Monday, February 15, 2021

[Ornithology • 2020] The Status and Distribution of the Masked Finfoot Heliopais personatus—Asia’s Next Avian Extinction?

 Masked Finfoot Heliopais personatus

in Chowdhury, Yong, Round, ... et Eames, 2020
 Forktail. 36
 image taken by Sayam U.
The Masked Finfoot Heliopais personatus is among Asia’s most threatened waterbirds. The species formerly ranged widely across north-east India, Bangladesh and South-East Asia, but recent records are few. In this review, we aim to address the gaps in knowledge on the conservation status and ecology of the Masked Finfoot by (1) synthesizing recent information on its occurrence in all range states, (2) re-estimating the global population based on best guesses of national populations, and (3) identifying priority conservation actions. Based on a combination of our survey data (Bangladesh) and best-guess estimates from key sites, we estimate the current population at 108–304 individuals, far lower than the last estimate of 600–1,700 individuals in 2009. Our estimate of population size and rate of decline indicates that Masked Finfoot should be uplisted to Critically Endangered. Masked Finfoot may now breed only in Bangladesh and Cambodia, and there have been no records within the past five years in Malaysia and Thailand, where it once occurred regularly, despite a marked increase in observer effort. Habitat loss and disturbance is the single most important threat to the Masked Finfoot (and many riverine waterbird species), given that low-lying, forested wetlands across South-East Asia are increasingly encroached upon by human activities, or are cleared. There is an urgent need to re-survey areas where it was formerly known, especially in Myanmar. All remaining known breeding populations must be adequately protected or it may become Asia’s next avian extinction.

Global distribution and present population status of Masked Finfoot Heliopais personatus based on best-guess estimates at sites where it has been recently recorded (post-2000). Green circles represent sites with recent breeding records (post-2010). Blue circles represent sites that may hold breeding populations. Red dots represent isolated, likely non-breeding records (post-2005).

Individual differences in facial markings of four adult Masked Finfoots Heliopais personatus (a-c: male; d: female). Apart from the varying width and length of the white stripe on the side of the neck, the shape and size of the yellow horn at the base of the bill are also different in different individuals. The fleshy knob above the base of the bill may be present throughout the year (not only during breeding season) and occurs in both males and females, but is visibly shorter in the female.
 All images taken by Sayam U. Chowdhury

Sayam U. Chowdhury, Ding Li Yong, Philip David Round,  Robert Tizard, Simon P. Mahood and Jonathan Charles Eames. 2020. The Status and Distribution of the Masked Finfoot Heliopais personatus—Asia’s Next Avian Extinction? Forktail. 36; 16-24. 


Masked Finfoot sliding towards extinction
A new study published in Forktail, the journal of the Oriental Bird Club, has concluded that Masked Finfoot could become Asia's next avian extinction if its remaining populations are not afforded adequate protection.
Masked Finfoot is a secretive and poorly known waterbird, thinly distributed from north-east India and Bangladesh east to Vietnam, and south to Sumatra and Java, Indonesia. It was formerly found widely across its range, yet recent records are few and far between.


Gertrud Neumann-Denzau, E. Fahrni Mansur and R. Mansur. 2008. Nests, Eggs, Hatchlings and Behaviour of the Masked Finfoot Heliopais personatus from the Sundarbans in Bangladesh, with First Nesting Observations. FORKTAIL. 24; 92–99.