Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Leiothrix lutea
(red-billed leiothrix)



Leiothrix lutea (red-billed leiothrix)


  • Last modified
  • 01 February 2019
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Host Animal
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Leiothrix lutea
  • Preferred Common Name
  • red-billed leiothrix
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Metazoa
  •     Phylum: Chordata
  •       Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •         Class: Aves
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • L. lutea is an attractive and colourful small bird, native to Southeast Asia. In its native range it prefers forest with thick undergrowth although it also populates forest edges. Due to its popularity as a cag...

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Leiothrix lutea (red-billed leiothrix); male, captive bird. Chester Zoo, UK.
TitleMale, captive bird
CaptionLeiothrix lutea (red-billed leiothrix); male, captive bird. Chester Zoo, UK.
Copyright©Jonathan Jordan/via wikipedia - CC BY 2.0
Leiothrix lutea (red-billed leiothrix); male, captive bird. Chester Zoo, UK.
Male, captive birdLeiothrix lutea (red-billed leiothrix); male, captive bird. Chester Zoo, UK.©Jonathan Jordan/via wikipedia - CC BY 2.0


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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Leiothrix lutea Scopoli

Preferred Common Name

  • red-billed leiothrix

Other Scientific Names

  • Sylvia lutea Scopoli

International Common Names

  • English: japanese hill robin; japanese nightingale; peking nightingale; peking robin; red-billed mesia
  • Spanish: leiotrix piquirrojo
  • French: léiothrix jaune; rossignol du japon

Local Common Names

  • Germany: Sonnenvogel

Summary of Invasiveness

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L. lutea is an attractive and colourful small bird, native to Southeast Asia. In its native range it prefers forest with thick undergrowth although it also populates forest edges. Due to its popularity as a cage songbird/aviary species, L. lutea has been introduced into areas outside of its native range including Japan, Hawaii, Spain, France and Réunion. Here it has established breeding populations after escaping or being deliberately released. L. lutea is a highly adaptable species and may be exploiting different foraging niches to native species. In Hawaii, several endemic species have become extinct and it is thought that L. lutea may have contributed to their decline, due to its status as a reservoir for avian malaria. This and possible competition for resources is currently being monitored on the islands.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Metazoa
  •         Phylum: Chordata
  •             Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •                 Class: Aves
  •                     Order: Passeriformes
  •                         Family: Leiothrichidae
  •                             Genus: Leiothrix
  •                                 Species: Leiothrix lutea

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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Male et al. (1998) and Collar et al. (2014) describe five subspecies of L. lutea. These are:

L. lutea lutea - thought to be the main subspecies in the Hawaiian Islands, south central and eastern China (south Gansu and south Shaanxi east to west Hubei, south Anhui, north Zhejiang and north Fujian, south to central Sichuan, Guizhou and north Guangxi)

L. lutea calipyga - identified on the Hawaiian Islands and is found from western Nepal to Bhutan, north Bangladesh, Assam (India), Myanmar and north Yunnan (China)

L. lutea kumaiensis - found in the Indian Himalayas between east Punjab and north west Uttar Pradesh, also present in west Nepal

L. lutea kwangtungensis- found in south east Yunnan, Guangxi, south Hunan and Guangdong, China and Tonkin, Vietnam

L. lutea yunnanensis - found in north Myanmar and north Yunnan (China)

A junior synonym (sometimes considered a subspecies), L. lutea luteola (sometimes L. lutea calipyga luteola with a range from south Assam to south-west Myanmar, is also noted in the literature (Koelz, 1952; Avibase, 2015).


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Adult L. lutea are approximately 15 cm long, bill to tail, have olive-grey plumage on the crown, nape and back, with grey on the face around the eyes. The tail is black and deeply forked. The throat is a bright yellow transitioning to a darker yellow-orange towards the breast and the belly is dull yellow-grey. The bill is red and the base of the primaries is red. Otherwise the primaries are dark olive or black and the outer edges are bright yellow. Juveniles have duller wing patches and a black bill that may be redder towards the tip. Both sexes are very similar in appearance making them difficult to differentiate in the field. It has been suggested that the bright wing patches may be used for inter-specific communication in their dark habitats (Kawano et al., 2000).

