Monday, 13 October 2014

Rufous-thighed Kite (Harpagus diodon): a new Atlantic Forest breeding endemic

Rufous-thighed Kite (Harpagus diodon)
Rufous-thighed Kite Harpagus diodon. By Rick elis.simpson (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Last month, I came across a neat little paper re-examining the migratory status of the enigmatic Rufous-thighed Kite Harpagus diodon, a species usually mapped over a large area of South America east of the Andes and, until fairly recently, assumed to be a thinly-spread resident. Using museum specimen data, and harnessing the power of increasingly popular collaborative avian datasets such as xeno-canto, eBird, the Internet Bird Collection, and especially WikiAves, the authors took a closer look at the facts (Lees & Martin 2014). Their detective work shows how much we often take for granted about South American bird distributions and highlights the enormous value of free data-sharing initiatives. I liked the research enough to write a short news bulletin at the start of the month. The authors do a much better job today on the BOU blog post A tale of two kites

These findings are not merely of academic importance. Given that Rufous-thighed Kite is now thought to be an Atlantic Forest breeding endemic and that only 11·7% of this biome remains (Ribeiro et al. 2009), the species could be in serious trouble. Populations at the end of 19th century are likely to have been at least ten times higher than at present (Lees & Martin 2014) and its current rarity may simply be explained as the result of catastrophic loss of habitat.


Bierregaard, R.O., Jr, Bonan, A., Marks, J.S. & Sharpe, C.J. (2014) Rufous-thighed Kite (Harpagus diodon). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2014). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 30 September 2014). 

BirdLife International (2014) Species factsheet: Harpagus diodon. Downloaded from on 30/09/2014.

Lees, A.C. & Martin, R.W. (2014) Exposing hidden endemism in a Neotropical forest raptor using citizen science. Ibis doi: 10.1111/ibi.12207. PDF

Ribeiro, M.C., Metzger, J.P., Martensen, A.C., Ponzoni, F.J. & Hirota, M.M. (2009) The Brazilian Atlantic Forest: how much is left, and how is the remaining forest distributed? Implications for conservation. Biological Conservation 142(6): 1141-1153. PDF

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