Crested Fireback Lophura ignita Scientific name definitions

Guy M. Kirwan, Josep del Hoyo, Philip J. K. McGowan, Nigel Collar, David Christie, and Peter F. D. Boesman
Version: 2.0 — Published September 24, 2021


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Systematics History

Historically, this species was placed in the genus Euplocomus, but all species in Lophura are sufficiently similar to warrant listing in a single genus (9), and genetically they are all closely related (10).

In many previous works, subspecies rufa was considered a distinct species (e.g., 11, 12, 13, 14), but in checklists (15, 16 17), monographs (18, 19, 20, 21, 2), regional checklists (22, 23, 24, 4, 25), and field guides (26, 27), the status quo has been to lump them, as here, under a more broadly defined ‘Crested Fireback’.

The difficulties in defining species limits in this complex are a consequence of intermediate phenotypes in southeastern Sumatra. Madge et al. (2) remarked that the differences between Bornean birds and other populations are ‘so striking that it is difficult to imagine them as the same species; however, the variable intermediate features of macartneyi are difficult to ignore’. The subspecies macartneyi had long been recognized as valid, however reviewing the situation using specimen material, Collar and Prŷs-Jones (28) concluded that the ‘taxon’ was instead a hybrid swarm between rufa and ignita, as suspected by many previous authors (29, 30, 11, 31), because specimens showed no discrete phenotype. Quite how these two forms came into contact in southeast Sumatra is unclear, with Collar and Prŷs-Jones (28) suggesting either that ignita may have been introduced to Sumatra by human agency (sensu Beebe 30), or that it occurred naturally, crossing during periods of lowered sea levels, when there was land connection between the two islands.

Currently, three of the four main global taxonomic checklists retain rufa as a subspecies of L. ignita, however del Hoyo and Collar (7) split it based on the substantial plumage differences exhibited, a position later followed by Eaton et al. (32). Following the Tobias et al. (33) criteria, from which scores in parentheses are derived, del Hoyo and Collar distinguished rufa from ignita by its continuous dark blue belly with narrow white stripes on flanks versus broad chestnut with no stripes (3); white versus pale rufous on central rectrices (3); and female’s rich chestnut versus blackish tail (2).

Geographic Variation

Three subspecies differ principally in their underparts and tail color. These differences are chiefly exhibited in males, but females also show discrete plumage variation.



Crested Fireback (Malayan) Lophura ignita rufa Scientific name definitions

Systematics History

Phadanus rufus Raffles, 1822, Transactions of the Linnaean Society of London 13:321.—Sumatra [type from either Benkoelen or Padang].

The female type appears to have been lost sometime since 1851 (34).


Gallus macartneyi Temminck, 1813, Histoire naturelle générale des pigeons et des gallinacés vol. 2, p. 273.—Sumatra. A syntype is held at Naturalis, Leiden (RMNH.AVES.87398) (35).
Euplocamus sumatranus Dubois, 1879, Bulletins de l’Académie royale des sciences, des lettres et des beaux-arts de Belgique (2)47:825.—Sumatra [type from Pelambang].
Lophura sumatrana albipennis Ghigi, 1926, L’Oiseau 7:51.—No type locality.
Lophura sumatrana delacouri Ghigi, 1926, L’Oiseau 7:51.—No type locality.


Occurs on the Thai-Malay Peninsula south of the Isthmus of Kra (4) and throughout mainland Sumatra (24), forming a hybrid swarm with ignita in the south-east (recognized in some literature as macartneyi, e.g., 15).


Strikingly different plumage to Bornean populations. Males have the underparts entirely dark glossy blue-black with white streaks, four lobes to the facial wattles, and white (not cinnamon) central tail feathers (2). Suggested differences in leg color (predominantly red/reddish versus gray-green) are not borne out by available photographs (7). Mensural data (males n = 14, females n = 16, unless otherwise stated), from Wells (4): wing length of males 280–304 mm, wing length of females 250–267 mm; tail length of males 240–291 mm, tail length of females 171–200 mm; bill length of males 21.6–23.1 mm, bill length of female 20.2 mm (n = 1); tarsus length of males 103–112 mm, tarsus length of females 84–93 mm.


Crested Fireback (Bornean) Lophura ignita ignita/nobilis

Available illustrations of subspecies in this group


Lophura ignita ignita Scientific name definitions

Systematics History

Phasianus ignitus Shaw, 1798, The Naturalist’s Miscellany 9(6):pl. 321.—Java, error = Borneo. (For authorship, see 36)


Occurs in southern Borneo (Kalimantan) and Bangka Island off southeastern Sumatra. Exactly where nobilis replaces this subspecies on Borneo is unclear (25).


Described under Plumages.


Lophura ignita nobilis Scientific name definitions

Systematics History

Euplocamus nobilis P. L. Sclater, 1863, Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1863:119.—Sarawak, Borneo.

One syntype is an adult male collected by Rajah Brooke held in the Natural History Museum, Tring (NHMUK 1850.10.24.64) (37).


Confined to northern Borneo (Sabah and Sarawak) but the precise boundary between this taxon and the nominate subspecies is unknown (25, 38).


Very poorly known. Eaton et al. (32) noted that this taxon is differentiated from ignita only by being smaller, although Madge et al. (2) mentioned ‘plumage as nominate, but larger (male wing 280–293 [mm], tail 254–285 [mm])’; these measurements are indeed larger than those given for ignita, meaning this subspecies is somewhat intermediate morphometrically between ignita and rufa.

Related Species

All Lophura species form a monophyletic clade, with Lophura ignita being sister to the Siamese Fireback (Lophura diardi) of Indochina, with the two being divergent by 4.4% in mtDNA (or ca. 2.2 million years) (10).

Fossil History

No information.

Recommended Citation

Kirwan, G. M., J. del Hoyo, P. J. K. McGowan, N. Collar, D. A. Christie, and P. F. D. Boesman (2021). Crested Fireback (Lophura ignita), version 2.0. In Birds of the World (B. K. Keeney, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.crefir1.02