The subspecies differ from each other in terms of brightness of plumage on the crown, primaries and belly. L. lutea lutea has the brightest colours, with no black on the outer primary webs and less yellow on the belly. L. lutea kumaiensis has a dull crown, less red on the edge of the primaries and a lighter overall colour. L. lutea calipyga has a brighter crown than L. lutea kumaiensis, has redder inner primaries and is darker. Sometimes recognized as a subspecies, L. lutea yunnanensis, is described as being darker in colour (Male et al., 1998).

L. lutea are highly vocal, especially males during the breeding season. Their song is long and complex with many syllables. In captivity, contact calls of males and females are sex specific and distinct enough to identify individuals (Male et al., 1998). 


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L. lutea has a wide distribution in Southeast Asia. L. lutea is distributed south and east from the Himalayas to Myanmar and south China. In China it is present in Hubei, Sichuan, Jiangxi, Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong and Yunnan Gansu, Shaanxi, Anhui, Zhejiang, Guizhou and Guangxi (Collar et al., 2014). It is also present in Myanmar, northern Vietnam and west to the Himalayas of India, Bhutan and Nepal in forests with an understory (Male et. al, 1998).

L. lutea is also present in north east Pakistan (although perhaps only vagrant here) and in north Tonkin, Vietnam (Collar et al., 2014).

L. lutea has been introduced into countries outside of its native range where it has escaped from captivity. Countries include, Japan, Hawaii, Réunion in the Indian Ocean and into Europe (France, Spain, Germany, Portugal and Italy) (Baslym 2007; Catálogo Español de Especies Exóticas Invasoras, 2013Hawkins, 2013Farina and Pieretti, 2014).

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes


BangladeshWidespreadNative Not invasive eBird, 2015
BhutanPresentNative Not invasive Collar et al., 2014; eBird, 2015Temperate zone. L. lutea calipyga
ChinaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-AnhuiLocalisedNative Not invasive Collar et al., 2014; eBird, 2015L. lutea lutea in the south
-BeijingWidespreadNative Not invasive eBird, 2015
-FujianLocalisedNative Not invasive Collar et al., 2014L. lutea lutea in the north
-GansuLocalisedNative Not invasive Collar et al., 2014L. lutea lutea in the south
-GuangdongWidespreadNative Not invasive Collar et al., 2014L. lutea kwangtungensis
-GuangxiPresentNative Not invasive Collar et al., 2014; eBird, 2015L. lutea lutea in the north and L. lutea kwangtungensis in central areas
-GuizhouLocalisedNative Not invasive Collar et al., 2014L. lutea lutea
-Hong KongWidespreadNative Not invasive eBird, 2015
-HubeiLocalisedNative Not invasive Collar et al., 2014L. lutea lutea in the west
-HunanPresentNative Not invasive Collar et al., 2014; eBird, 2015L. lutea kwangtungensis in the south
-ShaanxiPresentNative Not invasive Collar et al., 2014; eBird, 2015L. lutea lutea in the south
-SichuanPresentNative Not invasive Collar et al., 2014; eBird, 2015L. lutea lutea central and south
-TibetLocalisedNative Not invasive Collar et al., 2014L. lutea calipyga in the south east
-YunnanPresentNativeCollar et al., 2014; eBird, 2015L. lutea yunnanensis in the west and north west and L.lutea. kwangtungensis in the south east
-ZhejiangLocalisedNative Not invasive Collar et al., 2014L. lutea lutea in the north
IndiaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Arunachal PradeshLocalisedNative Not invasive eBird, 2015
-ChandigarhWidespreadNative Not invasive eBird, 2015
-MeghalayaLocalisedNative Not invasive eBird, 2015
-UttarakhandPresentNative Not invasive Collar et al., 2014; eBird, 2015L. lutea kumaiensis
JapanLocalisedIntroduced Invasive Eguchi and Amano, 2004Expanding its range, mostly in the south of the country in forest habitats
-HonshuLocalisedIntroducedKawano et al., 2000; Tojo and Nakamura, 2004Mt Rokko (Hyogo) and Mt Tsukuba (Ibaraki)
-KyushuLocalisedIntroducedKawano et al., 2000Mountainous areas. Ebino Plateau in Miyazaki and Kagoshima
MyanmarPresentNative Not invasive Global Invasive Species Database, 2008; Collar et al., 2014L. lutea calipyga in the extreme north west, L. lutea yunnanensis in the north east
NepalWidespreadNative Not invasive Collar et al., 2014; eBird, 2015L. lutea calipyga in the extreme north west
PakistanLocalisedNative Not invasive Collar et al., 2014Scarce - may not have established breeding populations
VietnamLocalisedNative Not invasive Collar et al., 2014; eBird, 2015L. lutea kwangtungensis in the extreme north (Tonkin)


