Pale-headed brush-finch

Pale-headed brush-finch
Atlapetes pallidiceps

Photo by A. Sornoza (American Bird Conservancy)

Common name:
pale-headed brush-finch (en); tico-tico-cinzento (pt); tohi grisonnant (fr); saltón cabecipálido (es); blasskopf-buschammer (de)

Order Passeriformes
Family Emberizidae

This species is endemic to southern Ecuador, only being found in the río Jubones drainage, in Azuay and Loja.

These birds are16-16,5 cm long and weigh 28,5-35 g.

The pale-headed brush-finch is mostly found in regenerating landslides and other steep slopes with dense scrubland interspersed with small clearings, usually in the transition between arid and humid areas. They are only present at altitudes of 1.650-1.950 m.

They feed on a variety of invertebrates, especially caterpillars and winged insects, also taking seeds and fruits of plants such as Acnistus, Rubus, Acalypha, Solanum, Morus, Heliotropium, Polygonum, grass, and also flower buds.

Pale-headed brush-finches breed in January-June. They form stable pairs that remain together all year. The nest is built by the female, consisting of an open cup made of grasses and bamboo, placed near the ground, occasionally up to 3 m above the ground, in a scrub, small tree or bamboo thicket. The female lays 1-3 eggs, which she incubates alone for 11-17 days. The chicks are fed by both parents and fledge 10-14 days after hatching, but continue to be fed for another 2 months and often remain with the parents for nearly a year.

IUCN status – EN (Endangered)
This species has an extremely small breeding range and the global population appears to number just 226 individuals. The pale-headed brush-finch was believed to be extinct since the 1960s, but was rediscovered in 1998. Since then the population seems to be increasing rapidly, from as little as 20 individuals to over 200, but it may reach carrying capacity soon. The main threats affecting this species are habitat loss and brood parasitism by shiny cowbirds Molothrus bonariensis. Conservation actions underway included the purchase and fencing of the few remaining patches of suitable habitat and cowbird control. A habitat management scheme was implemented in order to halt vegetation succession and create suitable habitat by selective thinning of dense thickets, which seems to have been quite successful.

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