Justification of Red List Category
This species qualifies as Endangered because it is undergoing a very rapid population decline as a result of trapping for the cagebird trade (Collar et al. 1992). Its population is now severely fragmented in much of its historic range, although the recent discovery of a new population in Guyana has resulted in a revision of its overall population size.
A previous estimate of a population in the low thousands in Guyana, based on the observation of 127 individuals, may be too high, with the actual population potentially numbering in the low hundreds (M. Janki in litt. 2005). The Venezuelan population is likely to be 250-1,000 individuals, although there are more optimistic estimates of up to 4,000 birds. The total population is best placed in the band 2,500-9,999 individuals, equating to 1,667-6,666 mature individuals, rounded here to 1,500-7,000 mature individuals.
There is no new quantitative information on population size and trend, but this species's prevalence in the illegal wild bird trade, together with the rarity of sightings in the wild, suggest a very rapid and continuing population decline.
Spinus cucullatus was common in the early 20th century but has become extremely rare in a now fragmented range. It once occurred throughout the foothills of northern Venezuela (15 states), but recent sightings are restricted to just seven states (Rodríguez and Rojas-Suárez 1995, C. J. Sharpe in litt. 2000, Rojas-Suárez et al. 2008). It has disappeared from Trinidad, where it was never anything other than rare, and a small population persists in Norte de Santander, Colombia, where a record in February 2000 (López-Lanús 2000) was apparently the first since 1986. A population in Puerto Rico (to USA), derived from escaped cage-birds, has undergone a marked decline and there are very few recent records (J. Clinton-Eitniear in litt. 2000, R. Perez Rivera per J. Clinton-Eitniear in litt. 2000). In 2000, a new population was discovered in southwestern Guyana, c.950 km from the nearest Venezuelan locality, is estimated to number in the low hundreds to low thousands (Robbins et al. 2003, Janki, M. in litt. 2005). The remaining population elsewhere has been estimated in the high hundreds or low thousands, but the paucity of recent records indicates that this may be an overestimate. In Venezuela its distribution and population are estimated to be less than 20% of the original sizes (Rojas-Suárez et al. 2008).
It is found between 100-1,500 m (Rojas-Suárez et al. 2008), moving semi-nomadically and altitudinally (seasonally and daily) between moist evergreen forest, dry deciduous woodland and associated edge habitats, shrubby grassland and pastures. The main breeding period is from April to early June, with a secondary period in November and December. The nest is placed in clumps of Tillandsia bromeliads in tall trees and, in Guyana, in dense terminal clusters of leaves in the crown of Curatella trees (Robbins et al. 2003). Breeding territories in Guyana were densely packed, apparently due to a superabundance of fruiting mistletoe (Robbins et al. 2003). The diet also includes fruit (e.g. Ficus spp.), flower buds, and seeds of grasses and herbaceous plants (Robbins et al. 2003).
It is subject to enormous, long-term (and since the 1940s, illegal) pressure from trappers, primarily because of its capacity to hybridise with canaries. Although trappers are active in the area of the Guyanese population, they claim that there is no active market for the species (Robbins et al. 2003). Intensive agriculture continues to reduce the extent of available habitat. Captive-breeding programmes are hampered by disease and hybrid stock (J. Clinton-Eitniear in litt. 2000). It is considered nationally Critically Endangered in Venezuela (Sharpe 2008).
Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I. It is legally protected in Venezuela, and has recently been declared legally protected in Guyana. The Environmental Protection Agency in Guyana has designated South Rupununi Conservation Society (SRCS) the lead agency for protection and conservation of the species. SRCS is currently conducting research on red siskins in partnership with members of local communities and undertaking educational work with local schools (SRCS 2008). Much of the known Guyanese range is on a cattle ranch, the managers of which are conservation-minded (Robbins et al. 2003). In Venezuela, it is reputed to have occurred in Guatopo and Terepaima National Parks but there have been no records for many years (J. Clinton-Eitniear in litt. 2000). A planned reintroduction project on Trinidad has been suspended because of disease problems (J. Clinton-Eitniear in litt. 2000). Some education and control programmes undertaken in the past have led to an increase in pressure from trade (Rodríguez and Rojas-Suárez 1995). A captive breeding project exists in the US (American Federation of Aviculture 2003), now run by the National Finch and Softbill Society (NFSS) under the Finch Save Program. The NFSS maintains an on-line database of captive bred birds for for private breeders, and conducts an annual on-line census of private captive breeding stock (P. Hansen in litt. 2012). It has been identified as one of the four highest priority bird species for conservation in Venezuela (Rodríguez et al. 2004). A partnership of public and private institutions has established The Red Siskin Initiative to maintain and restore self-sustaining populations of the species in its natural habitat across its historic range (Red Siskin Initiative 2015), In Guyana, the Red Siskin Initiative is creating a formal system for monitoring and reporting illegal trapping (Red Siskin Initiative 2015). Modern genomic methods are also being used to study important genetic questions and develop methods for managing captive populations (Red Siskin Initiative 2015).
10 cm. Small, red-and-black finch. Male red with black head, bib and tail. Black wings with broad red bar across flight feathers. Female mainly brown, but more dusky on wings and tail. Red rump, wing-bars and primary bases. Red wash to flanks, but otherwise greyish below. Voice Song a twittering series of trills and chatters. Raspy jut-jut call.
Text account compilers
Sharpe, C.J., Gilroy, J., Wheatley, H., Pople, R., Harding, M.
Hansen, P., Sharpe, C J, Clinton Eitniear, J.
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Spinus cucullatus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 22/03/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 22/03/2023.