RéunionPresentIntroducedGlobal Invasive Species Database, 2008; Lever, 2010; Hawkins, 2013First seen in moist lowland forests on the east coast (La Plaine des Lianes, Grand Etang and Cilaos, and also maybe La Plaine des Fougères and at La Montagne) in 1999

North America

USAPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-HawaiiLocalisedIntroduced1918Male et al., 1998; Ralph et al., 1998; Global Invasive Species Database, 2008; Lever, 2010; eBird, 2015Present on Oahu, Molokai, Maui and Hawaii. On Hawaii it is less common than previously at lower elevations. Abundant on Kauai in the 1930s onwards until the 1970s. Probably not breeding on Kauai anymore. Suggested that it may have escaped into the wild before 1918. Suggested that the introduced subspecies was L. lutea calipyga


FranceLocalisedIntroducedBasly, 2007; eBird, 2015South east France in Béarn, Pau. L. lutea became established in the early 1990s after escaping captivity. Also recorded to the north of Paris, and near le Havre in the north
GermanyLocalisedIntroduced Not invasive Global Invasive Species Database, 2008; Catálogo Español Especies Exóticas Invasoras, 2013Probably hasn’t established breeding populations in Germany despite many sightings, especially in the 1990s
ItalyLocalisedIntroducedFarina et al., 2013; eBird, 2015Locally abundant in east Liguria. Acoustically dominant over native species
PortugalLocalisedIntroducedCatálogo Español Especies Exóticas Invasoras, 2013; eBird, 2015Sightings listed near Lisbon in Sintra-Cascais Natural Park and Arrabida Natural Park. Probably breeding in the Sierra de Sintra, Mafra and Vista
SpainLocalisedIntroducedHeinzel et al., 1998; Global Invasive Species Database, 2008; Herrando et al., 2010; eBird, 2015The first recorded sighting in Catalonia, northeast Inerian Peninsula, was in 1992. The birds have since spread from initial sightings in Collserola Park to neigbouring forests. Breeding populations on Gran Canaria, Tenerife and the Canary Islands

History of Introduction and Spread

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L. lutea was deliberately introduced to the Hawaiian Islands, starting with intentional releases in 1918 on Kauai and continuing in 1928 on the other islands. Populations on the islands have fluctuated since their introduction (Ralph et al. 1998). The species is now thought to be absent from Kauai and Lanai as a result of high temperatures (Lever, 2010Denny, 2014). It is also noted as being absent on Kahoolawe (Male et. al, 1998).

The first published reports of L. lutea in Réunion are in 1999 however, it has been suggested that the introduction occurred ten years previously.

L. lutea were first noted in Catalonia, Spain, in the Collserola Park in 1992. By 2002 the species had spread to Serra de Marina Park (17 km from the first observation). L. lutea has continued to spread into new areas, crossing gaps of unsuitable habitat of up to 2 km in order to do so. The population is growing exponentially and modeling has predicted that the population in Catalonia could reach levels of up to 36 times higher than those in 2008 (Herrando et al., 2010). Breeding populations are noted on Gran Canaria and Tenerife in the Canary Islands (Heinzel et al., 1998).

L. lutea has become naturalized in Japan after escaping from captivity (Kawano et al., 2000). Its distribution is rapidly increasing there where it has invaded indigenous forests (Eguchi and Amano, 2004). 


