The beautiful and critically endangered Araripe manakin was first discovered in 1998 and is only known from one location. It has an extremely small known range, within which it is subject to continuing pressure from agriculture and the development of recreational facilities.
The males are spectacularly patterned, with pure white plumage, black wings and tail and a bright crimson nape, crown and mid-back. There is a tuft of bright red feathers above the bill. Females are dull olive green, with a paler belly and a smaller tuft of feathers above the bill. Because of its helmet-like crown it has received the Portuguese name soldadinho-do-araripe which means ‘Little soldier of Araripe.’
These birds are found along the slopes of the chapada in the lower and middle stories of tall forests where there are plenty of vines, as well as clearings. They’re associated with water springs and are a good indicator of environmental quality. Very little is known about this extremely rare species. It typically occurs in pairs and has been reported to feed on the fruits of Cordia species. Juvenile males have been found during March and January. The population is very small; a survey in 2006 estimated a population of only 800 individuals.
Habitat loss and degradation as a result of human encroachment for development and recreation, as well as clearance for agriculture (particularly banana, maize, beans and tomatoes) and cattle, is the main threat. The chapada region has suffered intense human pressure recently, and the locality at which the species was first described has been turned into a recreational park.
The location at which this beautiful bird is found is within the Araripe National Forest and a larger Environmental Protection Area, but these designations do not prevent disturbance or exploitation. It is imperative that this area is designated as a biological reserve or a national park. Thankfully, the owner of the land next to the type locality resolved to protect the habitat after this species was discovered.
A project, supported by the British Petroleum Conservation Leadership Programme, is underway to shed light on the ecology of this species and to assess the main threats facing it as well as opportunities for its conservation. Urgent action must be taken if this critically endangered and recently discovered species is to escape extinction.