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Sao Tome Grosbeak Neospiza concolor
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BirdLife Species Champion The Peter Smith Trust
BirdLife Species Guardian Associação dos Biólogos Santomenses
For information about BirdLife Species Champions and Species Guardians visit the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme.

This species qualifies as Critically Endangered because it has a tiny population which is suspected to be in decline owing to habitat degradation. It occupies a very small area of primary forest which, although it is not severely threatened, remains unprotected and might be vulnerable in the future. It is unclear whether introduced predators are impacting its population. Recent observations extend the known range, elevation and habitat, but the known population currently remains extremely small.

Taxonomic source(s)
Dowsett, R. J.; Forbes-Watson, A. D. 1993. Checklist of birds of the Afrotropical and Malagasy regions. Tauraco Press, Li
Sibley, C. G.; Monroe, B. L. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the world. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.

18 cm. Large, chunky finch with massive bill. Uniformly rusty-brown on upperparts and underparts, slightly darker on head, wings and tail. Greyish-buff bill. Similar spp. Príncipe Seed-eater Serinus rufobrunneus is much smaller. Voice Brief series of 4-5 short, 2-note canary-like whistles, with the second note higher. Similar to that of the Príncipe Seed-eater but deeper in tone, simpler and more repetitive.

Distribution and population
The species was, until relatively recently, known from just one 19th century specimen from southern São Tomé, Sao Tomé and Príncipe (Steinheimer 2005). It was rediscovered in 1991, close to the rio Xufexufe in the south-west of the island (Sargeant et al. 1992). Since then it was sighted near the Xufexufe in 1997 (Kaestner in litt. 1998; Sinclair in litt. 1998), and sightings continue to be reported from the Xufexufe, Ribeira Peixe (Monte Carmo) and São Miguel areas (N. Borrow in litt. 2003; M. Dallimer in litt. 2002; Olmos and Turshak 2007; F. Olmos in litt. 2007, 2008, Olmos and Turshak 2010). It was previously thought to be restricted to old-growth forest in the southern lowlands of the island, but was found further north and at higher elevations between Santa Maria and Calvário in 2010 and 2011, with further unconfirmed reports of the species at three nearby sites (Solé et al. 2012), and subsequently confirmed at nearby Formoso Pequeno (R. F. de Lima in litt. 2013). Given the limited area of suitable habitat and the paucity of records it probably has a tiny population, but recent extensions to the known range, elevation and habitat, raise the possibility that the population may prove to be larger than was feared.

Population justification
The species is assumed to have a tiny population (fewer than 50 individuals and mature individuals) because all fieldwork has found it to be very rare and it is regularly recorded from just one area. The most recent survey, between July and September 2014, recorded eight birds (Ward-Francis et al. 2015). It is very difficult to detect so could be more abundant than current records suggest (Ward-Francis et al. 2015).

Trend justification
The population is suspected to be declining as a result of ongoing habitat degradation, plus the impacts of introduced predators, however the rate of decline has not been estimated.

It was thought to be restricted to lowland, closed-canopy primary forest below 500 m, but sightings between Santa Maria and Calvário in 2010 and 2011 were in degraded habitat at 1,300-1,400 m (Solé et al. 2012). It is probably a canopy species and is reportedly quite silent, which could partly explain why it has so rarely been seen (Christy and Clarke 1998), although the call has been recorded and some birds respond to playback (F. Olmos in litt. 2007, 2008). It seems to move in pairs or alone and comes to the forest understorey to feed on seeds that it crushes with its powerful bill (F. Olmos in litt. 2007, 2008). It may breed during the dry season in January-February (Ward-Francis et al. 2015).

Historically, large areas of lowland forest were cleared for cocoa plantations. Today, land privatisation is leading to an increase in the number of small farms and the clearance of trees. This does not currently affect primary forest but may be a threat in the future. Signs of palm-wine harvesting, hunting and other extractive activities are now becoming evident in the core of the Monte Carmo area (Olmos and Turshak 2010). Road developments along the east and west coasts are increasing access to previously remote areas (A. Gascoigne in litt. 2000). Plans to develop coffee plantations and restore and extend 630 ha of abandoned palm-oil plantations (to cover more than 2,000 ha; ready for harvest in 2013) in the vicinity of the core zone of Obô Natural Park and encroaching into its buffer zone (J. Tavares in litt. 2010) are likely to result in the loss of suitable habitat and potentially have both positive and negative influences on levels of disturbance (Olmos and Turshak 2010). The palm-oil project, however, reportedly incorporates the protection of some primary and mature secondary forest (J. Tavares in litt. 2010). More recent plans aim to plant 5,000 ha with oil palm, in an area that included rich secondary forest zone in the boundaries of Obô Natural Park (Barros 2013). New road networks linking oil palm concessions may increase habitat fragmentation and disturbance (Ward-Francis et al. 2015). Illegal logging in the south of the island has been identified as a further threat (Ward-Francis et al. 2015). Introduced Black Rat (Rattus rattus), Mona Monkey (Cercopithecus mona), African Civet (Civettictis civetta) and Weasel (Mustela nivalis) are potential predators. A proposal to construct a hydroelectric dam within Obô Natural Park posed a serious threat, this project has now ceased however future power projects remain a threat (Ward-Francis et al. 2015).

