The Prionopidae are a family uniting some smallish to mid-sized songbird species. One group, the helmetshrikes, were included with the true shrikes in the family Laniidae, later on split between several presumably closely related groups such as bushshrikes (Malaconotidae) and cuckoo-shrikes (Campephagidae), but are now considered sufficiently distinctive to be separated from that group as the family Prionopidae. The Prionopidae and the two former are part of a group which is generally rather homogenous but also includes the diverse vangas. The Campephagidae are a bit more distinct.
Also included here are the philentomas were traditionally placed with the Muscicapidae (flycatchers) when these were still used as a "wastebin taxon", largely as an expedient because these enigmatic birds have long defied ornithologists as regards their systematic placement; they remain little-studied and their placement here is just as provisional as it was in the Muscicapidae but even if they do not really belong here, they are at least not very distant to the Prionopidae.
Description and ecology
This is an African and south Asian group of species which are found in scrub or open woodland. They are similar in feeding habits to shrikes, hunting insects and other small prey from a perch on a bush or tree.
Although similar in build to the shrikes, these tend to be colourful species with the distinctive crests or other head ornaments, such as wattles, from which they get their name.
Helmetshrikes are noisy and sociable birds, some of which breed in loose colonies. They lay 2-4 eggs in neat, well-hidden nests.
As the relationships of the shrike-like birds are increasingly disentangled, the Prionopidae (in the strict sense) appear to form an evolutionary radiation with the philentomas, vangas, and some other members of the "shrike-like" group, such as the flycatcher-shrikes and shrike-flycatchers. How this radiation will eventually be subdivided taxonomically has not been resolved yet; various proposals exist. One proposed approach is to include the helmetshrike group and philentomas as subfamilies within an expanded Vangidae alongside the bushshrikes and the core of the Platysteiridae.
- Genus Prionops - typical helmetshrikes
- White-crested Helmetshrike, Prionops plumatus
- Grey-crested Helmetshrike, Prionops poliolophus
- Yellow-crested Helmetshrike, Prionops alberti
- Red-billed Helmetshrike, Prionops caniceps
- Rufous-bellied Helmetshrike, Prionops rufiventris
- Retz's Helmetshrike, Prionops retzii
- Gabela Helmetshrike, Prionops gabela
- Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike, Prionops scopifrons
- Genus Tephrodornis - woodshrikes
- Genus Philentoma - philentomas (tentatively placed here)
- Helmetshrike videos on the Internet Bird Collection