Grey-necked rockfowl (Picathartes oreas)

Also known as: grey-necked picathartes, red-headed rockfowl
French: Picatharte à cou gris, Picatharte à tête rouge, Picatharte du Cameroun
Spanish: Cuervo Calvo de Cuello Gris, Picatartes Cuelligris
GenusPicathartes (1)
SizeLength: 35 cm (2)

The grey-necked rockfowl is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1), and is listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

A member of the old world flycatcher family, the grey-necked rockfowl has no feathers on its brightly coloured head, which is violet at the front, red at the back, and has black side patches. The upperparts and the throat are slate grey, and the underparts are pale orange. The rockfowl is slender with a long neck, tail and legs. The bill is crow-like and the feet are strong for hopping (4). The wings can be black, brown or dark grey, and the tail feathers are grey (2).

The grey-necked rockfowl is found in southern Cameroon, south-western Gabon, north-western Equatorial Guinea, north-western Congo and on Bioko Island. Whilst the range covers 314,000 km², it is known to be highly fragmented with a population of 2,500 to 10,000 (5).

Inhabiting sub-tropical and tropical forests, this species has very specific nesting site requirements (1). Nests are built on cliffs or in caves with overhanging rocks above for shelter from the rain and a sheer drop beneath for protection from predators (4).

A non-migratory bird, the grey-necked rockfowl flies only short distances, preferring to hop along the rocky forest floor between trees, where it picks up insects, molluscs, frogs and lizards to eat, as well as feeding on passing ant columns (4). Whilst the bird is silent when foraging, it has a breathy shisss call as well as other clucks and clicks (6).

Mud nests are often built in colonies within caves or on cliffs surrounded by vegetation (5). Two eggs are laid per clutch (4). Little is known of the reproductive biology of this extremely elusive bird (6).

Habitat loss and degradation pose a major threat to this species, especially as its range is becoming increasingly fragmented (1). Studies of a Cameroon reserve have revealed that cocoa, coffee and subsistence plots are impinging on the forest, and hunting continues despite its ban. Mining operations and the possible routing of a trans-African highway are current threats (7). The lack of breeding sites, as well as cannibalism and predation of young contribute to poor breeding success for the grey-necked rockfowl (6).

The grey-necked rockfowl is found in reserves throughout its range (6), where it is protected from hunting, and its habitat is protected from logging and increasing agricultural development (7). Indeed, in some reserves, guard posts have been set up to deter poachers and illegal loggers (7). Proposed conservation management includes surveys to establish the population density in suitable habitats, as well as genetic studies to assess the size of the breeding population and the degree of inbreeding as a result of range fragmentation (6).

For further information on this species 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:

  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2004)
  2. Erritzoe, J. (1993) The Birds of CITES and how to identify them. The Lutterworth Press, Cambridge.
  3. CITES (November, 2004)
  4. Fact Index (November, 2004)
  5. Earthwatch (November, 2004)
  6. BirdLife (November, 2004)
  7. UNEP-WCMC (November, 2004)