Celestial monarch (Hypothymis coelestis)
|Size||Length: 15 – 16 cm (2)|
|Weight||13.6 g (2)|
Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1).
This striking inhabitant of the forest is unmistakable with its electric-blue plumage (3). Males are even more arresting in appearance due to the presence of a crest of long, slender feathers on top of the head, which generally droop down and are raised only in excitement (2) (3). The back, throat and breast are bright cobalt-blue, while the lower back, tail and upperwing are a lighter blue, and the belly is white, washed with light blue (2). Female celestial monarchs differ slightly in appearance, being generally slightly smaller and slightly duller than males and having a shorter crest (2) (3). The dark brown eyes are surrounded by a little circle of greenish-yellow skin, and the vivid blue beak is tipped with black (2). Celestial monarchs call with a loud, high-pitched ‘pwee pwee pwee’ (2)
The celestial monarch occurs only in the Philippines, where two subspecies are recognised. Hypothymis coelestis coelestis occurs on the islands of Luzon, Samar, Dinagat, Mindanao, Basilan and Tawitawi, while Hypothymis coelestis rabori is found on Sibuyan and Negros Islands (2).
The celestial monarch inhabits the canopy and middle storey of lowland forest, no higher than 750 metres above sea level. It shows a noticeable preference for habitat alongside rivers, particularly in areas where there is a distinct dry season (2).
This conspicuously-coloured bird has been seen singly, in pairs, or most often, in flocks with other species such as the blue-headed fantail (Rhipidura cyaniceps) and lemon-throated leaf-warbler (Phylloscopus cebuensis). Although the diet of the celestial monarch is not known (2), it most likely makes short sallies into the air after flying insects, like other birds of the Monarchidae family (2) (4).
Equally little is known about the breeding biology of this species. A pair of celestial monarchs was seen with a single fledging in Luzon in May, and an immature male was seen in December on the island of Negros. Males in reproductive condition have been found in April in Samar, and in May and late June on Mindanao (2).
Unfortunately, the preferred habitat of the celestial monarch is highly threatened. Widespread deforestation in the Philippines, particularly in the more easily accessed lowlands, has vastly reduced the extent of original forest, and the remaining patches of forest continue to be threatened by further logging and potential mining (3). Further threats to the celestial monarch’s lowland forest habitat come in the form of road development, forest clearance so that exotic trees can be planted for paper production (3), and uncontrolled settlement by the rapidly growing human population (3) (5).
The subspecies Hypothymis coelestis rabori is now considered to be extremely rare; on Negros, where forest cover was reduced by 96 percent by the late 1980s, the celestial monarch has not been seen recently, and may be extinct. Surveys to find this subspecies on the other island it inhabits, Sibuyan, between 1989 and 1992, were also unsuccessful (2).
The celestial monarch has recently been recorded from the Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park on Luzon, and at two sites on the islands of Tawitawi and Dinagat, where a three-year community resource management programme began in 1996 (3). However, with this striking bird facing such great threats to its habitat, further measures, such as the effective protection of lowland forest at key sites (3), are required for its long-term survival.
For further information on conservation in the Philippines see:
For more information on this and other bird species please see:
- BirdLife International:
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- Subspecies: a population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
IUCN Red List (June, 2007)
- del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (2006) Handbook of the Birds of the World Volume 11: Old World Flycatchers to Old World Warblers. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
BirdLife International (July, 2008)
- Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
- Mittermeier, R.A., Gil, P.R., Hoffmann, M., Pilgrim, J., Brooks, T., Mittermeier, C.G., Lamoreux, J. and Da Fonseca, G.A.B. (2004) Hotspots Revisited. CEMEX, Mexico City.