Tahiti monarch (Pomarea nigra)

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Tahiti monarch perched on a branch
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Tahiti monarch fact file

Tahiti monarch description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyMonarchidae
GenusPomarea (1)

Less than 50 of this small, monochrome songbird remain, but an intensive recovery programme may be able to pull the species back from the verge of extinction (3). Both males and females have a plumage that is metallic black, with bluish-grey legs and a pale blue bill. Immature Tahiti monarchs, or flycatchers, differ by having reddish-cinnamon plumage and grey legs and bill. Its song is a strong and complex flute-like melody, whilst its alarm call is a sharp tick-tick-tick sound (2).

Also known as
Tahiti flycatcher.
Size
Length: 15 cm (2)
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Tahiti monarch biology

Like other flycatchers, the Tahiti monarch has a diet of insects, which get plucked from the leaves and branches of the forest canopy and undergrowth (2). They defend areas of a few hectares, identifying themselves and their whereabouts with their melodic singing, and will move from tree to tree within the territory, occasionally emitting an alarm call (4). Between October and February one egg is laid in a cup-shaped nest made of moss and decorated with cobwebs. The egg is incubated for 15 – 17 days, and three weeks after hatching the young will fledge (2).

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Tahiti monarch range

Found only in four valleys on the west coast of Tahiti, the largest of the Society Islands, in the southern Pacific Ocean (2).

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Tahiti monarch habitat

The Tahiti monarch occurs in subtropical and tropical forest, between altitudes of 80 m and 400 m, where giant ferns, a flowering Hibiscus plant and native figs dominate (2).

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Tahiti monarch status

Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List 2006 (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Critically Endangered

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Tahiti monarch threats

The Tahiti monarch used to be common throughout the island, but during the last century populations underwent a dramatic decrease, and now number less than 50, restricted to a few valleys. These perilous declines have largely been the result of the accidental introduction of the black rat (Rattus rattus) to the island, which prey on the eggs and chicks. However, two introduced birds, the Indian mynah and red-vented bulbul, also pose a significant threat to the monarch’s survival. It is thought that the Indian mynah, which was introduced to control wasps, preys on eggs and chicks, whereas the red-vented bulbul competes with the monarch for nest sites and territories (5).

Introduced plants, as well as animals, are also having a negative impact on the Tahiti monarch in some areas. A dense, invasive shrub, Miconia calvescens, was introduced in 1937, and is changing the composition of the forests (2), and presumably altering the areas where the Tahiti monarch likes to nest and feed, such as in Mont Marau, where a population was found in 1980 and is now extinct (6). Four other Pomarea flycatcher species have already become extinct, which highlights the susceptibility of monarch birds to such threats (1). Additionally, as this species is restricted to a very small area, it is very vulnerable to any chance events, such as hurricanes, which could rapidly affect all the individuals in a population.

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Tahiti monarch conservation

In 1997, the total population was only 27 individuals. Since then, a conservation programme was implemented, and intensive surveys revealed the population had increased to 40 to 45 birds in 2004 (2) (3). The recovery plan is largely focused on the control of the black rat. During each breeding season, a rat-baiting programme takes place on accessible Tahiti monarch territories (12 territories in 2006); the remainder live in remote areas that are extremely difficult to access. Trees which hold Tahiti monarch nests are fitted with metal rings to protect the nests from climbing rats, and since 2001 the population has been stable or very slowly increasing, and old territories are being reoccupied (6).

Further conservation measures that are planned include improving the forest habitat, by removing invasive plants and trees, and encouraging the growth of native species in which the monarch likes to nest (2). It is likely that control of the introduced mynah and bulbul would also be beneficial to the Tahiti monarch. It is possible that the some of the surviving birds may be taken into captivity, to hopefully breed, and then released back into the wild once a suitable site has been identified, and the habitat has been restored (2).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

For further information on the Tahiti monarch see:

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Authentication

Authenticated (30/07/07) by Dr Philippe Raust, Société d'Ornithologie de la Polynésie. 
http://www.manu.pf/E_index.html

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References

  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2007)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (2006) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 11: Old World Flycatchers to Old World Warblers. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Birdlife International (April, 2007)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/ebas/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=6077&m=0
  4. The Ornithological Society of Polynesia (April, 2007)
    http://www.manu.pf/E_Oiseaux.html
  5. Blanvillain, C., Salducci, J.M., Tutururai, G. and Maeura, M. (2003) Impact of the introduced birds on the recovery of the Tahiti flycatcher (Pomarea nigra), a critically endangered forest bird of Tahiti. Biological Conservation, 109: 197 - 205.
  6. Raust, P. (2007) Pers. comm.
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Image credit

Tahiti monarch perched on a branch  
Tahiti monarch perched on a branch

© Tun Pin Ong

Tun Pin Ong
tunpin.ong@gmail.com

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