Tawitawi Brown-dove Phapitreron cinereiceps


Justification of Red List Category
This species probably has a very small population and has presumably undergone a very rapid population reduction based on a decline in the extent of its forest habitat, which is now restricted to a few remaining small fragments within a very small range. It is therefore classified as Endangered.

Population justification
The population is estimated to number 250-999 mature individuals based on an assessment of known records, descriptions of abundance and range size. This is consistent with recorded population density estimates for congeners or close relatives with a similar body size, and the fact that only a proportion of the estimated Extent of Occurrence is likely to be occupied. This estimate is equivalent to 375-1,499 individuals in total, rounded here to 350-1,500 individuals.

Trend justification
A very rapid population decline is suspected to have occurred over the last ten years, on the basis of the rate of decline in the extent and quality of forest. This rate of population decline is expected to continue over the next ten years.

Distribution and population

Phapitreron cinereiceps is endemic to the Sulu archipelago in the Philippines, where it is restricted to the island of Tawitawi and adjacent Sanga-sanga (Collar et al. 1999). On Tawitawi, there are recent records from four sites, including Languyan, Lubbuk and Tarawakan. On Sanga-sanga, it was recorded at one site in c.1987, but is almost certainly extinct there as the island retains virtually no forest. It was common at Tarawakan in 1996 and early 2008 (D. Allen in litt. 2008). The Tawitawi population is assumed to be very small, but the species is apparently shy and, as such, may not be as rare as feared. An estimated 250-300 km2 of forest remained on Tawitawi some time prior to 2001, although much of this has been selectively logged (Mallari et al. 2001). The species was heard there regularly in both primary and secondary forest during a field visit in January 2012 (R. Hutchinson in litt. 2012). The rate at which remaining tracts have been cleared for oil-palm plantations is thought to be lower than was feared previously, but it is still presumably being degraded very rapidly.


It inhabits lowland forest, including beach mangroves with mixed primary and secondary growth, and has been noted to be common in very logged forest on Tawitawi (D. Allen in litt. 2008), suggesting a substantial tolerance to habitat degradation. Likewise, during a field visit to Tawitawi in January 2012, the species was heard, and seemed more common in forest edge and secondary forest, compared with primary forest (R. Hutchinson in litt. 2012). It is unlikely to be altitudinally restricted, as the maximum elevation on Tawitawi is c.500 m.


In 1994, remaining primary forest on Tawitawi and adjacent islands was being rapidly cleared, and the remaining areas of forest were highly degraded and recently logged (Mallari et al. 2001). In 1996, there were plans to replace even these with oil-palm plantations. Logging of the few remaining tracts, now confined to rugged, mountainous areas, is likely to be followed by uncontrolled settlement and conversion to agriculture. Illegal logging remains rampant, particularly in the north-eastern part of Tawi-tawi Island in Barangay Himba, Municipality of Tandubas, followed by forest clearance for cassava plantation. Harvesting of poles and boles for fuelwood and stilt-house building are also continuing activities especially in the islands of Simunul and Mantabuan (B. Tabaranza in litt. 2007). A new emerging threat, particularly in the Municipality of Languyan, is mining. Only very small areas of heavily degraded low-stature forest remain on Sanga-sanga. Hunting and trapping remain considerable threats to the species. It appears that environmental laws are not strictly or effectively enforced (B. Tabaranza in litt. 2007).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
Military activity and insurgency continue to present a serious obstacle to general conservation activity in the Sulus. There are no protected areas in the archipelago. A project proposal exists to provide conservation funding for the Tawitawi/Sulu Coastal Area. In 1997, a public awareness campaign focusing on the conservation of terrestrial biodiversity on Tawitawi was initiated. Haribon through the EU-Integrating Forest Conservation with Local Governance in the Philippines (EU-IFCLGP, 2001-5) project and the CEPF-Threatened Species Programme (TSP, 2002-7) initiated some activities in Tawitawi leading to future site-conservation actions. A preliminary bio-physical survey and a participatory appraisal were conducted in the Municipality of Languyan in 2003. A flyer using the results of the survey highlighting the threatened species of birds and other taxa was produced and widely distributed to schools, LGUs and local communities (B. Tabaranza in litt. 2007).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct an intensive survey in remaining forests to identify further key sites. Determine its ecological requirements, particularly tolerance of degraded habitats. Urgently protect remaining forest and any other areas of habitat found to support the species. Incorporate protective measures relevant to the species within conservation funding proposals for the Tawitawi/Sulu Coastal Area, as and where appropriate. Continue and expand environmental awareness programmes in the Sulu archipelago. Encourage the participation of local people in research and conservation actions and provide relevant training.


27 cm. Medium-large, generally brown-coloured dove. Matt grey head merges into purplish-glossed brown hindneck and nape. Rest of upperparts warm, dark olive-brownish. Warm brown underparts, tinged rusty, particularly on belly, becoming brown on vent, with grey undertail-coverts. Similar spp. Dark-eared Brown-dove P. brunneiceps has brown crown, vinous-grey belly, buff vent and undertail-coverts. Possibly confusable with Sulu Bleeding-heart Gallicolumba menagei if seen poorly, and smaller Emerald Dove Chalcophaps indica which has green upperparts and white forehead. Voice Accelerating series of hooting notes sounding like a bouncing ping-pong ball. Hints Most often heard only. Generally encountered solitarily or in pairs.


Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Bird, J., Butchart, S., Lowen, J., Taylor, J., Martin, R

Tabaranza, B., Hutchinson, R., Allen, D.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Species factsheet: Phapitreron cinereiceps. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 07/12/2021. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2021) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 07/12/2021.