Rob Williams

The Peruvian Plantcutter

Phytotoma raimondii

NPA: Bosque de Pomac Historical Sanctuary.

Endemic: Yes, from Peru.

Characteristics

This medium-sized bird is usually observed in an upright stance. It has a crest, a short, thick beak (the serrations of which can be observed at close range) with a yellow iris. Its tail is black with a white terminal band. The male is grey with a rufous abdomen and forehead. Its wings are black with two white bands. The female’s entire body is covered with black streaks, which are darker on its back.

Length: 18-19 cm / 7.1-7.5 in.

Threat: Endangered.

Best Time for observation: All year round.

Habitat: It can be sighted all year round in areas with dense and semi-dense forest. The best place to see it is near the Millennial Carob and La Paleria.

Endemic species of the northern coast of Peru.

The Peruvian Plantcutter

One of the most threatened birds of northwest Peru and certainly one of the most sought-after by birdwatchers is the Peruvian Plantcutter. Restricted to the coastal dry forests, the species is threatened by on-going deforestation and habitat conversion, and has an ever decreasing population restricted to fragments of remaining habitat. As its name suggests this bird eats plants, not really by cutting, but more by using its serrated-edged bill to bite-off or tear leaves, flowers or small fruits. It is therefore dependant on areas with a reasonable diversity of tree and bush species and such sites are increasing rare. Key species in its diet are the Algarrobo or American Carob (Prosopis pallida) and Palo Negro (Grabowskia boerhaaviifolia); while the Algarrobo is the most common tree of the coastal region, the other important species are much less common.

The striking male, with its peculiar call, is a highlight of birding the coastal forests and one of the best sites to see it is the 5,887 hectare Bosque de Pómac Historical Sanctuary in Lambayeque. This reserve protects ancient adobe pyramids from the Sican culture as well as an important tract of dry forest where, at certain spots with the right vegetation, the Plantcutter can be found. The Pómac Forest also home to other endemic species, including the scarce and local Rufous Flycatcher, making it a must-visit site for birders.

Whilst the future of the Peruvian Plantcutter is uncertain, the protection of Pómac Forest protects one of the most important populations and conservation efforts are underway elsewhere with tree nurseries propagating plants for habitat restoration. Several small private reserves are also protecting the species in Lambayeque department. Hopefully this impressive bird will be around for many more years for birders to enjoy.

Text by Jeremy Flanagan.