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Introduced toIntroduced fromYearReasonIntroduced byEstablished in wild throughReferencesNotes
Natural reproductionContinuous restocking
Hawaii China 1918 Escape from confinement or garden escape (pathway cause) ,
Pet trade (pathway cause)
Yes No Ralph et al. (1998) Deliberate release
Japan China   Escape from confinement or garden escape (pathway cause) Yes No Eguchi and Amano (2004)
Spain 1992 Escape from confinement or garden escape (pathway cause) ,
Pet trade (pathway cause)
Yes No Herrando et al. (2010)

Risk of Introduction

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Wherever there are captive birds, particularly outdoor aviaries with small groups, there is some risk of L. lutea escaping into the wild. If the conditions are suitable it is then possible that the birds could establish a breeding population.


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In its native range, L. lutea inhabits evergreen broadleaved and pine forest habitats with a dense understory (Kawano et al., 2000).

In Japan, it prefers dense undergrowth of dark secondary forests, Crypotomeria plantations and montane bamboo scrub to above 1,000 m (Brazil, 2009). In Hawaii, it is found at all elevations in exotic wet forests and dry forests. It is often found in dense understory of non-native plant species and is absent where the understory is thin (Male et al., 1998). L. lutea is found in forests with a dense understory of Psidium cattleianum and Schinus terebinthifolia (Hawkins, 2013; Male et al. 1998).

In south west France, the birds are recorded as preferring dense vegetation, especially bramble (Rubus fruticosus), near water sources such as streams. They have also been noted in vegetation near abandoned buildings (Basly, 2007).

L. lutea also has a breeding population in Réunion in the Indian Ocean (Global Invasive Species Database, 2008) which inhabits forest and scrub, both native and exotic, as well as forest edge and gardens (Hawkins, 2013).

Habitat List

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Terrestrial – ManagedManaged forests, plantations and orchards Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Disturbed areas Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-naturalNatural forests Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural forests Principal habitat Natural
Scrub / shrublands Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Scrub / shrublands Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural

Hosts/Species Affected

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L. lutea changes habitats and has an effect on many native species (Woodward and Quinn, 2011). In the Hawaiian Islands, endemic bird species have become extinct partially due to avian malaria. As a known reservoir for this disease, L. lutea may have contributed to these extinctions (Global Invasive Species Database, 2008). L. lutea is being monitored on the Hawaiian Islands of Maui and Hawaii as a competitor and potential disease reservoir (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2006).

Biology and Ecology

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The karyotype of L. lutea is 2n = 76 (Zhao et al. 1996).

Reproductive Biology

In France, groups of 20-30 birds break up to form pairs in the breeding season and the pairs then nest fairly close (10-30 m away) to the other members of their group. They prefer to build their open cup-shaped nests among brambles (up to 2 m high) with nest exterior dimensions of approximately 11 (diameter) x 8 cm (deep), interior dimensions of 5 x 4.5 cm (Basly, 2007). The nests are made from moss, leaves and grasses. In the Hawaiian Islands the peak breeding season is April to August and birds may produce more than one brood in a season (Male et al., 1998). The birds are thought to be monogamous and build their nests amongst dense vegetation and typically produce two to four eggs. Both parents incubate the eggs (Kawano et al., 2000), which are light blue with brown spots (Basly, 2007). Incubation takes 12 days and the hatchlings weigh 3.1g (AnAge, 2015). An adult bird weighs 21.5g. In captivity, the chicks fledge at 12-14 days and are completely weaned at five weeks old. The parents will feed only live food to the chicks (Pichner, 2003). Juveniles may molt three months after fledging (Hawkins, 2013). Flocking behaviour may increase after breeding (Ralph et al., 1998). On Réunion small groups (four to six individuals) may flock with other species (Hawkins, 2013).

Physiology and Phenology

An extended nesting season has been recorded for L. lutea on the island of Hawaii. Studies have observed a peak molt of flight and body feathers in August to October after the main breeding season (Ralph et al., 1998).


In captivity, L. lutea are recorded as living for a maximum of 15 years (AnAge, 2015).

Activity Patterns

L. lutea may spend up to 38% of their time foraging for fruits in Hawaii (Ralph et al., 1998).

They forage mostly in lower vegetation below 3 m, plucking fruit and searching foliage, twigs and decaying wood for invertebrates. They will also go to ground to drink from pools and to search for food and may bathe in shallow pools (Male et al., 1998; Hawkins, 2013).

