Red-faced Malkoha: Sri Lankan Endemic Bird




Red-faced Malkoha - A Sri Lankan Endemic Bird

The Red-faced Malkoha is a cryptic avian species that holds a special place in the ornithological realm. Endemic to the tropical paradise of Sri Lanka, this remarkable bird stands as a testament to the country’s rich biodiversity. 

With its remarkable plumage and distinctive features, the Red-faced Malkoha showcases the wonders of nature in a way that captivates both experts and enthusiasts alike. 

As an endemic species, it symbolizes the delicate balance of ecosystems found within Sri Lanka, emphasizing the importance of preserving and protecting these unique organisms. 

In the pursuit of biodiversity conservation, recognizing and safeguarding endemic species like the Red-faced Malkoha becomes crucial to maintaining the ecological harmony of nature.

Overview of the Red-faced Malkoha

Red-faced Malkoha - A Sri Lankan Endemic Bird
Red-faced Malkoha – A Sri Lankan Endemic Bird (Photo Credit: Gihan Rajeev)

The Red-faced Malkoha, scientifically known as Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus, is a remarkable bird species that captures the imagination with its unique attributes. 

This avian marvel showcases a moderate size, typically measuring around 35-47 centimeters in length. 

Its striking plumage exhibits a fascinating blend of colors, featuring shades of green (with bluish iridescent), gray, and white, accentuated by a vivid red face, giving the bird its distinctive name.

These birds are sexually dimorphic where the male has dark brown iris and the female has creamy white iris. Its beak has an ivory green to pale yellow color. 

In terms of habitat preferences, the Red-faced Malkoha displays a strong affinity for well forested areas. It thrives amidst the lush foliage and canopies of Sri Lanka’s diverse forests, particularly those located in lowlands in wet zone and hill regions. 

While the bird can adapt to a variety of forest types, it tends to favor the wet zones of the country. Additionally, the Red-faced Malkoha can be found in protected areas and reserves located in the intermediate and dry zone of Sri Lanka. 

Such known locations are Uda Walawe National Park, Gal-oya National Park, Nilgala Sanctuary, Lahugala National Park, and Yala National Park. 

What truly sets the Red-faced Malkoha apart is its limited distribution, as it is found exclusively within the large track of lowland rainforest of Sri Lanka. 

The most famous location to spot this beauty is in Sinharaja World Heritage Site or rarely in Makandawa Conservation Forest in Kithulgala. 

The bird’s range is confined to specific regions of the island, further accentuating its endemism and ecological significance. 

This restricted distribution highlights the need for targeted conservation efforts to ensure the preservation of this captivating species and its specialized habitat within Sri Lanka’s natural landscapes.

Distribution and Geographic Range of Red-faced Malkoha:

Understanding the distribution and geographic range of a species is essential to appreciate its significance and conservation requirements. 

The Red-faced Malkoha, an endemic bird species found exclusively in Sri Lanka, exemplifies a fascinating case study in terms of its distribution and range.

Endemic to Sri Lanka:

  • The Red-faced Malkoha holds the distinction of being endemic to the island nation of Sri Lanka, making it a truly remarkable avian species. 
  • Endemism signifies that the bird is found nowhere else in the world, underscoring its unique evolutionary history and ecological role within Sri Lanka’s diverse ecosystems.

Specific Regions and Habitats:

  • Within Sri Lanka, the Red-faced Malkoha demonstrates a particular distribution pattern, occupying specific regions and habitats. 
  • This captivating bird predominantly inhabits forested areas of the wet zone, both in lowland and hill regions, where it thrives amidst the rich biodiversity of the country. 
  • It is important to mention that currently this bird only occupying the larger track of forests in the wet zone and a large tract of riverine forests in the intermediate and dry zone of Sri Lanka
  • The bird’s presence in these habitats indicates its preference for dense vegetation, providing essential resources for nesting, foraging, and breeding.

Protected Areas and Conservation:

  • The Red-faced Malkoha’s geographic range intersects with many protected areas and conservation sites across Sri Lanka. 
  • These include national parks, reserves, sanctuaries, and forest reserves, where efforts are made to safeguard the bird’s habitat and support its population. 
  • Conservation initiatives within these protected areas play a crucial role in ensuring the long-term survival of the Red-faced Malkoha and the preservation of its endemic status.

Range Restriction and Conservation Significance:

  • While the Red-faced Malkoha is scatteredly distributed within Sri Lanka, its range is relatively restricted to specific regions of the country. 
  • This localized distribution highlights the bird’s vulnerability to habitat loss, fragmentation, and other threats. 
  • Protecting the Red-faced Malkoha and its habitat becomes imperative not only for the conservation of this captivating species but also for the preservation of Sri Lanka’s unique biodiversity and the ecological balance of its ecosystems.

