Sri Lankan Spurfowl: An Endemic Bird of Sri Lanka




Sri Lankan Spurfowl

Welcome to the story of the Sri Lanka Spurfowl! These charming birds are native and endemic to the beautiful island of Sri Lanka, making them a unique and fascinating part of its wildlife.

Spurfowls are known for their striking appearance, with vibrant plumage and distinctive markings that set them apart. They’re ground-dwelling birds, often found in forested areas where they forage for food like seeds, insects, and small invertebrates.

Their behavior is a delight to observe, from their curious pecking to their playful interactions. As a species, they contribute to the rich biodiversity of Sri Lanka, adding to its allure as a paradise for nature lovers and bird enthusiasts alike. Join me as we dig deeper into the world of this elusive creature!

Identification Guide of Sri Lanka Spurfowl:

Spotting a Sri Lanka Spurfowl (SLSF) amidst the lush landscapes of Sri Lanka can be an exciting adventure! Here’s how to identify these captivating birds:

  1. Appearance: SLSFs are dark brown ground-dwellers with a unique plumage. Look for a mix of dark brown and rufous colors on their body, adorned with white spots and streaks underneath on males. These spots increase in size from throat to belly.
  2. Sexual Differences: Both males and females sport a red facial patch, but males stand out with a vibrant red naked eye patch. Males also have darker olive-brown irises and blackish tones on their wings and tail. Their beaks are bright red with an orangish tip and have sharp spurs on their feet.
  3. Female Features: Females have duller red beaks, less prominent eye patches, and usually one spur. Their plumage is mostly dark brown, with blackish tails and red feet. They don’t have white spots on the body.
  4. Distinguishing Factors: To differentiate female SLSFs from Sri Lanka Jungle Fowls (SLJFs), check the leg color (yellow for SLJFs) and spot patterns on the belly.

Keep these details in mind, and you’ll soon become an expert at spotting these charming Sri Lankan Spurfowls in the wild!

Distribution and Habitats of Sri Lanka Spurfowl


These birds are mainly found in specific areas of Sri Lanka, particularly in the wetter regions. They are not seen in arid or dry zones but are confined to the wet zone and wetter areas within the intermediate and limited areas in the dry zones of the country.


Sri Lankan Spurfowls prefer dense forested areas, such as wet zone rainforests, sub-montane forests, intermediate forests, riverine stretchers in dry zone forests. They are less common in montane forests. These birds thrive in locations with dense foliage and a thick canopy cover, which creates a wetter microclimate. They can also be spotted along riverine forested areas in Savannah habitats. However, they are never observed in arid zones or scrublands.

Their preferred microhabitat is the forest floor, where they can forage for food and find shelter within the dense vegetation. These habitat preferences are crucial for the presence of Sri Lankan Spurfowls in various ecosystems across Sri Lanka.

Behavior of Sri Lanka Spurfowl


Sri Lankan Spurfowls are ground-dwellers, meaning they spend most of their time on the forest floor. They are active during the day and are often seen in pairs, although rare instances of one female with two males have been observed. Their peak activity times are typically between 7 am to 11 am.

When observed, they tend to spread their tail feathers rather than folding them in. However, there is limited information available regarding their habits during nighttime, particularly their rooting behaviors.

These habits make them fascinating creatures to observe in their natural habitat, especially during their active hours in the morning.

Typical habitat of the Sri Lanka Spurfowl (Sinharaja World Heritage Site)
Typical habitat of the Sri Lanka Spurfowl (Sinharaja World Heritage Site)

Diet and Foraging: 

The Sri Lanka Spurfowl is primarily an omnivorous bird, meaning it eats a variety of foods. They forage on seeds, fallen fruits, and berries, along with termites, insects found in leaf litter, land snails, and spiders. During flowering years, they have a particular liking for Strobilanthes seeds, and they also show a greedy interest in the seeds of the Kekuna plant (scientifically known as Canarium zeylanicum).