Birds travel in small family groups and are often heard before they are seen (Denny, 2014). L. lutea is an active bird, that flits from plant to plant, but it is not usually seen traveling long distances. During the daylight in the breeding season, males sing long and complex songs with many syllables (Male et al., 1998). L. lutea is a non-migratory species in Hawaii and France, although flocks have been seen at high elevations outside of the breeding season in China. In France birds mostly remain in the same areas throughout the year but have been seen to move a few hundred meters in groups in order to find suitable food sources in the spring/summer (Basly, 2007). It is thought that the birds may migrate in China with respect to altitude (moving lower in the summer) and may move between central (summer) and southern (winter) provinces (Male et al., 1998). Seasonal altitudinal displacements have also been observed in Bhutan and throughout the Himalayas (Collar et al., 2014).

Population Size and Structure

Habitat destruction in its native range and trapping for the cage bird market has led to the species being added to CITES Appendix II due to a suspected population decline in its native range (CITES, 2015). As a result, the worldwide trade of wild-captured L. lutea has been prohibited (CITES, 1997). Few captive bred L. lutea colonies now exist in countries where they were once popular aviary birds (da Cruz et al., 2011). It is estimated that L. lutea has a world population in excess of 10,000 individuals (BirdLife International, 2015).

In China, the native range, the population size has been estimated between 10,000–100,000 breeding pairs (BirdLife International, 2015). In Japan, numbers of L. lutea have been increasing in south, west and central areas since the 1980s (Tojo and Nakamura, 2004). The birds breed in natural deciduous forests and it is estimated that the breeding density near Mt. Tsukuba is 350-400 pairs per 100 ha. The total number of L. lutea in Japan is estimated to be between 100–10,000 (BirdLife International, 2015).

The introduced population in Pau, south west France, has been estimated as being 1,000-5,000 individuals (Basly, 2007).


L. lutea is a generalist feeder, consuming similar amounts of fruits and invertebrates (Ralph and Noon, 1986; Male at al., 1998; Basly, 2007). On the Hawaiian Islands, studies have shown that they consume 40% fleshy fruits and 60% invertebrates (Ralph et al., 1998). In France, they have been observed eating fruits such as cherries, blackberries, elderberries, plums and persimmon. The birds will also eat seeds, including grasses and Rhus (Collar et al., 2014).

In Hong Kong, a study based on faecal samples from L. lutea contained 21 different species of plant (Corlett, 1998). L. lutea may catch insects in flight but seem to prefer to forage on the ground for invertebrates (Basly, 2007).


In Pau, France, the population of L. lutea appears to exist peacefully alongside native species such as nuthatches (Sitta europaea), warblers and robins (Erithacus rubecula), although no particular associations were noted (Basly, 2007).

On Réunion, small groups of four to six individuals may flock with other species (Hawkins, 2013).

L. lutea is a known reservoir for avian malaria (Global Invasive Species Database, 2008).

Environmental Requirements

L. lutea prefer areas with dense vegetation.

In France, L. lutea seem to prefer dense vegetation with a leaf litter layer for foraging and a nearby water source (Basly, 2007).

Natural Food Sources

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Food SourceLife StageContribution to Total Food Intake (%)Details
Fruits All Stages 40
Insects and other invertebrates Adult 60
Seeds All Stages 40


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As - Tropical savanna climate with dry summer Tolerated < 60mm precipitation driest month (in summer) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
Aw - Tropical wet and dry savanna climate Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in winter) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
C - Temperate/Mesothermal climate Preferred Average temp. of coldest month > 0°C and < 18°C, mean warmest month > 10°C
Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year
Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers
Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter Preferred Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
43.3 19.1

Notes on Natural Enemies

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L. lutea will presumably be prey to hawks, snakes, rats and other predators in the ranges in which it occurs. Brood parasitism by Oriental cuckoos, Cuculus optatus [Cuculus saturates], has recently been observed in Japan (Tojo and Nakamura, 2014).

The parasites, Ornithonyssus sylviarum and Anonchotaenia species were recorded on L. lutea in Japan for the first time in a study by Yoshino et al. (2003).

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Natural Dispersal

Given the correct environmental conditions, L. lutea are able to spread fairly quickly in a given area and can cross areas of up to 2 km of unsuitable habitat in order to find new areas to colonise (Basly, 2007). They have been observed seasonal flocking and migrating fairly small distances to find suitable food sources.