Understanding the distribution and geographic range of the Red-faced Malkoha provides valuable insights into its significance as an endemic species in Sri Lanka. 

By recognizing the bird’s specific habitats, range restrictions, and the importance of conservation efforts, we can work towards preserving this enchanting bird for future generations and ensuring the ecological integrity of Sri Lanka’s natural landscapes.

Red faced Malkoha-A Sri Lankan Endemic Bird
Red faced Malkoha – Fact Sheet

Ecological Importance of Red-faced Malkoha:

The Red-faced Malkoha, plays a vital role within its habitat, contributing to the delicate balance of the ecosystem. One of the key ecological functions performed by the Red-faced Malkoha is controlling the foliar herbivory and other insects.

As it forages through the forest, the bird consumes a variety of insects and small vertebrates thus aiding in the control of insect populations, especially in the canopy. 

This process facilitates the maintenance of forest foliage and the diversity of plant species, promoting the overall health of the ecosystem.

It feeds on a range of invertebrates, including insects and their larvae, helping to regulate their populations. 

By exerting natural predation pressure, the bird contributes to the ecological balance and prevents outbreaks of certain insect species that could otherwise disrupt the ecosystem.

Interconnection of Red-faced Malkoha with Other Species

The Red-faced Malkoha’s interaction with other species further underscores its ecological importance. As a predator, it influences the behavior and distribution of its prey, shaping the dynamics of the local ecosystem. 

Additionally, the bird’s presence and activities provide food sources for other organisms within the food web, fostering interdependencies among species. Red-faced Malkoha is also a prominent member of mixed species foraging bird flocks in forests. 

Understanding the interconnectedness between endemic species, like the Red-faced Malkoha, and the overall health of the ecosystem is crucial. 

These unique birds are integral components of Sri Lanka’s biodiversity, serving as indicators of ecosystem integrity. 

Their conservation and well-being are closely linked to the preservation of their habitat and the diverse array of flora and fauna that rely on their presence.

Recognizing and safeguarding the ecological importance of the Red-faced Malkoha not only ensures the survival of a species but also contributes to the sustainability and balance of the broader ecosystem. 

Through mindful conservation efforts, we can protect the web of life in which the Red-faced Malkoha and other endemic species thrive, preserving the natural heritage of Sri Lanka for generations to come.

Behavioral Patterns and Adaptations of Red-faced Malkoha:

The Red-faced Malkoha exhibits a remarkable repertoire of behavioral patterns and adaptations that enable its survival and reproductive success within its specific environment. 

This captivating bird showcases unique feeding habits, primarily relying on a diet of insects and small vertebrates. 

Its agile foraging techniques and ability to snatch prey with precision are indicative of its well-honed adaptations for capturing elusive prey.

There are some observations of this bird feeding on fruits and berries as well but very rarely. 

In terms of nesting behavior, the Red-faced Malkoha constructs deep cup nests using twigs and leaves, skillfully positioned within the dense foliage of trees. 

This nesting strategy provides protection from predators and ensures the safety of its eggs and offspring. 

The writer once observed a nesting behavior where both male and females were collecting nesting materials and moving to a well concealed location in the foliage at about 10 m height from the ground level. 

That nesting location was associated with a wetland thus there should be an important link with wetland habitat for nesting sites in a forested habitat. 

Vocalizations are somewhat unknown as these birds rarely emit calls. A low “grrrr….” or “kok..kok..” can be heard during the breeding season where they need to establish territory boundaries and attract mates during that time.

Adaptation of Red-faced Malkoha

The Red-faced Malkoha’s adaptations play a crucial role in its survival and reproductive success. Its vibrant plumage and secretive behavior aid in camouflage, allowing the bird to blend seamlessly into its forested surroundings. 

These adaptations enhance its ability to navigate through dense vegetation, avoiding potential threats while in search of food or during courtship rituals.

Anecdotes and observations from the wild further illuminate the fascinating behavior of the Red-faced Malkoha. Ornithologists and wildlife enthusiasts have witnessed its agile movements as it leaps from branch to branch, displaying exceptional dexterity. 

The behavioral patterns and adaptations of the Red-faced Malkoha are yet to be explored as there is still not much information about it. 

Conservation Status and Threats to Red-faced Malkoha:

The conservation status of the Red-faced Malkoha, as evaluated by relevant authorities and conservation organizations, highlights the urgent need for protective measures to safeguard this remarkable bird species. 

Currently, the Red-faced Malkoha is classified as “Vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. This categorization indicates the species’ susceptibility to significant threats that endanger its survival and future existence.

But the local Sri Lankan experts have different judgments as they categorize this bird under “Endangered” because of the severe fragmentation pressure on the existing forested habitats of this bird.  

