Cabot’s tragopan (Tragopan caboti)

Also known as: Chinese tragopan, Yellow-bellied tragopan
Synonyms: Ceriornis caboti
  
Spanish: Tragopán Arlequín, Tragopán Chino, Tragopán de Cabot
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderGalliformes
FamilyPhasianidae
GenusTragopan (1)
SizeMale size: c. 61 cm (2)
Female size: c. 50 cm (2)
Male weight: c. 1.4 kg (2)
Female weight: c. 0.9 kg (2)

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

The male of this species is unmistakable, being by far the palest of all tragopans, and the only one with a straw-buff coloured breast and underparts, earning it the alternative common name of yellow-bellied tragopan (2). The upper body is mostly a rich reddish-brown, heavily spotted with buff (4), and the head is blackish except for orange-red patches on the crest and sides of the neck, and conspicuous bare orange facial skin (5). Like other tragopans, males have a brilliant blue and red inflatable lappet hanging from the throat and two fleshy blue ‘horns’ above the eyes, which become expanded and erect during courtship (4). The less-colourful female is mottled black and rufous-brown above, with whitish triangular markings, and greyish-brown below, with large white marks (5).

Known from many widely scattered localities in the mountain ranges of south-east China (4).

Occurs in subtropical, evergreen broadleaf forest and mixed deciduous-coniferous forest between 600 and 1,800 metres above sea level, as well as in open areas above the treeline (4). Particularly found in areas with undergrowth, mountain stream sides, slopes, terraces and damp places under cliffs (6). Cabot’s tragopan’s distribution is also closely tied to the distribution of the tree Daphniphyllum macropodum, which is often used for roosting, and also as a food source (4).

Like most other tragopans, Cabot’s tragopan primarily forages on the forest floor for ferns, roots of herbaceous plants, stems, leaves, buds, flowers, seeds and fruit, and occasionally small invertebrates (7). Leaves and fruit of Daphniphyllum macropodum are a particularly favoured food (4) (7).

The breeding season is from early March to May (2), when males can be heard calling at dawn from within their territories, and observed performing spectacular courtship displays (6) (7). A nest of leaves, grasses, mosses and feathers is constructed in trees or possibly on the ground, although an abandoned nest of another species is frequently adopted, into which a clutch of two to six eggs are laid and incubated by the female for around 28 days (6) (7). After hatching, the female and chicks stay in the nest for three days without feeding, before flying to the ground to forage within her feeding territory, and remain together for the whole winter (7). Occasionally, flocks of two to three families may gather together until the following spring, and are sometimes joined by males at the end of autumn or in winter (6).

With only a small, severely fragmented population, which is undergoing continuous decline due to heavy human pressure in south-east China, Cabot’s tragopan faces an uncertain future (4) (8). While numbers are believed to be relatively stable inside protected areas, they are declining elsewhere owing to ongoing habitat loss and modification (3). Most natural forest has been cleared as a result of demands for agricultural land, logging and mining, or modified by the progressive conversion of natural mixed forests to conifer plantations (4) (9). Direct persecution has also had a significant impact in the last century, with the pheasant being hunted for food, its plumage and for the bird trade (9). Illegal hunting for food still occurs in some regions, especially outside protected areas (4).

Cabot’s tragopan is legally protected in China, and appears in a number of protected areas (4) (7). Indeed, the recent rapid increase in the number of protected areas within the bird’s range is believed to have significantly benefited this species, through successfully preventing forest clearance and hunting (4) (7). For example, the logging of mature forest at Wuyanling was stopped when it was established as a nature reserve in 1975, and in 1987 many of the cleared areas within the reserve were replanted. 70 to 75 birds were hunted annually at Jinggang Shan in Jiangxi before the establishment of the nature reserve in 1982, at which time illegal hunting stopped (7). Even so, many of the reserves are relatively small and isolated, and may not contain large enough areas of suitable forest to support viable populations. A four-year project to intensively study Cabot’s tragopan, its biology and conservation is currently underway, and will hopefully provide important information to identify future conservation priorities (4).

Fortunately, Cabot’s tragopan thrives in captivity (8), and in the early 1990s there were an estimated 250 captive specimens worldwide (7). However, although captive-breeding has been successful, re-introductions into the wild is not a suitable solution until there is sufficient habitat to support an expanded population. Thus, conservation of the species’ habitat in the wild must remain the highest priority of those aiming to save this rare forest bird (7).

For more information on Cabot’s tragopan see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2008)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1994) Handbook of the Birds of the World - New World Vultures To Guineafowl. Vol. 2. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. CITES (June, 2006)
    http://www.cites.org
  4. BirdLife International (August, 2006)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=241&m=0
  5. Delacour, J. (1951) The Pheasants of the World. Country Life Ltd., London.
  6. gbwf.org: Dedicated to the Aviculture and Conservation of the World’s Galliformes (August, 2006)
    http://www.gbwf.org/pheasants/tragopan_cabots.html
  7. BirdLife International. (2001) Threatened Birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.
  8. Zoological Museum of the University of Amsterdam (August, 2006)
    http://ip30.eti.uva.nl/zma3d/detail.php?id=125&sort=taxon&type=family
  9. St Louis Zoo (May, 2008)
    http://www.stlzoo.org/animals/abouttheanimals/birds/pheasantscurassowsguans/cabotstragopan.htm