from on 22/03/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 22/03/2023.