Crestless fireback (Lophura erythrophthalma)

Also known as: Rufous-tailed pheasant
  
Spanish: Faisán Colicanelo, Faisán de Carúncula Azul
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderGalliformes
FamilyPhasianidae
GenusLophura (1)
SizeMale length: 47 – 50 cm (2)
Female length: 42 – 44 cm (2)

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1). Two subspecies are recognised: the Malay crestless fireback (L. e. erythrophthalma) and the Bornean crestless fireback (L. e. pyronota) (3).

Like all fireback pheasants, the crestless fireback possesses impressive facial decorations that play an important part in courtship displays, in this species a striking scarlet coloured facial skin. Males are a glossy purplish-black colour, finely vermiculated with silvery grey on their upperparts and sides, with a deep red rump and caramel tail (3) (4) (5). The rump colouration is similar to the glowing embers of a fire, which is how the species acquired its name (6). The female has a glossy dark purplish to greenish-blue back (4) with greyish brown head and buff throat (5). Juveniles resemble females but with rusty-tipped body feathers (4), with young males assuming the adult plumage at the age of four months (3). The males of the Bornean subspecies have fine white feather shafts on the body and breast. Unlike most pheasant species, the females also have leg spurs. When displaying, the male expands his red facial wattles which also elevate to form two small ‘horns’ (2).

Peninsular and eastern Malaysia, Sumatra, and Borneo (4).

An extreme lowland specialist inhabiting primary and lightly disturbed, closed canopy, evergreen forest (4) (7). The species is almost always found on sloping ground (6).

The crestless fireback feeds throughout the day, frequently along animal trails (notably buffalo), and visits bodies of water early in the morning in order to drink. Diet includes berries, termites, ticks and grubs. Groups of birds have been encountered with single males or equal numbers of adult males and females. Mating is thought to be polygynous (7). Clutch size ranges from three to six eggs, which are incubated for 24 days (3). The life history patterns of this bird are yet to be fully understood, but a female in captivity is known to have bred at three years of age (7).

The prevailing threats that face the crestless fireback are habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation as a result of large-scale commercial logging and widespread clearance for plantations of rubber and oil. Sadly, commercial logging even continues within protected areas. The major fires of 1997-1998 in Indonesia are suspected to have had a significant impact, and fires appear to be increasing in frequency and severity on Sumatra and Borneo. Hunting for food may pose an additional, more localised threat in certain areas (4).

The crestless fireback’s existence in protected areas constitutes the only real conservation of the species. At least 16 protected areas are thought to hold the bird, of which three - Gunung Mulu National Park, Kerau Wildlife Reserve and Taman Negara National Park - are considered irreplaceably important to the long-term security of eastern Asian galliforms, and one site - Pasoh Forest Reserve - is considered important for the security of this particular species (7). At the end of 2002, 49 individuals were held in captivity in Europe and a further 43 in Malaysia (4). An EEP (European Endangered Species Programme) has recently been established for the Malaysian sub-species and some exchanges of captive bred birds has taken place between the Malaysian Department of Wildlife and National Parks and The World Pheasant Association in order to maintain genetic diversity in the conservation breeding flock (6). However, conservation efforts also need to focus on protecting the crestless fireback in-situ in its rapidly diminishing lowland forest habitat. Lowland forest of the Sundaic region of Indonesia and Malaysia has always been recognised as being a ‘biodiversity hotspot’ and of paramount ecological importance, but it now needs the strongest possible publicity and advocacy if it is to survive with that biodiversity intact (7).

For more information on the crestless fireback see:

BirdLife International:
www.birdlife.org/datazone/species

BirdLife International. (2001) Threatened Birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.

Delacour, J. (1977) The Pheasants of the World. World Pheasant Association, UK

The World Pheasant Association:
www.pheasant.org.uk/

Authenticated (02/05/2006) by John Corder, Vice President of the World Pheasant Association, and Chairman of the European Conservation Breeding Group of the World Pheasant Association.
http://www.pheasant.org.uk/

  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2008)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Delacour, J. (1977) The Pheasants of the World. World Pheasant Association, UK.
  3. gbwf.org – Dedicated to the Aviculture and Conservation of the World’s Galliformes (January, 2006)
    http://www.gbwf.org/pheasants/fireback_crestless.html
  4. BirdLife International (January, 2006)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=258&m=0
  5. Forest Department Sarawak (January, 2006)
    http://www.forestry.sarawak.gov.my/forweb/wildlife/mgmt/pa/clesfi.htm
  6. Corder, J. (2006) Pers. comm.
  7. BirdLife International. (2001) Threatened Birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.