Cebu flowerpecker (Dicaeum quadricolor)

Also known as: four-coloured flowerpecker, orange-backed flowerpecker
GenusDicaeum (1)
SizeLength: 11 - 12 cm (2)

Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The Cebu flowerpecker was believed extinct for nearly a century before its surprise rediscovery in 1992 (2) (3) (4) (5) (6). Even now, this highly endangered species, believed to be one of the ten rarest birds in the world (5), teeters on the verge of extinction (2). A small but rather stocky flowerpecker, with a relatively short, stout bill, the male Cebu flowerpecker is conspicuously patterned, with a black head, upperwings and tail, a bright scarlet back, a greenish-yellow lower back and rump, and greyish underparts, which are whiter in the centre. The beak and legs are glossy black, but the legs turn pink during the breeding season. The female is duller than the male, with a dark olive or greyish back and brownish-grey underparts, while the juvenile resembles the female, but is paler above and has a pinkish lower half to the beak (2) (3). The call of the Cebu flowerpecker is a soft seep-seep-seep, interspersed with harder tik notes, and the song consists of a series of thin, sweet, high-pitched notes (2) (3) (5). However, the species is reported to be fairly quiet when feeding and moving about (5).

As its name suggests, the Cebu flowerpecker is endemic to the island of Cebu, in the Philippines (2) (3) (4) (5). The site of the species’ rediscovery was a small forest patch at Tabunan, and currently it is known from only three further sites on the island (2) (3) (5).

The Cebu flowerpecker inhabits forests, and is believed to be associated with the tallest remaining forest patches on Cebu, most of which are on karst limestone, at elevations below about 500 metres (2) (3) (4). It may use areas of disturbed or selectively logged forest, but only when these occur next to a larger patch of native vegetation (2).

Relatively little is known about this rare and seldom observed bird. It has been seen feeding on mistletoe-like plants (Loranthus spp.) and on small, ripe figs (Ficus) (2) (3) (4), and spends most of its time in the forest canopy, foraging alone or in small groups (3). The Cebu flowerpecker is presumed to breed between February and August, but nothing else is known about its reproductive behaviour (2) (3) (4).

The island of Cebu has long been notorious for its deforestation (6). The native forests of the island were rapidly cleared as far back as the 1890s, and a century later barely 0.03 percent, or 15 square kilometres, of the original forest cover remained (2). The rediscovery of the Cebu flowerpecker was unexpected because of the almost total loss of its habitat, but what tiny forest patches do remain are still under threat from illegal settlement and logging, road construction, shifting cultivation, firewood collection, charcoal making, and clearance for mining. In addition, competition with the red-striped flowerpecker (Dicaeum australe) may have exacerbated the species’ decline. With a population estimated at only around 100 individuals (as of 2009), and with a highly fragmented range totalling just 8 square kilometres, the future of this small bird is highly uncertain (2) (3) (4) (7).

The Cebu flowerpecker has been the focus of a number of conservation efforts since its rediscovery. In 2009, it was chosen as the flagship species for the British Birdwatching Fair, the largest fair of its kind in the world, and the Philippines Department of Tourism has also pledged support for the species, including financial support for conservation efforts by the Cebu Biodiversity Conservation Foundation (5) (8). Conservation actions for the species have so far included habitat rehabilitation, attempts to control timber poaching and forest clearance, the planting of corridors to link remaining forest patches, and research into the flowerpecker’s ecology. One site where the Cebu flowerpecker occurs, the Nug-as Forest, is managed and protected, and local forest wardens regularly patrol both this and Dalaguete forest patches. A further site that may hold the species, Malabuyoc, is within the borders of a cement company reserve, while another, Mt. Lantoy, has been declared a Watershed Forest Reserve (2) (4). The site of the Cebu flowerpecker’s rediscovery, at Tabunan, has also been the subject of a project to support the protection and recovery of the forest and to promote the sustainable use of its resources (6) (9).

Further conservation measures that may benefit the Cebu flowerpecker include identifying and surveying all remnant forest patches, undertaking further research into the species’ ecology and its interactions with the red-striped flowerpecker, and further habitat rehabilitation and management (2) (4). The designation of Mt. Lantoy as a National Park and the strict formal protection of all Cebu’s remaining forest are also urgently needed if this small, colourful, but highly endangered bird is to stand any chance of survival (2).

To find out more about conservation on Cebu see:

For more information on efforts to protect the world’s most endangered bird species, see:

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  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2011)