Accidental Introduction

L. lutea has been introduced outside of its native range as a popular cage and aviary species. Breeding populations of L. lutea in Europe are thought to have arisen from birds that have escaped captivity.

Intentional Introduction

L. lutea was deliberately introduced to the Hawaiian Islands, starting with intentional releases in 1918 on Kauai and continuing in 1928 on the other islands.

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Escape from confinement or garden escapeFrequent escapee from cages/aviaries Yes Kawano et al., 2000
Intentional releaseIntentionally released in the Hawaiian Islands Yes Ralph et al., 1998
Pet tradeFrequent escapee from cages/aviaries Yes Kawano et al., 2000

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Pets and aquarium speciesUnknown Yes Yes

Impact Summary

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Cultural/amenity Positive
Economic/livelihood Positive
Environment (generally) Positive and negative

Environmental Impact

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Impact on Habitats

Given the variety of fruits that L. lutea feeds on, it potentially has a significant role in seed dispersal, including invasive species such as Khali ginger, Hedychium gardnerianum (Tojo and Nakamura, 1999). Lever (2010), discusses some literature from the 1970s that suggests L. lutea may spread Passiflora mollissima (an invasive plant species that is smothering native forests in Hawaii) and causes damage to fruit crops.

It has been noted that there is little evidence that L. lutea has caused clear ecological disruption in Catalonia, Japan or France (Herrando, 2010).

Impact on Biodiversity

It has been suggested that in Japan, L. lutea is competing with the native Japanese bush warbler (Horornis diphone). Studies have shown that competition is not likely to be due to nest sites as these are fairly distinct. However, predation of H. diphone was higher where L. lutea was nearby, suggesting that the large numbers of L. lutea nests may have attracted more predators (Amano and Eguchi, 2002a; Eguchi and Amano, 2004). A study in a beech forest at Mt. Karimata, Kyushu, Japan, found that the population of H. diphone decreased and the population of Parus major fluctuated (Shigeho, 2006) after the establishment of L. lutea.

There is however some disagreement of the impacts of L. lutea in Japan. A study at Mt. Tsukuba, Japan, found that despite the high density of L. lutea in a deciduous forest, they did not seem to have negatively impacted the native avifauna (Tojo and Nakamura, 2004). It has also been shown that L. lutea occupies distinct foraging niches to native species and forages at different levels (including lower down in bamboo) compared with H. diphone and Parus species. L. lutea displays different insect catching techniques, including jumping for aerial and fast moving insects and other invertebrates which was not seen in native species (Amano and Eguchi, 2002b).

L. lutea is being monitored on the Hawaiian Islands of Maui and Hawaii as a competitor and potential disease reservoir for native species (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2006). On the islands, a number of endemic bird species have become extinct partially due to avian malaria. As a known reservoir for this disease, L. lutea may have contributed to these extinctions (Global Invasive Species Database, 2008).

An introduced population in Italy has been shown to be acoustically dominant over native species in the area and as such may be a potential modifier of the soundscape patterns in that community (Farina et al., 2013). 

Social Impact

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L. lutea has been kept as a popular cage/aviary bird for centuries and is popular with bird watchers.

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Capable of securing and ingesting a wide range of food
  • Highly mobile locally
  • Gregarious
Impact outcomes
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition
  • Predation
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally illegally


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Economic Value

Trade in L. lutea as a cage/aviary bird in China, Japan and Europe is likely to have had some positive local impacts. However this trade has been restricted since a ban on catching and trading wild birds.

Social Benefit

These attractive birds with rich songs are likely to have had positive social benefits where they are kept in cages and aviaries in homes and parks etc.

Environmental Services

In their native range, L. lutea will have a role in ecosystem maintenance due to insect control and seed dispersal.

Uses List

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  • Botanical garden/zoo
  • Pet/aquarium trade

Detection and Inspection

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L. lutea are often easier to detect via their song as they are often present in thick vegetation in shady woodland.