Their diverse diet allows them to utilize different food sources available in their habitat, from plant matter like seeds and fruits to protein-rich insects and invertebrates. This adaptability in their diet contributes to their survival in various environments across Sri Lanka.


The Sri Lanka Spurfowl is known for its distinctive territorial calls, particularly during the morning hours. Their territorial song is a series of ringing notes that start with seven syllables, then stabilize to five or six notes. It sounds like “chochok….chochok….chochok…..chochok…..chochok..yuwe…yueee…”. This call is emitted periodically to mark their territory and communicate with other Spurfowls in the area.

Interestingly, females also participate in the territorial song, adding their own contribution with short rising couplets or triplets of notes like “chuk…chuk…chuk…”. This collaborative vocalization creates a complex and layered sound environment.

One notable aspect of their vocalizations is the sound-throwing effect, where it can be challenging to pinpoint the exact location of the calling bird just by listening. This adds to the mystique of these birds as they communicate across their forested habitats.

Mating Behavior of Spurfowl

Breeding: Sri Lankan Spurfowls typically breed during the Northeast monsoon, which occurs from November to March, although breeding has also been observed between July and September.

Courtship: These birds are known to maintain monogamous relationships during the breeding season.

Nest: They construct their nests using leaves and grass, often hidden under rocks, between buttress roots, or amidst bushes. Their nests are well-concealed and camouflaged to protect the eggs.

Clutch size: A typical nest contains two cream or warm buff-colored eggs, although sometimes there may be up to five eggs in a clutch.

Incubation period: The exact duration of the incubation period is not known.

Parental care: Once the chicks hatch, they are covered in dark brown down feathers, blending well with their surroundings for camouflage. Interestingly, even though two chicks may hatch initially, usually only one survives to adulthood due to various natural factors.

These breeding habits showcase the adaptability and survival strategies of the Sri Lanka Spurfowl during the critical period of raising their offspring.

Movement and Flight: 

Sri Lanka Spurfowls are not frequent flyers; they reserve flight for moments of extreme urgency and only cover short distances when airborne. For instance, I’ve observed a pair flying over a freshwater stream with a 12-meter gap, but they had canopy cover during the flight. They typically avoid flying over canopy gaps but may cross smaller trails (less than 5 meters in width) by running on the ground, especially within protected areas.

When startled or alarmed, rather than immediately taking flight, they showcase their agility by swiftly navigating between covers. They often execute quick dashes and display high-speed running instead of relying on flight.

In their usual movements, Sri Lanka Spurfowls have a distinctive high-stepping strut as they walk. This unique gait adds to their charm and adaptability while traversing their forested habitats.

Sri Lankan Spurfowl
Sri Lankan Spurfowl

Ecological Significance of Sri Lanka Spurfowl 

The Sri Lankan Spurfowl plays a potentially vital role as a seed predator on the forest floor. This behavior likely helps in controlling seedling establishment, preventing overpopulation of specific plant species such as Strobilanthes and Canarium zeylanicum. However, further field experiments are needed to confirm this relationship.

Studies have shown that the presence of Sri Lankan Spurfowls in habitats is positively influenced by factors like canopy cover, leaf litter cover, leaf litter depth, and stem density. This information was gathered from a camera trap study conducted in three locations: Sinharaja Forest Reserve, Horton Plains National Park, and Maduru Oya National Park.

Understanding the ecological significance of these birds can provide valuable insights into forest dynamics and ecosystem balance, highlighting the interconnectedness of wildlife and plant life in Sri Lanka’s diverse habitats.

Threats and Conservation of Sri Lanka Spurfowl

While the Sri Lanka Spurfowl is not globally threatened, it was classified as vulnerable in a 2021 assessment, marking a decline from its previous near-threatened status in 2012. The main reason behind this change is the consensus among experts that the Sri Lanka Spurfowl population is decreasing, and its habitats are under threat from various factors.


