Saturday, March 31, 2012


With around 20 endemics, the long and narrow island of Palawan doesn’t have quite the same degree of endemism as Luzon and Mindanao but its avifauna is actually quite distinct from most of the Philippines. Palawan shares many species with the Sundaic region, especially Borneo, that lies less than 150 km south with a series on intervening small islands. Palawan is mostly forest clad and has numerous limestone outcrops like the one below…

Palawan is arguably the least impacted island in the Philippines and because of this remains the last bastion of some species that were once common throughout the archipelago, including the now critically endangered Philippine Cockatoo. With fewer than 1,000 individuals now remaining in the wild, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have seen a small flock of seven along the Palawan coast near Sabang. The following two photos show the beautiful pink undertail coverts of these handsome cockatoos.

The Blue-naped Parrot is another species found throughout the archipelago and on small islands in the Sulu sea. As with the cockatoo, this species is more common now on Palawan than elsewhere, where declines have caused them to be listed as near-threatened.

The islands in the Sulu sea between Palawan and Borneo and east towards Negros and Mindanao also have their set of endemic species. – these are technically not country endemics but they certainly are region endemics. The Grey Imperial Pigeon is a small island specialists, that is not found on larger islands like Palawan. This photo was taken on Pandan Island, a small island off Palawan. It is believed that these birds travel between islands to find fruit – it is otherwise hard to imagine how a large Imperial Pigeon like this could sustain populations on such tiny islands. This species is listed as vulnerable because of a small global range and increasing human pressure on the small islands in the Sulu Sea.

The Philippine Cuckoo-Dove is a Philippine endemic found throughout the archipelago, though formerly considered part of the Reddish Cuckoo-Dove species. It just so happens that Palawan was the only place I caught up with this species.

Palawan proper has some truly stunning endemics and none more so than the Palawan Peacock-Pheasant. Here are two photos of a male taken at St Paul’s Subterranean River National Park. To my eye, this globally vulnerable species is one of the most beautiful birds in the world. The iridescence on the ocelli on the tail and the mantle feathers has to be seen to be believed!

The classy Palawan Hornbill, with their all white tail and bill contrasting with the jet black plumage, is another Palawan favourite. This species is listed as vulnerable in part because of a small global range and apparently declining populations.

The Palawan Swiftlet is a Palawan endemic created by the split of the Island Swiftlet complex.

Though similar in appearance to many other bulbuls, the Sulphur-bellied Bulbul is a Palawan endemic. The pale yellow eye colour is one of the features that separate this species from other Palawan bulbuls.

In most parts of Asia there are some members of the exceptionally diverse babbler family that are skulking ground dwellers (often going by names such as ground-babbler or wren-babbler). Every large island of The Philippines has an endemic or two in this category and I was lucky on this trip to sneak good views of most of them. The greatest delight of all was crippling views of the Palawan endemic super skulker, Falcated Ground-Babbler. The contrast of rich chestnut upperparts against the beautifully etched black and white striping on the underparts is remarkable. This bird was singing just a few centimeters off the ground, allowing me to sneak close enough for a photo, though the understorey was so dark I had to use flash (which robs the effect of top-bottom contrast a bit). Habitat loss and fragmentation on Palawan has apparently caused strong declines in this species and they are now considered globally vulnerable.

In a similar vein, the Melodious Babbler is another Palawan endemic skulking babbler, although this species spends more time in dense understorey than on the forest floor per se. I was lucky to snap this photo of this bird in dense bamboo. This species has also declines and is listed as near-threatened.

The Palawan Blue-Flycatcher is another near-threatened Palawan endemic.

The White-vented Shama is a Palawan endemic, found not just in forest but also secondary growth and fragmented habitats. Although this species looks very similar to the critically endangered Black Shama of Cebu, the White-vented Shama is not considered threatened (Cebu is a lot worse off than Palawan).

The beautiful Yellow-throated Leafbird can be tough to spot (an all green bird in all green foliage). This Palawan endemic is faring better than the similar Philippine Leabird again because Palawan is less impacted than other parts of the Philippines.

The beautiful Palawan Flowerpecker is also considered an endemic although extremely similar to the widespread Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker (lacks yellow rump) and the Bornean endemic Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker (lacks white in malar). I was disappointed not to manage a better photo of this common species.

I will have only one more post from the Philippines after this one – a look at some of the non-endemics.


  1. The Peacock-Pheasant has spectacular markings.

  2. Fabulous work! Encourages us to know more and understand our rich assembly of avian fauna in the Philippines, thank you. - christina

  3. Thank you Maria! The avifauna of the Philippines is truly beautiful, remarkable and in urgent need of cosnervation! Pleased to "meet" you!


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