Pink-headed warbler (Ergaticus versicolor)

GenusErgaticus (1)
SizeLength: 13 cm (2)

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

A beautiful, vibrantly coloured bird, the pink-headed warbler is now in decline due to habitat loss. The body of this species is characterised by dark red to brownish-red upperparts (3), with the darkest areas being the wings and tail. In contrast with these darker hues, the underparts of the bird are a bright pinkish-red (2). As its name suggests, the head of this species is pink, with the crown, throat and neck a silvery pink (3), and the forehead a dark, pinkish-red. The juvenile has darker, pinkish cinnamon-brown plumage, with a blackish tail and blackish wings adorned with two pink bars (2). Like other New World warblers this bird has a highly developed song (4), consisting of chips and trills, and a call described as a high, thin tsiu (2).

The pink-headed warbler can be found in Western Guatemala, as well as on Volcán Tacaná, on the border of Guatemala, in south-east Chiapas, Mexico (2). In addition, this species is found in the central highlands of Chiapas (5)

The pink-headed warbler inhabits humid to semi-humid mountain forests, including cloud forest, composed solely of pine or cypress, or a mixture of pine and oak (2). It appears to require winter temperatures low enough to produce frost, hence it is most abundant at altitudes above 2,800 metres. It also has a preference for dense, undisturbed forest understory, which can be found most commonly on steep slopes, where the tree canopy is less dense, or around previously cleared forest edges, where secondary vegetation has been allowed to develop over a long period (5)

The pink-headed warbler can commonly be found foraging amongst the dense vegetation of the forest understory, where it flits from branch to branch picking off insects from the leaves. In general, foraging takes place between two to five metres above the ground, although, some individuals have been observed feeding and singing at heights of 15 metres (5).

Remaining at the same location throughout the year, male pink-headed warblers continuously maintain their territory. The male’s song is used to attract a mate, and a singing male will often be found accompanied by a number of attendant females. Interestingly, this species’ nest, constructed primarily from pine needles (6), is positioned on the ground; hence the bird’s requirement for dense, understory vegetation to conceal its vulnerable eggs and offspring (5).

This species is principally threatened by habitat loss and degradation throughout its range. In Guatemala and Chiapas, loss of cloud forest has been extensive. In Guatemala, only three percent of the original extent of cloud forest remains, with the remaining forest currently fragmented into 18 scattered areas. Here, human populations are rapidly increasing, especially in the highlands, where climate and soil fertility are more favourable, and it is thought that this highland forest habitat is likely to continue to disappear in favour of road development, settlements and agriculture (2). In Chiapas, forest clearance for timber, grazing and agriculture is commonplace. The larger of the two Chiapas pink-headed warbler populations at Volcán Tacaná has no protection, and large areas of the volcano’s slopes have been cleared for agriculture. The smaller central highland populations are equally threatened. Following the eruption of Volcán Chichonál in 1982, large areas of the bird’s habitat were covered in ash and many individuals lost. With the ongoing destruction of its habitat from human influence, pink-headed warbler populations in this region have been unable to recover (5).

Protection for this species is variable. In Guatemela, where the largest population of the bird resides, protected areas encompass much of its range, but are ineffectively enforced (2). In Chiapas, the population on Volcán Tacaná has no protection, however, two central highland sites encompassing populations of the pink-headed warbler are protected, Rancho Nuevo Ecological Protection Zone and Cerro Huitepec Biological Station. Rancho Nuevo Ecological Protection Zone has, however, been taken over by the military who use it for training exercises; the effects of this on the bird and its habitat remain to be determined. Concerns have been raised that, should Cerro Huitepec become the last stronghold for the pink-headed warbler in central Chiapas, it may not be large enough to support a sustainable population of this species (5). It has been recommended that more extensive surveys of the pink-headed warbler’s range should be made so that the key areas requiring protection can be determined. In addition, measures must be implemented to protect the areas around Volcán Tacaná and to increase the enforcement of protected areas in the Guatemalan highlands (2).

For further information on conservation in Guatemala see:

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  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2014)