Justification of Red List Category
This species has been downlisted from Vulnerable following evidence that its population is larger than previously thought and increasing rapidly. It is listed as Near Threatened because it occupies a tiny range and remains susceptible to stochastic events and the impacts of introduced species, such that it could qualify as threatened within one or two generations.
Following a rapid increase, in 2010 the population was estimated to number a maximum of 8,000 individuals, based on the relative abundances of this species and Rodrigues Warbler Acrocephalus rodericanus (C. Jones in litt. 2010, 2013). Considering uncertainties and difficulties inherent in estimating this species's population size, the estimate is put at 4,000-8,000 individuals (C. Jones in litt. 2013, P. Steward in litt. 2013), assumed to include c.2,600-5,400 mature individuals.
Populations have increased in line with the recovery and expansion of native and exotic woodland (C. Jones in litt. 2000, Safford 2001). Surveys in 1999 and 2010 followed the same methods and the comparison of the estimates of 334 (1999) and 804 pairs (2010) gives an average annual growth rate of c.8% (assuming the age structure or proportion of non-breeders remained similar) (P. Steward in litt. 2013). However, it has been noted that previous surveys were conducted in the non-breeding season when the species may be only half as detectable as when breeding, and thus are likely to have underestimated numbers (C. Jones in litt. 2013). Consequently the total population size in 2010 is thought to be much larger than the 1,700 individuals estimated by Norfolk (2010). The population is still increasing as the amount of forest cover increases in area and trees increase in size (C. Jones in litt. 2013).
Foudia flavicans, having once been abundant on Rodrigues, Mauritius, declined drastically to 5-6 pairs in 1968. By April 1983, it had recovered to c.110 birds on the island's northern slopes. Populations have increased in line with the recovery and expansion of native and exotic woodland (C. Jones in litt. 2000, Safford 2001). In 1999, the population was estimated at a minimum of 334 pairs and 911 individuals (Impey 1999, 2002), and maximum of 500 pairs and 1,200 individuals (C. Jones in litt. 2000), but by 2010 the total population had risen extremely rapidly and numbered up to 8,000 individuals (C. Jones in litt. 2013). Considering uncertainties and difficulties in estimating this species's population, the total number of individuals is now estimated at 4,000-8,000 (C. Jones in litt. 2013, P. Steward in litt. 2013).
It occupies most areas of mature canopy, mixed woodland taller than 5 m in height (C. Jones in litt. 2000, Safford 2001). Highest population densities are found in forest of greatest tree height, canopy cover and tree species diversity (Impey et al. 2002). It may preferentially hold territories close to areas of Norfolk Island pine Araucaria cunninghamii, showing high adaptation to some exotic vegetation (Impey 1999), possibly as a result of the destruction and degradation of the native vegetation of the island (Safford 2013). It feeds on insects, spiders, nectar, seeds and some fruit (Cheke 1987). Pairs are territorial year round, breeding opportunistically (Safford 2013). Clutches consist of 2-3 eggs (Safford 2013).
Forest destruction, subsistence farming and the impacts of free-ranging livestock resulted in the complete destruction of native forest such that only scattered individuals of most native trees survived (C. Jones in litt. 2000). Loss of habitat, competition with introduced Madagascar Red Fody F. madagascariensis, cyclones and a severe drought caused a huge decline in the population by the 1970s (C. Jones in litt. 2000, Safford 2001). Black rat Rattus rattus is a predator of eggs and chicks, but F. flavicans has survived alongside it for hundreds of years. Feral cats are potential predators. Competition with F. madagascariensis may be significant when food is in short supply (i.e. droughts and cyclones), and probably restricts F. flavicans to forest habitat. Habitat destruction and degradation are no longer major threats (C. Jones in litt. 2000).
Conservation Actions Underway
Habitat protection and reforestation, spurred primarily by the need for watershed protection, have been key to the recovery of this species, aided by the recent absence of catastrophic cyclones. Much reforestation has involved exotic trees, although native ecosystem rehabilitation has been started at some sites, including the two Nature Reserves, Grande Montagne and Anse Quitor (both 0.1 km2). Sites are fenced to exclude grazing animals and woodcutters, exotic plants removed and native species replanted. There has been an accompanying public awareness campaign. F. flavicans has been bred in captivity, but releases have not been needed (Safford 2001), and there are now no captive birds held (C. Jones in litt. 2000). There is also a watershed protection and reafforestation programme with exotic and native species.
12-13 cm. Small, forest weaver. Yellow head, neck and breast, with orange at front of face. Dark brown back, wings and tail, streaked with buff. Voice Fast chip chip and deeper chuk chuk. Bold, melodious song given by both sexes. Hints Arboreal, sometimes in flocks.
Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Ekstrom, J., McClellan, R., Pilgrim, J., Shutes, S., Symes, A., Taylor, J., Warren, B., Westrip, J.
Steward, P., Jones, C., Tatayah, V.
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Foudia flavicans. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 29/01/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 29/01/2020.