Sri Lanka Blue Magpie Urocissa ornata


Justification of Red List Category
This species has a small and declining range, which is also severely fragmented as a result of the degradation and clearance of humid forest, with a population that is also inferred to be in decline. These factors qualify it as Vulnerable.

Population justification
Extensive surveys in 2004-2006 estimated a total population of 10,181-19,765 individuals. However, the species is a cooperative breeder with a monogamous mating system, so the effective population size and the number of mature individuals may be considerably fewer. Hence we retain a lower estimate of 9,500-19,500 for mature individuals.

Trend justification
The species is suspected to have declined steadily, in line with forest loss in the wet zone of Sri Lanka. However, if the current moratorium on further logging remains in place this decline may slow.

Distribution and population

Urocissa ornata is endemic to Sri Lanka, where it is restricted to the central mountains and foothills of the wet zone. Its population has apparently been declining and becoming more fragmented since the late 19th century. Surveys in 2004-2006 identified the species in 38 forest patches restricted to six main forest complexes: Kanneliya-Dediyagala-Nakiyadeniya - KDN complex, Sinharaja, Delwala, walankanda, Central Highland, Knuckles and Bambarabotuwa (Ratnayake 2008). The combined area of suitable habitat remaining was calculated as 2,025 km2 supporting an estimated 14,000 individuals (Ratnayake 2008).


It is found in tall, undisturbed, primary forest in the hills and adjoining lowlands of the wet zone, from 2,135 m to below 150 m and has occasionally been recorded from disturbed areas.


The main threats are the extensive clearance and degradation of forests, particularly in the wet zone, owing to conversion to agriculture, especially tea plantations (S. Kaotagama in litt. 2007). Logging, fuelwood collection, gem mining, settlement and fire all contribute to forest encroachment, the loss and degradation of riparian forests and fragmentation of remaining forest complexes. Some protected forests continue to be degraded and suffer further fragmentation. Forest die-back in montane areas, perhaps a result of air pollution, is a potential threat. Hunting probably contributed to its historical decline but is unlikely to be a major threat today. There is some evidence to suggest that it is prevented from colonising disturbed areas by high rates of brood-parasitism by the Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopacea. In the hill country, biocides may be contributing to its decline.

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 which has effectively stopped continuous habitat loss in Kanneliya-Dediyagala-Nakiyadeniya - KDN complex and forests remain in the Knuckles massif (S. Kaotagama in litt. 2007). Recent surveys (2004-2006) found the species in a total of 38 designated forest patches. Of those locations, 60% are either within Proposed forest Reserves-PR (42%) or Other State Forests-OSF (18%) categories, which can be vulnerable to encroachment. The remaining 40% of forest patches are within the existing protected area system: viz Forest reserves-FR 26%; National Heritage Wilderness Area -NHWA 3%; National Parks-NP 3%; Sanctuary-S 5%; Strict Nature Reserves- SNR 3% (S. Kaotagama in litt. 2007, Ratnayake 2008).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Research its ecology, particularly brood-parasitism by E. scolopacea, and continue on-going work to determine demographic, habitat and other factors that affect population viability. Encourage protection of important areas of forest holding this and other threatened species, including proposals to designate conservation forests, and ensure their effective management. Maintain the current ban on logging of wet zone forests, with a particular aim to maintain forest corridors that facilitate movement of the species between forest fragments. Promote programmes to create awareness of the value of biological resources amongst local communities.


42-47 cm. Boldly patterned, blue and chestnut magpie. Red bill, eye-ring, legs and feet, chestnut head, breast and flight feathers, blue body, and long, white-tipped, blue tail. Juvenile is duller, with brown eye-ring and grey wash to blue body, especially on underparts. Voice Very varied, including a far-carrying, loud jingle, chink-chink, a rasping crakrakrakrak and a loud whee-whee.


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

Kotagama, S.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Species factsheet: Urocissa ornata. Downloaded from on 08/12/2021. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2021) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 08/12/2021.