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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L. luteais similar to Leiothrixargentauris although they are easily distinguished from one another due to clear differences in colour pattern (e.g. silver/grey patch behind the eye and yellow bill in L. argentauris). L. argentaurisis slightly larger thanL. lutea(16cm compared with 15 cm), weighs slightly more 24-36 g (compared with 20-25 g) and is more tolerant of lower temperatures (Pichner, 2003).

Prevention and Control

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SPS Measures

In Australia, The Bureau of Rural Sciences has assessed L. lutea as a serious threat with respect to potential escapees going on to form wild populations. Keeping these birds in Australia therefore requires approval from state/territory authorities and must be for education/research only (Global Invasive Species Database, 2008).

Public Awareness

It is unlikely that the general public is aware of any issues with L. lutea as an introduced species (unless they actively involved in bird watching) since they do not have significant impacts on livelihood or economics.


Movement Control

Control measures for this species in areas where there are established breeding populations appear to be limited to legislation involving export/import and sale of the birds. The Invasive Alien Species Act of Japan (2004) prevents, to a certain degree, the movement of further individuals of L. lutea into the country from elsewhere. 

Gaps in Knowledge/Research Needs

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There is limited evidence for direct competition for resources between L. lutea and native species in Japan and Hawaii. However Ralph and Noon (1986) presented data on possible competition and interactions with the native thrush Myadestes obscurus and other species.

Evidence that L. lutea passes on avian malaria to other species, including native species, also appears to be speculative to date. Some studies have shown L. lutea to have a low rate of malarial infection in Hawaii (Lever, 2010).

The literature could benefit from long term studies in areas where the populations are expanding, for instance areas of Europe (France and Spain) and Japan, to explore their effects on the native flora and fauna. Areas that the birds are likely to spread to and that they are currently absent from could be selected and monitored for biodiversity.

There are few reports in the literature that specifically discuss physical control/management of the spread of these birds either in their native range or elsewhere.

There are some studies on parasites of L. lutea in Japan (Yoshino et al., 2003), although more extensive studies on this and whether these birds are vectors for parasites/diseases that could affect native species are absent.

Research on whether there is a strong illegal export trade of these birds from their native range and whether this poses a threat of further introductions is required. There is some research suggesting that L. lutea is still being caught in the wild for the cage bird market, despite legislation (CITES,1997) that doesn’t allow this without permits (Brooks-Moizer et al., 2008). If this is the case and these wild caught birds later escape, it is more likely that they will have the ability to establish breeding populations than cage-reared birds.


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Amano HE, Eguchi K, 2002. Foraging niches of introduced Red-billed Leiothrix and native species in Japan. Ornithological Science, 1(2):123-131

Amano HE, Eguchi K, 2002. Nest-site selection of the Red-billed Leiothrix and Japanese Bush Warbler in Japan. Ornithological Science, 1(1):101-110

AnAge: The Animal Ageing, Longevity Database, 2015. AnAge entry for Leoithrix lutea.

Avibase, 2015. Avibase - the world bird database.

Basly JP, 2007. [English title not available]. (Le Léiothrix jaune Leiothrix lutea en Béarn: répartition, effectifs et comportement.) Ornithos, 14(6):370-375

BirdForum, 2015. BirdForum - the net's largest birding community.

BirdLife International, 2015. Red-billed Leiothrix Leiothrix lutea factsheet.

Brazil M, 2009. Birds of East Asia: eastern China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, eastern Russia. London, UK: Christopher Helm, 528 pp

Brooks-Moizer F, Robertson SI, Edmunds K, Bell D, 2008. Avian influenza H5N1 and the wild bird trade in Hanoi, Vietnam. Ecology and Society, 14(1):28

Catálogo Español Especies Exóticas Invasoras, 2013. Leiothrix lutea (Leiothrix lutea). Spain: Ministerio de Agricultura, Alimentación y Medio Ambiente.

CITES, 1997. Tenth meeting of the conference of the parties, Harare, Zimbabwe, 9-20 June, 1997. Conference of the Parties.

CITES, 2015. Appendices. Geneva, Switzerland: CITES.

Collar N, Robson C, Juana Ede, 2014. Red-billed Leiothrix (Leiothrix lutea). Handbook of the birds of the world alive [ed. by Hoyo, J. del \Elliott, A. \Sargatal, J. \Christie, D. A. \Juana, E. de]. Barcelona, Spain: Lynx Edicions.

