Black sicklebill -- 黑镰嘴风鸟 (Epimachus fastuosus)

Male black sicklebill feeding from pandanus plant
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Black sicklebill fact file

Black sicklebill description

GenusEpimachus (1)

The black sicklebill is a large bird of paradise, with, as the name suggests, a long, strongly curved bill (2). The tail is extremely long; this species is the largest-plumed of all birds of paradise, a family well-known for its colourful and highly ornate species (2) (4). As with most members of this family of birds, male black sicklebills are significantly larger and more spectacular in appearance than females (4); they are largely black in colour but show a beautiful metallic-green and purple iridescence in certain light conditions (2). Females are brown in colour with chestnut fringes to the wing feathers. The underparts are off-white and feature delicate dark-brown barring. Both sexes possess reddish-brown eyes (2). Male black sicklebills produce nasal contact calls and a liquid quik, quik call (2).

Traded skins of birds of paradise arrived in Europe in huge quantities from 1522 to 1924. As the skins always had their legs removed, Europeans thought, erroneously and rather romantically, that the birds flew continually, constantly flying towards the sun and paradise. This is the origin of the name of the family, birds of paradise (4). Even Linnaeus (1707-1778), the Swedish creator of the modern ‘binomial’ (meaning ‘two names’) system of naming species, thought that the birds lacked legs, dubbing the greater bird of paradise Paradisea apoda, which literally translates as footless bird of paradise. The name survives today, despite the subsequent discovery of the bird’s feet!

Male length: 100 cm(2)
Female length: 48 cm

Black sicklebill biology

This bird of paradise forages for fruit and small animals in the tree canopy. It has frequently been observed probing into moss and plants for insects and other arthropods (2).


Black sicklebill range

The black sicklebill occurs in mountainous areas of western and central New Guinea; in the Vogelkop and Wandammen Mountains in Papua (formerly Irian Jaya) and from Indonesia to the Torricelli and Bewani Mountains in Papua New Guinea (2) (5). Throughout this range it has a patchy distribution, and is absent from many areas. It is typically scarce or rare (5).


Black sicklebill habitat

Found only in montane forest, usually at altitudes of 1,800 to 2,150 metres, but may occasionally be found at lower or higher altitudes (5). It prefers primary forest (forest that has never been felled), but is very occasionally found in garden edges and re-growth (5).


Black sicklebill status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1). Listed under CITES Appendix II (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Black sicklebill threats

The main threat facing the black sicklebill is hunting for the spectacular tail feathers and as a food resource (2). As shotguns become more available in the area and the price of the skins increases, hunting pressure has intensified. Most hunters target only male individuals, as their plumage is more spectacular than that of females. It seems that the species is able to survive in areas where males are removed, but there have been no studies into the effects of hunting on breeding success (2). The persistence of the species in these areas may be the result of immigration of young males following the removal of breeding adults, but further study is required (5). The forests inhabited by this sicklebill are threatened by clearance for agriculture, a problem that is likely to worsen as the human population continues to increase. Unfortunately, this species is unable to survive in secondary re-growth forests (2).


Black sicklebill conservation

Although the black sicklebill is protected by law in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, hunting continues in these areas (5). Enforced hunting bans have been put into force at Crater Mountain and Ok Tedi; populations increased at Crater Mountain as a result (2). There is an urgent need for research into this species. The full range of the bird must be surveyed and population sizes need to be established. Hunting levels need to be monitored; furthermore, awareness programmes should be initiated and large forest reserves should be set up in which hunting bans operate, in order to provide a safe-haven for this beleaguered species (2).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

For more information on the black sicklebill see:

  • BirdLife International. (2001) Threatened Birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.
  • BirdLife International:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:


A very diverse phylum (a major grouping of animals) that includes crustaceans, insects and arachnids. All arthropods have paired jointed limbs and a hard external skeleton (exoskeleton).
Montane forest
Forests occurring in the montane zone, a zone of cool upland slopes below the tree line dominated by large evergreen trees.


  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2008)
  2. BirdLife International (March, 2004)
  3. CITES (March, 2004)
  4. Erritzoe, J. (1993) The Birds of CITES and how to identify them. The Lutterworth Press, Cambridge.
  5. BirdLife International. (2001) Threatened Birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.

Image credit

Male black sicklebill feeding from pandanus plant  
Male black sicklebill feeding from pandanus plant

© Richard Kirby /

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