Threats and challenges on conservation for this bird

The Red-faced Malkoha faces various threats, primarily stemming from habitat loss and fragmentation. 

Sri Lanka’s expanding human population and associated development activities result in the conversion of natural forested areas into agricultural land, urban settlements, and infrastructure projects. 

This encroachment reduces the bird’s available habitat, disrupting its foraging and breeding patterns.

Fragmentation of forested areas further compounds the challenges faced by the Red-faced Malkoha, leading to isolation and reduced gene flow between populations.

Another significant threat to the Red-faced Malkoha and countless other species is climate change. Rising temperatures, altered precipitation patterns, and unpredictable weather events can disrupt the delicate ecological balance of its habitat. 

These changes affect the availability of food resources, nesting sites, nestling survival, and overall ecosystem dynamics, potentially leading to population declines.

Despite these challenges, there are ongoing conservation efforts and initiatives aimed at protecting the Red-faced Malkoha and its habitat. 

Conservation measures

Conservation organizations collaborate with local communities, governmental bodies, and other stakeholders to raise awareness, establish protected areas, and implement habitat restoration programs. 

By preserving and rehabilitating forested landscapes, these initiatives provide a crucial lifeline for the Red-faced Malkoha and other vulnerable species.

To secure the future of the Red-faced Malkoha, it is vital to mitigate the threats posed by habitat loss, fragmentation, and climate change. 

Continued research, monitoring, and adaptive management strategies are essential in addressing these challenges. 

By promoting sustainable land-use practices, fostering community engagement, and advocating for effective conservation policies, we can work towards ensuring the long-term survival and well-being of the Red-faced Malkoha and the conservation of Sri Lanka’s unique avian heritage.

If you are willing to support such projects by funding please contact us as we are directly linked with the conservation action to preserve biodiversity in Sri Lanka.

Role of Community Engagement in Conserving Red-faced Malkoha:

Community engagement plays a crucial role in the conservation of the Red-faced Malkoha, highlighting the interconnectedness between the well-being of local communities and the preservation of endemic species. 

Involving communities in bird conservation efforts fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility, ensuring long-term sustainability and success.

Successful community-based conservation projects have demonstrated the positive impact of such engagement. 

Local community involvement

In Sri Lanka, initiatives have involved local communities in habitat restoration, monitoring programs, and ecotourism activities focused on the Red-faced Malkoha and other endemic birds. 

By actively involving communities in these initiatives, a mutually beneficial relationship is fostered. 

Communities gain a better understanding of the importance of preserving their natural heritage, while also realizing the potential economic benefits (through bird watching via tourism) that conservation efforts can bring.

Individuals can contribute to the conservation of the Red-faced Malkoha through various means. Supporting local ecotourism initiatives, such as birdwatching tours, provides economic incentives for communities to protect bird habitats. 

Further, participating in citizen science initiatives, individuals can contribute valuable data on Red-faced Malkoha sightings and behavior, aiding in research and conservation efforts. 

Involvement of the government

Additionally, government engagement in spreading awareness about the importance of biodiversity conservation, supporting local conservation organizations, and advocating for strong environmental policies can make a significant difference.

Ultimately, community engagement is pivotal in the conservation of the Red-faced Malkoha and other endemic species, where the local environment officer can do a great job.  

The Department of Wildlife Conservation takes every possible action towards the law enforcement to protect these unique birds and the Department of Forest Conservation manages most of the existing habitat of this bird. 

By recognizing the intrinsic connection between local communities and the preservation of biodiversity, we can foster a shared commitment to protect the Red-faced Malkoha and its habitat for future generations. 

Through collaborative efforts, we can ensure that the Red-faced Malkoha continues to grace Sri Lanka’s forests, enriching both the natural heritage and the well-being of the communities that call this enchanting island home.


The Red-faced Malkoha, an endemic bird species in Sri Lanka, embodies the country’s rich biodiversity. Its unique characteristics and ecological significance highlight the importance of conservation efforts. 

By protecting the Red-faced Malkoha and its habitat, we preserve not only this captivating bird but also the broader natural heritage of Sri Lanka. 

Supporting initiatives such as habitat restoration, community engagement, and sustainable practices are vital. 

Let us appreciate and advocate for the conservation of Sri Lanka’s endemic species, including the Red-faced Malkoha, ensuring a future where these treasures continue to thrive in their enchanting forest homes. 

Together, we can make a lasting impact on the preservation of this remarkable bird and the irreplaceable beauty of Sri Lanka’s wildlife.

Finally, if you are interested in seeing endemics of Sri Lanka including “Red-faced Malkoha”, check out the “Endemic Birds in Sri Lanka” tour by (Travelling in Sri Lanka is a great experience indeed).