Conservation and Research Actions Underway
Primary forest is protected as a zona ecologica and in Obo Natural Park, although there is no law enforcement within these areas and the lack of data about the species's ecological requirements makes it difficult to assess the benefits of these areas. A new law providing for the gazetting of protected areas has been ratified (F. Olmos in litt. 2007, 2008). The bird occurs in a relatively remote area used only by hunters who do not represent a threat to the species. As part of the BirdLife International Preventing Extinctions Programme Species Guardian Associação dos Biólogos Santomenses (ABS) have begun training local community focal points in the implementation of site-based conservation and implementing an awareness-raising campaign (Steinheimer 2005). The Government are developing an open access database to collate all biodiversity data for the island which will be used to inform land-use decisions (Ward-Francis et al. 2015). A workshop was held in January 2015, which included participants from the Government, to discuss progress towards an International Species Action Plan for the species (Ward-Francis et al. 2015).

Conservation and Research Actions Proposed
Research its population size, distribution, ecological requirements and key threats in order to produce conservation recommendations. Establish transects and conduct regular surveys in the south-west forests of São Tomé, clarify occurrence in new areas to the north and broaden search to other areas similar to that where the species was found in 2010-2011 (Solé et al. 2012). Ensure designated protected areas are actively protected. Ensure that any proposed hydroelectric dam developments are not within Obô Natural Park (Ward-Francis et al. 2015). List it as a protected species under national law. Formally recognise a buffer zone encompassing the area where birds were located in 2010 and 2011 at Santa Maria and Calvário, which is located on the border of Obô Natural Park and is currently unprotected (Solé et al. 2012). Incorporate species conservation measures within the Obô Natural Park management plan and develop capacity for park management (Ward-Francis et al. 2015). 

Related state of the world's birds case studies

Barros, N. 2013. Mapping a palm oil company's effect on local biodiversity in São Tomé and Príncipe. BirdLife Africa Newsletter 13(7): 13.

Christy, P.; Clarke, W. V. 1998. Guide des Oiseaux de Sao Tome et Principe. ECOFAC, Sao Tome.

IUCN. 2015. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015-4. Available at: (Accessed: 19 November 2015).

Olmos, F.; Turshak, L. 2007. Final report on the fact-finding trip to Angola and Sao Tome and Principe July-August 2007..

Olmos, F.; Turshak, L. G. 2010. Bird observations from São Tomé: Monte Carmo as a priority conservation site. Bulletin of the African Bird Club 17(1): 54-65.

Sergeant, D. E.; Gullick, T.; Turner, D. A.; Sinclair, J. C. 1992. The rediscovery of the Sao Tomé Grosbeak Neospiza concolor in south-western Sao Tomé. Bird Conservation International 2: 157-159.

Solé, N.; Alberto, A.; Samba, s.; Santana, A.; de Lima, R. F. 2012. New hope for the critically endangered São Tomé Grosbeak Neospiza concolor and an alert to protect Obô Natural Park surroundings. Ostrich: Journal of African Ornithology 83(3): 161-163.

Steinheimer, F.D. 2005. On Sao Tome Grosbeak Neospiza concolor. Bulletin of the African Bird Club 12: 76-77.

Ward-Francis, A., Costa, L., Sampaio, H. and Lima, R. 2015. Reducing the extinction risk of the three Critically Endangered birds of São Tomé. Interim Report AFR-1411 - F14AP00529. Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves, University of Lisbon.

Further web sources of information
Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) species/site profile. This species has been identified as an AZE trigger due to its IUCN Red List status and limited range.

Click here for more information about the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE)

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Species Guardian Action Update

Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Bird, J., Ekstrom, J., Peet, N., Shutes, S., Starkey, M., Symes, A., Wright, L & Ashpole, J

Borrow, N., Dallimer, M., Gascoigne, A., Kaestner, P. & Sinclair, I.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Neospiza concolor. Downloaded from on 21/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 21/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Sao Tome grosbeak (Neospiza concolor)

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Critically Endangered
Family Fringillidae (Finches and Hawaiian honeycreepers)
Species name author (Barboza du Bocage, 1888)
Population size 1-49 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 90 km2
Country endemic? Yes
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species