Shelley's Crimsonwing Cryptospiza shelleyi


Justification of Red List Category
This rare species has shown population declines at least locally in the past, for reasons unknown, but possibly related to ongoing deforestation and forest degradation throughout its range. It is therefore likely to have a small, severely fragmented and declining population, and is considered Endangered.

Population justification
It is generally rare (Butynski et al. 1997), and reporting rates have been dropping (S. Cichon, M. McQuillan and E. Meyjes in litt. 2016). Its population size had previously been estimated to be in the range of 2,500-4,999 mature individuals, but given the decline in reporting rate and a lack of recent sightings this is now likely to be an overestimate (S. Cichon, M. McQuillan and E. Meyjes in litt. 2016). Therefore, the population size is precautionarily suspected to fall in the range of 1,000-2,500 mature individuals with no subpopulation containing >250 mature individuals.

Trend justification
The species's population is suspected to be declining in line with the clearance and degradation of forest within its range, although the likely rate of decline has not been estimated.

Distribution and population

Cryptospiza shelleyi is known from many parts of the mountains of the Albertine Rift, including the Itombwe Mountains, Kahuzi-Biéga National Park and mountains west of Lake Kivu in Democratic Republic of Congo, Nyungwe, Gishwati, Makwa and Mukura Forests in Rwanda, Bururi Forest and elsewhere in Burundi, the Rwenzori Mountains (with records at 1960m and 3400m [Willard et al. 1998]) and Bwindi (Impenetrable) Forest in Uganda, as well as the Virunga Mountains (2,200-3,000 m) on the border between DRC, Rwanda and Uganda. It is generally rare (Butynski et al. 1997). In Uganda, the species has only been encountered rarely during recent surveys (A. Plumptre in litt. 2007, D. Pomeroy in litt 2007), possibly because it is much rarer than previously thought, or perhaps because it is very difficult to locate (A. Plumptre in litt. 2007). Surveys targeted specifically at mist-netting crimson-wings in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in 2009-2010 failed to locate the species (Krüger and du Toit 2010), however in August 2010 there were reports of up to four birds seen on two days by local bird guides leading visitors in the Ruhija sector of Bwindi (http://bwindiresearchers.wildlifedirect.org/2010/11/18/rare-shelleys-crimsonwing-was-spotted-in-ruhija/). Between the late 1970s and the early 1990s it may have suffered population declines locally (Catterall 1992), and reporting rates are continuing to decline (S. Cichon, M. McQuillan and E. Meyjes in litt. 2016), although it is not a well-known species and there are few baseline data (F. Dowsett-Lemaire in litt. 2000).


It inhabits the understorey of closed-canopy moist forest, often in lush valley bottoms near water, as well as low secondary growth at forest edges, forest clearings and glades dominated by large herbs, bamboo thickets and the upper forest/moorland ecotone.


Any decline in the species's population is most likely related to deforestation and forest degradation (Catterall 1992), which are prevalent throughout its range, both for agriculture and for timber, and have increased recently as a result of war. Forest in the Itombwe Mountains and Kahuzi-Biéga National Park is under increasing pressure from pastoralists, farmers, pit-sawyers, miners and hunters (Hall et al. 1998, Omari et al. 1999). Thousands of refugees from Burundi and Rwanda live in camps at the base of Itombwe's eastern escarpment and to the north (Hall et al. 1998, Omari et al. 1999). Clearance of forest for agriculture has increased dramatically in the past few years as maize crops have failed, causing famine (Butynski et al. 1997). There is also some localised forest loss in Itombwe as a result of gold-mining (R. Beyers in litt. 1993). In contrast, reports suggest that there has been been very little encroachment at Nyungwe in recent years, due to the conflict-related emigration of local people (F. Dowsett-Lemaire in litt. 2000).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
The species occurs in protected areas in part of its range, including the Virunga National Park in the DRC, Nyungwe Forest Reserve in Rwanda, and Rwenzori Mountains National Park and Bwindi-Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. A research project on crimson-wings, including this species, was performed between 2009 and 2010 (Krüger and du Toit 2010). Further planned fieldwork in Bwindi, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Rwenzori Mountains National Park, has not taken place due to a lack of funding (E. Meyjes in litt. 2011, 2016).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct surveys to estimate the population size. Carry out regular surveys to monitor population trends. Investigate declines or fluctuations in the population, in order to assess threats. Survey and monitor the extent of habitat. Increase the area of suitable habitat that has protected status.


13 cm. Brightly-coloured terrestrial finch. Male has bright red crown, face and back, with contrasting black wings and tail, and a bright red bill with a white tip. Olive-yellow underparts with warmer tones on flanks and belly. Female drabber with olive head and some red on mantle and rump, and a black bill with a dark red tip (S. Cichon in litt. 2016). Voice Sharp, high-pitched tit tit tit call. Rising and falling series of high-pitched tu tutu ti ti ti.


Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Ekstrom, J., Evans, M., Shutes, S., Symes, A., Taylor, J. & Westrip, J.

Butynski, T.M., Catsis, M., Dowsett-Lemaire, F., Meyjes, E., Plumptre, A., Pomeroy, D., Stevenson, T., Cichon, S. & McQuillan, M.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Cryptospiza shelleyi. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 31/05/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 31/05/2020.