White-bellied blue robin

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White-bellied blue robin
White-bellied Blue Robin by N.A. Nazeer.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Muscicapidae
Genus: Sholicola
S. albiventris
Binomial name
Sholicola albiventris
(Blanford, 1868)

Sholicola major albiventris

The white-bellied blue robin or white-bellied sholakili (Sholicola albiventris) refers to a kind of bird in the family Muscicapidae endemic to the Shola forests of the higher hills of southern India. The Nilgiri blue robin and this species were once considered separate species, later lumped as sub-species of a single species (major) and elevated again to full species in 2005 by Pamela C. Rasmussen. The species was earlier thought to be related to the shortwings and placed in the genus Brachypteryx and later moved to Myiomela since species in the genus Brachypteryx shows marked sexual dimorphism. In 2017, a study found that this is a sister group of the flycatchers in the genera Niltava, Cyornis and Eumyias among others. It was then placed in newly erected genus Sholicola. This small bird is found on the forest floor and undergrowth of dense forest patches sheltered in the valleys of montane grassland, a restricted and threatened habitat.


Illustration by Joseph Smit (1867)

This chat-like bird is long-legged and appears chunky with its short tail and wing. Although sharing similar habits and shape, the two species differ in plumage and both may show slight sexual dimorphism. Differences in iris colour between the females have been suggested for S. albiventris.[3][4]

The white-bellied blue robin (S. albiventris) has a black face mask with a short whitish brow. The upperside and breast are slaty blue grading to grey on the flanks. The centre of the belly and vent is white.[5] This can appear somewhat like the male of the syntopic white-bellied blue flycatcher (Cyornis pallipes) but can be distinguished by behaviour apart from the longer legs and greyer colouration.[3] Although the plumage is identical between males and females, males are slightly longer winged and have longer tarsi.[6]

Taxonomy and systematics[edit]

In 1867, W T Blanford described a new species Callene albiventris obtained by Rev. S. Fairbank from the Palni Hills. Blanford noted the similarity to the Nilgiri form while also noting the geographical isolation of the two forms and relation to species from northeastern India.[7] Eugene Oates in the first edition of The Fauna of British India moved the species back into the genus Brachypteryx stating that they were congeneric with Brachypteryx montana while also noting that the young birds were speckled as in true-thrushes like Callene (as represented by the Blue-fronted Robin). Oates also used the name "White-bellied Short-wing".[5] This genus placement was carried on in the second edition of The Fauna of British India (1924) by E. C. Stuart Baker[8] but was demoted into a subspecies on the basis of a specimen collected by T. F. Bourdillon at Mynal which was claimed to be intermediate to the two forms. Claud Buchanan Ticehurst in 1939 reaffirmed the genus placement.[9] This treatment as subspecies was carried forward by Salim Ali and Sidney Dillon Ripley in their "Handbook"[10][11] until the old two species were restored by P C Rasmussen in 2005.[12] In the Birds of South Asia (2005), however they moved the species tentatively into the genus Myiomela based on morphological similarities and pointed out that the placement in Brachypteryx was in error.[3] In 2010, DNA sequence studies suggested an ancient divergence in these two populations and confirmed their elevation to full species.[13] Another 2010 molecular phylogenetics study suggested that the genus Brachypteryx (the taxa sampled however, did not include the peninsular Indian forms) which was earlier thought to belong to the thrush family Turdidae belonged to the Old World flycatcher family Muscicapidae.[14] The type species of Brachypteryx, B. montana, shows strong sexual dimorphism.[15] The genus position was however not settled until 2017 and it was found based on a larger sampling that the species from southern India formed a group that is sister to the flycatchers in the genera Eumyias, Cyanoptila, Niltava, Cyornis and Anthipes. This led to the erection of the new genus Sholicola.[16][17]

Habitat and distribution[edit]

The natural habitat of the white-bellied blue robin is forest patches in the valleys of high altitude grasslands known as sholas. The species has been found to occur only above 1200 m altitude in the higher hill ranges of southern India. These forest patches are highly restricted in size and the species is thus threatened by habitat loss.[18]

Populations are mainly in the Palni Hills, but also found in some of the other associated ranges to the south of the Palghat gap. These include the Nelliampathy, Cardamom, Chemungi and Chimpani Hills.[19][20] The population in the Ashambu hills has been described as a new species Ashambu blue robin (Sholicola ashambuensis) which differs slightly in coloration and is estimated to have diverged from a common ancestor about 1.24 - 0.49 million years ago.[16]

Behaviour and ecology[edit]

These birds are found in dense forest in the dark lower canopy and forest floor. They are skulking but can be confiding. They call frequently with tit-like notes and harsh rattles. The song of S. albiventris is said to have a higher pitched and more musical song.[21] Birds have been noted to moult their tail feathers in the beginning of June. Little is known of their dispersal, longevity and other aspects of life history although more than 133 birds have been ringed.[3][22]

Two greyish green and brown-marked eggs are laid during the breeding season that varies from April to June, after the rains. The nest is placed in a tree hole or placed on a bank and is made of moss and fibrous roots and placed low over the ground.[11][23]


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2018). "Myiomela albiventris". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2018.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 17 December 2018.
  2. ^ "Myiomela albiventris". Avibase.
  3. ^ a b c d Rasmussen, Pamela C. & John C. Anderton (2005). Birds of South Asia. The Ripley Guide. Volume 2. Smithsonian Institution and Lynx Edicions. p. 400.
  4. ^ Sharpe, R. Bowdler (1883). Catalogue of the birds in the British Museum. Volume 7. British Museum, London. pp. 14–17.
  5. ^ a b Oates, EW (1889). The Fauna of British India, Including Ceylon and Burma. Birds. Volume 1. Taylor and Francis, London. pp. 184–186.
  6. ^ Robin, VV; A Sinha & U Ramakrishnan (2011). "Determining the sex of a monomorphic threatened, endemic passerine in the sky islands of southern India using molecular and morphometric methods" (PDF). Current Science. 101 (5): 676–679.
  7. ^ Blanford, WT (1867). "On a new species of Callene from the Pulney Hills in Southern India". Proc. