Yellow-headed Brush-finch Atlapetes flaviceps


Justification of Red List category
This species has a relatively small population. Based on low rates of forest loss however, the species is suspected to be undergoing a slow decline. It has therefore been downlisted to Near Threatened.

Population justification
Previously, the population was estimated to number 250-999 mature individuals. Whilst this is now considered a significant underestimate, the scale of occupancy is recently known to vary with elevation (Escudero-Páez et al. 2018). Higher population densities have as a result been estimated at 80.3 individuals/km2. Assuming that the species occurs in only parts of its mapped range, the population size could therefore number over 300,000 individuals. However, it is likely that this may be overestimated. Earlier estimates produced by intensive methods over two sites (Bibby et al. 2000; ProAves 2004 per Fundación ProAves in litt. 2020), also recorded between 5.1-5.5 individuals/km2 and 5.7-10.0 individuals/km2. Using an average of 6.5 individuals/km2 therefore suggests that the population numbers 25,000 individuals, roughly equating to 17,000 mature individuals. Given the uncertainty in methodology used in observations however, using a more conservative approach, the population may be placed in the band of 10,000-19,999 mature individuals.

Trend justification
Forest loss over a 10-year period was estimated at c. 11.2% (Renjifo et al. 2014). Given that the species readily occupies secondary vegetation and degraded habitats, the rate of population decline may not significantly exceed the rate of forest loss. However, as it may depend on some level of primary forests, the species is thought to be undergoing a slower, suspected decline approaching 10% over its 3-generation period.

Distribution and population

Atlapetes flaviceps is an endemic species of Colombia. It was previously considered to occur on few known localities on both slopes of the Central Andes, but was recently found on the Western Andes (M. Gonzalez-Rojas in litt. 2020). Across the Western Andes, it has been recorded in Serranía de Pichindé, Farallones de Cali (Valle del Cauca), and Santuario, Risaralda (Calderón-Franco et al. 2012; López-Ordóñez et al. 2013). It has been recorded once in the La Plata Vieja valley, Huila, in 1967. The type-series was collected in Toche valley, Tolima, where it is still locally common (P. G. W. Salaman in litt. 1999). It occurs in the Colombian departments of Tolima, Risaralda, Valle del Cauca, Caldas, and Antioquia (Escudero-Páez et al. 2018). It is now considered more widespread, with dozens of locations and over 700 sightings within the last 10 year period (P. G. W. Salaman in litt. 2020). Higher abundance has been recorded in the Planadas, Roncesvalles, and Ibagué regions of Tolima, with new confirmations of additional locations suggesting that the species could occur to the south of known sites in Planadas and Chaparral (Tolima) and to the north of Riosucio in Caldas (Escudero-Páez et al. 2018). Increased observations is likely due to an increase in bird watching and ornithological activities within the species's range, improving site knowledge of species that were previously considered rare and localised (Cortés et al. 2020). 


In Toche valley, Tolima, it seems to have adapted well to transformed and degraded forest, thick secondary vegetation (especially where vines and remnant forest trees are present, found mostly in forest edges that borders between fields and fragments of natural vegetation) and bushy, overgrown bean-fields at 1,550-2,700 m, but may occur as low as 1,200 m (P. G. W. Salaman in litt. 1999; Ayerbe 2018; Escudero-Páez et al. 2018). The species is also found in crop areas with shade-grown coffee. It may also occur in major urban areas (Fundación ProAves in litt. 2020). The species may however still require the presence of forests within its range (Y. G. Molina-Martínez in Renjifo et al. 2014). An active nest has been found in May (Molina-Martínez 2014). Observations have been made of a juvenile with parents in June, adults collecting nesting material in October (P. G. W. Salaman in litt. 1999), and immature birds in November (Jaramillo and Sharpe 2020). It feeds on insects, small fruits, and seeds (Escudero-Páez et al. 2018). 


Parts of the upper Magdalena valley have been converted to agricultural land since the 18th century (Stiles et al. 1999). However, when the type-series was collected, the higher valleys of the Toche area, Tolima, were heavily forested. Since the 1950s, much of the original habitat in these valleys has been cleared and used for agriculture, including coffee plantations, potatoes, beans and cattle-grazing (P. G. W. Salaman in litt. 1999; López-Lanús et al. 2000). Mature secondary forest patches are scattered, and natural vegetation cover is judged to have been reduced to c.15% at elevations of 1,900-3,200 m, most of it occurring above 2,200 m (P. G. W. Salaman in litt. 1999; López-Lanús et al. 2000). Some forest clearance continues in remaining patches (P. G. W. Salaman in litt. 1999; López-Lanús et al. 2000). In this way, its small distribution area, highly affected by the anthropic intervention, and the lack of conservation measures are considered as the main threats of this species (Molina-Martínez 2014). It is estimated that remaining habitat is less than 5,000 km2 (Escudero-Páez et al. 2018). Land use conflict may also create displacement of the species. 

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
Formerly considered Endangered at the national level in Colombia (Renjifo et al. 2002), in the light of new records from the Western Andes, it has recently been downlisted to Vulnerable (Renjifo et al. 2014; Jaramillo and Sharpe 2020). Found within four national parks: Las Hermosas, Los Nevados, Nevado del Huila and Puracé (Molina-Martínez 2014). 13 areas across the Colombian National Protected Areas System additionally overlaps with the species's range (Escudero-Páez et al. 2018). 19.2% of remaining habitat is additionally considered to be within protected areas, with 132 private reserves present across the species's range. It is also present in six Important Bird Area's, with four in Tolima alone (Ibanazca, Cañon del río Combeima, Reservas Comunitarias de Roncesvalles, and Cuenca del río San Miguel), and in two Special Management Districts in Risaralda (Escudero-Páez et al. 2018). Action for Yellow-eared Parrot Ognorhynchus icterotis has increased public awareness and community involvement in conservation issues in the Río Toche area (Salaman et al. 1999), which should also help A. flaviceps. A conservation plan was designated in 2018.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Survey potential habitat in the upper Magdalena valley, the La Plata Vieja valley and intervening areas. Determine the extent of dependence on secondary vegetation, and sensitivity to vegetational succession and habitat destruction (Renjifo et al. 2002). Increase the area of suitable habitat that has protected status. Research on the reproductive needs would be beneficial (Escudero-Páez et al. 2018). As devised on the recent inclusion of the species in a designated conservation plan, strategies proposed include allowing protection of the species and strengthening of local agriculture in coordination, maintaining the population in the three priority areas of the Tolima department, supporting initiatives that enable socio-econonic change in adopting diverse agroforestry schemes, strengthening the partnership between various stakeholders, and reducing habitat and hunting pressures through education programmes (Escudero-Páez et al. 2018).


17 cm. Olive-and-yellow understorey passerine. Mainly yellow head with conspicuous yellow lores, eye-ring and faint supercilium, dark olive upperparts, yellow underparts. There is unexplained variability in the amount of yellow on head. Similar spp. Immature Dusky-headed Brush-finch A. fuscoolivaceus has no yellow on head. Voice High pitch hoarse squeaky notes followed by a flourish of faster notes.


Text account compilers
Fernando, E.

Botero-Delgadillo, E., Fundación ProAves, Gonzalez-Rojas, M., Isherwood, I., Lara, S., Pople, R., Salaman, P.G.W., Sharpe, C.J., Stuart, T. & Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Atlapetes flaviceps. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/yellow-headed-brush-finch-atlapetes-flaviceps on 30/09/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org on 30/09/2023.