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Eguchi K, Amano HE, 2004. Spread of exotic birds in Japan. Ornithological Science, 3(1):3-11

Farina A, Pieretti N, Morganti N, 2013. Acoustic patterns of an invasive species: the Red-billed Leiothrix (Leiothrix lutea Scopoli 1786) in a Mediterranean shrubland. Bioacoustics, 22(3):175-194

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Global Invasive Species Database, 2008. Leiothrix lutea (bird).

Hawkins F, 2013. Red-billed Leiothrix Leiothrix lutea Léiothrix jaune. In: The Birds of Africa: Volume VIII: The Malagasy Region: Madagascar, Seychelles, Comoros, Mascarenes. London, UK: A&C Black Publishers, 763

Heinzel H, Fitter R, Parslow J, 1998. Birds of Britain and Europe with North Africa and the Middle East. London, UK: Harper Collins, 304

Herrando S, Llimona F, Brotons L, Quesada J, 2010. A new exotic bird in Europe: recent spread and potential range of red-billed Leiothrix Leiothrix lutea in Catalonia (northeast Iberian Peninsula). Bird Study, 57(2):226-235

Kawano KK, Hitoha E, Eguchi K, 2000. Sexual dimorphism of the Red-billed Leiothrix Leiothrix lutea. Japanese Journal of Ornothology, 49(1):59-61

Koelz WN, 1952. New races of Indian birds. Journal of the Zoological Society of India, 4(1):39-40

Lever C, 2010. Naturalised birds of the world. London, UK: A & C Black, 352 pp

Male TD, Fancy SG, Ralph CJ, 1998. Red-billed Leiothrix. The Birds of North America, 359. 1-12

Pichner J, 2003. Babblers husbandry and management. A brief review, originally presented at the AZA 2003 Eastern Regional.

Ralph CJ, Fancy SG, Male TD, 1998. Demography of an introduced Red-billed Leiothrix population in Hawaii. The Condor, 100(3):468-473

Ralph JC, Noon BR, 1986. Foraging interactions of small Hawaiian forest birds. In: Acta XIX Congressus Internationalis Ornithologici Volume II, 22-29. Ottawa, Canada 1992-2006

Shigeho S, 2006. Influence of the invasion of Leiothrix lutea on a native avifauna in a natural beech forest on Mt. Karimata, Kyushu. Bulletin of FFPRI, 5(3):243-247

Tojo H, Nakamura S, 1999. Seeds found in fecal samples from Red-billed Leiothrix Leiothrix lutea. Japanese Journal of Ornithology, 47(3):115-117

Tojo H, Nakamura S, 2004. Breeding density of exotic Red-billed Leiothrix and native bird species on Mt. Tsukuba, central Japan. Ornithological Science, 3(1):23-32

Tojo H, Nakamura S, 2014. The first record of brood parasitism on the introduced Red-billed Leiothrix in Japan. Ornithological Science, 13(1):47-52

US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2006. Revised Recovery Plan for Hawaiian Forest Birds. Portland, Oregon, USA: US Fish and Wildlife Service, 622 pp

Woodward SL, Quinn JA, 2011. Encyclopedia of Invasive Species. California, USA: ABC-CLIO, LLC, xlii + 764 pp

Yoshino T, Yoshino T, Sasaki H, Sasaki H, Asakawa M, Asakawa M, Kawakami K, Kawakami K, Miyamoto K, Miyamoto K, 2003. A parasitological survey of Hwamei Garrulax canorus and Red-billed Leiothrix Leiothrix lutea (Passeriforms: Terimiidae). Japanese Journal of Ornithology, 52(1):39-42

Zhao W, Liu X, Quan Y, Guo Y, Xue J, 1996. The karyotypes of nine species of Sylvinae birds. Natural Sciences Journal of Harbin Normal University, 2:81-87

Links to Websites

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GISD/IASPMR: Invasive Alien Species Pathway Management Resource and DAISIE European Invasive Alien Species Gateway source for updated system data added to species habitat list.
Global register of Introduced and Invasive species (GRIIS) source for updated system data added to species habitat list.


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02/03/15 Original text by:

Vicki Cottrell, consultant, UK

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