Royal Cinclodes Cinclodes aricomae


Justification of Red List Category
This species qualifies as Critically Endangered because its extremely small population is restricted to a severely fragmented and rapidly declining habitat, from which equivalent declines in population size are likely. Furthermore, all subpopulations are thought to be tiny.

Population justification
A range-wide conservation plan for the species that was being drafted in 2010 estimates the total population at 231-281 individuals (D. Lebbin in litt. 2010), thus there are likely to be fewer than 250 mature individuals.

Trend justification
The species is suspected to be rapidly declining owing to the loss of Polylepis forest as well as burning and grazing which cause degradation and loss of understorey moss and prevent regeneration.

Distribution and population

Cinclodes aricomae occurs in the Andes of south-eastern Peru (Cuzco, Apurímac, Puno, Ayacucho and Junín) and adjacent La Paz, Bolivia (C. Aucca Chutas in litt. 2012). Historically, it was probably common, at least locally, and distributed along the entire Cordillera Real. Its scarce and patchy habitat now occupies c. 10% of the estimated potential cover in Bolivia, and possibly less than 3% in large parts of Cuzco (Fjeldså and Kessler 1996), where natural habitat halved in extent during the 1980s. The majority of Peruvian records are from near Cuzco city, in Cuzco and Apurímac (Fjeldså and Kessler 1996), including the Cordillera Vilcanota (H. Lloyd in litt. 2004), with numbers estimated at 100-150 individuals in 1990 (Fjeldså and Krabbe 1990). It was recently recorded in the Pariahuanca Valley, Junín, a significant northwesterly extension (D. Lane in litt. 2008, Witt and Lane 2009) and in 2012 it was recorded in the Área de Conservación Regional Huaytapallana, Junín (Aucca et al. 2015). Surveys in three river valleys of the Cordillera Vilcanota in 2003-2005 confirmed the species's presence at only one of ten sites visited and estimated just two birds in 1.71 km2 of Polylepis habitat (Lloyd 2008). A record in 1997, in the Cordillera Apolobamba, La Paz (Valqui 2000), was the first in Bolivia since 1876, but it has since been recorded in the Ilampu Valley in 2000 (Vogel and Davis 2002) and near Sanja Pampa in 2003 (I. Gomez in litt. 2003, 2008, 2009), and subsequent surveys have found it at 14 localities in the country (J. Mobley in litt. 2010): eight in the Cordillera Apolobamba and six in the Cordillera la Paz, with the Bolivian population estimated at 50-100 individuals (D. Lebbin in litt. 2010, J. Mobley in litt. 2010, Gómez et al. 2011). High-resolution satellite imagery has also allowed for the identification of further areas of Polylepis habitat, which can contain this species (e.g. Benham et al. 2011). An international conservation plan for the species that was being drafted in 2010 estimates the population in Peru at 181 individuals, suggesting a total population of 231-281 individuals (D. Lebbin in litt. 2010).


It was thought to be confined to tiny, humid patches of Polylepis woodland and montane scrub, mainly at 3,500-4,800 m (Parker et al. 1996), but has recently been recorded in Gynoxis woodland in Junín (D. Lane in litt. 2008). Its patchy distribution may result from a requirement for high altitude forests below glaciers (D. Lane in litt. 2013). However the 2012 discovery in the Área de Conservacíon Regional Huaytapallana, Junín was not in Polylepis or Gynoxys habitat and had limited tree cover (Aucca et al. 2015). Instead the species was observed foraging on moss-covered boulders, however it is not known whether the species breeds successfully in this habitat; and the species has been observed to move through and feed in non-forest habitat (Benham et al. 2011). It forages, presumably for invertebrates, in moss, leaf-litter and decaying wood, descending temporarily to lower elevations during periods of snow (Engblom et al. 2002). The breeding season probably begins in December but, in the Cordillera Vilcanota, pairs are territorial during the austral winter (G. Servat in litt. 1999), and have been seen carrying nesting material into a hole in a cliff face in September (H. Lloyd in litt. 2004). In Bolivia, one individual was seen carrying nesting material and an active nest was observed in November (J. Mobley in litt. 2010), and fledglings and juveniles have been observed in January and March (I. Gomez in litt. 2003, 2008, 2009;  J. Mobley in litt. 2010). A study of one nesting pair suggested that the care of juveniles is biparental (I. Gomez in litt. 2003, 2008, 2009).


The main threats are the uncontrolled use of fire and heavy grazing, which combine to cause the degradation and loss of understorey moss cover, and prevent Polylepis regeneration (Fjeldså and Kessler 1996). Cutting for timber, firewood and charcoal is locally destructive. Afforestation with exotic species, burning vegetation to generate new pasture and trampling of vegetation and littering by visitors are all threats in Huaytapallana where the species was recently discovered (Aucca et al. 2015). As a high altitude species it may also be vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
Local successes include the Runtacocha Highland near Cuzco, where local people are reacting positively towards better environmental control. High-altitude habitats have been surveyed and conservation measures proposed (Fjeldså and Kessler 1996). The 1997 Bolivian record was within Madidi National Park, but Polylepis is threatened at the site (Valqui 2000). The Ilampu Valley is in the south-west corner of Cotapata National Park (Vogel and Davis 2002). Since 2004, there has been a Polylepis conservation programme working with local communities at the known sites for Royal Cinclodes. The project began with detailed mapping of Polylepis forest and key biodiversity areas within the nearly 250,000 ha of land owned by the Keara and Puina indigenous communities, and is now working to protect the forests in this area by implementing community-based conservation activities, including the establishment of communal greenhouses, plantations of native tree species for alternative firewood, and environmental education workshops in local schools and communities (I. Gomez in litt. 2003, 2008, 2009); and providing more than 400 people with new technologies, such as fuel-efficient stoves that dramatically reduce the demand for Polylepis trees as firewood (ABC 2007). This work includes efforts by the Instituto de Ecología, with the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) providing support (B. Skolnik in litt. 2010). In Bolivia, research has been carried out to assess the feasibility of long-term Polylepis reforestation through studies into the germination and growth rate of P. pepei and the use of dendrochronology to date the frequency of destructive fires. As a result of this research, reforestation nurseries have been started ready for replanting. Work in local communities has involved sustainable income development through the support of textile trading and development of tourism infrastructure, along with improved medical provision (MacLeod 2009).

