Bare-headed rockfowl -- 白颈岩鹛 (Picathartes gymnocephalus)

Bare-headed rockfowl on leaf litter
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Bare-headed rockfowl fact file

Bare-headed rockfowl description

GenusPicathartes (1)

The bare-headed rockfowl is a strange-looking bird with a brightly-coloured, featherless head, resembling a leather aviator’s cap - orange around the eyes and black around the back of the head. The eyes and the beak are jet black also, making the orange skin even more conspicuous. The wings, upperparts and tail are dark bluish-grey, whereas the neck and underparts are white, and appear to be slightly translucent due to the fluffy texture of the feathers. Normally silent, this species occasionally makes a breathy sshhhiisss sound and a soft tok call (3).

Also known as
white-necked picathartes.
Picatharte à cou blanc, Picatharte chauve, Picatharte de Guinée.
Cuervo Calvo de Cuello Blanco, Picatartes Cuelliblanco.

Bare-headed rockfowl biology

Feeding alone, the bare-headed rockfowl picks invertebrates from the forest floor and will often follow army ant colonies, which turn out vast numbers of insects and grubs as they march through the forest (3). During the breeding season this bird is known to feed on snails, as nests have been found with hundreds of empty snail shells on the ground beneath them (4). Breeding tends to take place in rocky areas such as on cliffs and cave roofs, but nests are also found in large fallen, hollow trees. Pairs congregate with between one and 40 other pairs (3) and construct semicircular nests from mud and plants that are fixed to an overhanging rock or branch. They are about 30 centimetres wide, 15 centimetres deep and 15 centimetres high (4) and will contain either one or two eggs (3). Breeding takes place after rainfall in lowland areas and so may occur twice yearly if the ‘little rains’ are strong enough (3).


Bare-headed rockfowl range

This species lives only in the Upper Guinean forests of West Africa including Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, and Ghana, where it was rediscovered in 2003, having not been seen since the 1960s (3) (4).


Bare-headed rockfowl habitat

Known as a rockfowl due to its affinity for a rocky environment, the bare-headed rockfowl prefers clearings within primary and secondary forests, but it is known to exist at less pristine sites, and is even seen close to towns and other human settlements (3).


Bare-headed rockfowl status

The bare-headed rockfowl is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1) and is listed on Appendix I of CITES (2).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Bare-headed rockfowl threats

The low reproductive rate of this striking bird makes it particularly susceptible to the threats that face it and mean that its recovery rate is slow. Compounding the ecological pressures of nest-predation and competition from other birds, the bare-headed rockfowl is threatened by collecting for zoos, and by trapping with noose traps and wire snares. Human disturbance in Sierra Leone, and mining for gold, manganese and bauxite in Ghana have put pressure on the species, as has conversion of forests to farmland in Cameroon and Sierra Leone (3).


Bare-headed rockfowl conservation

Although protected by law in Ghana, Sierra Leone and Cameroon, the legislation is ineffectual, prompting the creation of a Picathartes working group to promote research and conservation action, and to consider the potential for ecotourism based around such a striking and charismatic species (3). Following the rediscovery of the bare-headed rockfowl in Ghana by the British Ornithologist’s Club in 2003, the Ghana Wildlife Society began a project running population surveys in order to better understand the population size and range of this species. This study was funded with $19,300 awarded by the Critical Ecosystem Fund (CEPF) under its small grant program (5). Currently the Ghana Wildlife Division, the Nature Conservation Research Centre, and the Chief of Asumara are working to protect the species in Ghana’s nature reserves (4). A genetic study has been proposed to assess whether inbreeding is a further threat facing this small population (3). In 2008, volunteers from the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone, the University of Sierra Leone, and the government’s Forestry Division, with help from local communities, carried out a survey of the Western Area Peninsula Forest (WAPF) and discovered two new breeding colonies of the bare-headed rockfowl. The project also established a network of trained wardens in villages surrounding the WAPF reserve (6).

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

Find out more

For further information on the bare-headed rockfowl see:

  • Thompson, H., Siaka, A., Lebbie, A., Evans, S.W., Hoffmann, D and Sande, E. (2004) International Species Action Plan for the White-necked Picathartes Picathartes gymnocephalus. BirdLife International, Nairobi, Kenya and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Sandy, Bedfordshire, UK. Available at:



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:


Inbreeding depression
The decreased vigour in terms of growth, survival or fertility that follows one or more generations of interbreeding between closely related individuals.
Animals with no backbone.
Primary forest
Forest that has remained undisturbed for a long time and has reached a mature condition.
Secondary forest
Regenerating forest that has not yet reached the mature state of primary forest.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.


  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2006)
  2. CITES (April, 2006)
  3. BirdLife International (April, 2006)
  4. Marks, B.D., Weckstein, J.D., Johnson, K.P., Meyer, M.J., Braimah, J. and Oppong, J. (2004) Rediscovery of the white-necked picathartes Picathartes gymnocephalus in Ghana. Bulletin of the British Ornithologist’s Club, 124(2): 151 - 153.
  5. CEPF Small Grant Final Project Completion Report (April, 2006)
  6. BirdLife International: News (April, 2008)

Image credit

Bare-headed rockfowl on leaf litter  
Bare-headed rockfowl on leaf litter


Kevin Schafer Photography
2148 Halleck Ave SW
Tel: +01 (206) 933-1668
Fax: +01 (206) 933-1659


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