  1. Habitat Loss: Disturbance, degradation, encroachment, fragmentation, and habitat loss are major threats. Forest clearance for roads and seasonal man-made fires in dry-mixed evergreen forests have destroyed significant portions of suitable Sri Lanka Spurfowl habitats.
  2. Human Activities: Unethical practices by some photographers, bird watchers, and locals in areas like Kudawa, Nilgala, Kanneliya, and Kalugala involve luring Sri Lanka Spurfowl with food and providing hiding spots for photography, disrupting their natural behavior and possibly affecting their health.

Conservation Measures:

  1. Scientific Research: Conducting in-depth research on home range analysis, breeding biology, and gene pool of Sri Lanka Spurfowl is crucial for conservation efforts.
  2. Habitat Protection: Safeguarding and enhancing existing habitats near protected areas is essential. This includes preserving dense forest cover and addressing habitat fragmentation.
  3. Community Engagement: Increasing awareness among local communities about the ecological importance of Sri Lanka Spurfowl and promoting ethical photography practices can help reduce disturbances and ensure the well-being of these birds.

By implementing these conservation measures and fostering a greater understanding of the challenges faced by the Sri Lanka Spurfowl, we can work towards ensuring the long-term survival and sustainability of this vulnerable species.

Understanding the Sri Lanka Spurfowl’s Relatives and Captive Breeding Potential

The Sri Lanka Spurfowl has close relatives, the Red Spurfowl and Painted Spurfowl, both exclusive to India. These species differ significantly in appearance from the Sri Lanka Spurfowl.

In 1913, there was an attempt to breed Sri Lanka Spurfowl in captivity by Steventon, but it failed due to improper methods. Using a domestic chicken to incubate the eggs resulted in the death of one Sri Lanka Spurfowl chick and another drowned in a water can. Another breeding pair in the National Museum aviary lost their three chicks and female to a Rusty-spotted Cat.

Despite these challenges, it’s noted that Sri Lanka Spurfowl can be easily tamed, hinting at potential success in captive breeding if wild populations face critical threats.


In summary, the Sri Lanka Spurfowl, a unique endemic bird, symbolizes the diverse wildlife of Sri Lanka. Its distinct characteristics, habitat preferences, and conservation status highlight the importance of preserving its natural habitat. 

As we appreciate and protect these endemic species, we contribute to the broader goal of biodiversity conservation. Let’s continue to explore and safeguard the natural wonders that make Sri Lanka a haven for avian enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.

Finally, if you are interested in see endemics of Sri Lanka including “Sri Lankan Spurfowl”, check out “Endemic Birds in Sri Lanka” tour by (Traveling in Sri Lanka  is  a great experience indeed). 


  • Dharmarathne, S. C., Jayasekara, E., Mahaulpatha, D., & de Silva, K. (2022). Camera trap data reveals the habitat use and activity patterns of a secretive forest bird, Sri Lanka Spurfowl Galloperdix bicalcarata. Journal of Wildlife and Biodiversity, 6(Suppl. 1), 100-118.
  • Dissanayake, R. (2022). The configuration of the tail of the Sri Lanka Spurfowl Galloperdix bicalcarata (Galliformes: Phasianidae). Indian Birds Monograph, 5, 52-56.
  • Madge, S., & McGowan, P. J. K. (2002). Pheasants, Partridges and Grouse, including Buttonquails, Sandgrouse and Allies. London, UK: Christopher Helm.
  • McGowan, P. J. K., & Kirwan, G. M. (2020). Sri Lanka Spurfowl (Galloperdix bicalcarata) In Birds of the World (J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, J. Sargatal, D. A. Christie, and E. de Juana, Editors), Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. Accessed on 4/17/2024. version 1.0.
  • Steventon, H. (1913). Spur Fowl breeding in captivity. Spolia Zeylanica, 8, 70.