As part of BirdLife's Preventing Extinctions Programme a number of actions are being implemented through Species Guardian Isabel Gómez (Asociación Armonía: BirdLife in Bolivia): research on the species's status and distribution has been carried out, including collating all known published and unpublished records as well as spatial modelling and on-the-ground surveys, followed by a second phase of fieldwork to study the species's reproductive biology, territory size, habitat use and movements; a socioeconomic study has been carried out for two local communities; a National Strategy for conservation of Polylepis forest has been developed; a workshop to determine human impacts on Polylepis forests and formulate the possible solutions at the regional level was held which involved the Vice-ministry of Biodiversity, Forestry Resources and Environment as well as members of local communities; and environmental education workshops have been held in three local schools to raise awareness of the birds that live in the Polylepis forest and importance of their conservation. Much of the work carried out in Bolivia between 2004 and 2009 was implemented in conjunction with the Threatened Birds of Bolivia Project, run in partnership by Asociación Armonía and the University of Glasgow (MacLeod 2009). In the Cordillera Vilcanota (Peru), ECOAN, with the support of the ABC, has established nine private reserves on community-owned land totalling over 3,600 ha (D. Lebbin in litt. 2010, C. Aucca Chutas in litt. 2012). In addition, since 2004, fencing has been put in place to protect Polylepis saplings from grazing cattle, and reforestation efforts have so far seen the planting of over 480,000 Polylepis trees and over 150,000 trees of other species since 2002, with some of the latter planted as alternative fuelwood resources. Almost 6,000 fuel-efficient ovens were supplied to 20 communities between 2002 and 2008. Further work has been carried out with local communities to improve people's health and encourage sustainable livelihoods through tourism, textile trading and improved livestock and pasture management. In 2010, a range-wide conservation plan for the species was being developed (D. Lebbin in litt. 2010). ABC and ECOAN were planning improved monitoring efforts in 2013 to collect better information on populations (D. Lebbin in litt. 2013).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Continue to survey remaining habitat in the relatively inaccessible Cordillera Vilcanota, to determine the species's distribution and investigate its ecology (Fjeldså and Kessler 1996, G. Servat in litt. 1999). Implement further surveys in the Área de Conservacíon Regional Huaytapallana, Junín to assess the species's status (Aucca et al. 2015). Protect Yanacocha Forest and other Polylepis habitat in the Cordillera Vilcanota (G. Servat in litt. 1999). In the Cordillera Vilcanota, prioritise habitat restoration efforts at five localities - Mantanay, Pumahuanca, Abra Málaga, Yanacocha and Cancha-Cancha. Habitat restoration strategies should focus on patch size maintenance/enlargement, enhancement of within-patch habitat quality, and efforts to safeguard connectivity of suitable habitat. Management of habitat quality in remnant patches should focus on maintaining necessary conditions for resource partitioning amongst insectivorous guilds, which dominate the threatened Polylepis bird community. Improve traditional land-use management by segregating agricultural, grazing and forest areas. Expand Polylepis planting programmes and plant buffer zones below Polylepis woodland to provide an alternative firewood source. Evaluate conservation problems and socioeconomic issues. Encourage local people to develop land-use management and restoration schemes (Fjeldså and Kessler 1996). Establish private nature reserves in key sites. Encourage creation and participation of PES (Payment for Environmental Systems) schemes with local hotel owners/tour companies in Yanahuara/Urubamba. Encourage investment from a private company to finance a local sustainability programme (C. Aucca Chutas in litt. 2012).


20 cm. Dark, large-billed furnariid. Dark chocolate-brown above, darker on crown. Narrow, buffy superciliary. Dark, dusky tail with outer rectrices tipped pale. Buffy-white throat extending over sides of neck, slightly mottled. Rest of underparts grey-brown with buffy-white mottling and shafting on breast and flanks. Dark wings with prominent rufous edging, forming wing-bar in flight. Large dark bill slightly decurved at tip. Similar spp. Smaller Bar-winged Cinclodes C. fuscus has much thinner bill. Similar to disjunct Stout-billed Cinclodes C. excelsior. Voice Rough, high-pitched trills. Other raspy calls and nasal kiu or kee reported.


Text account compilers
Pople, R., Westrip, J., Ashpole, J, Sharpe, C.J., Stuart, T., Symes, A., Capper, D., Isherwood, I., Taylor, J., Bird, J., Calvert, R., Khwaja, N.

Angulo Pratolongo, F., Arnal, H., Aucca Chutas, C., Barrio, J., Gomez, I., Hennessey, A.B., Lane, D., Lebbin, D., Lloyd, H., Mobley, J., Servat, G. & Skolnik, B.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Cinclodes aricomae. Downloaded from on 22/05/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 22/05/2022.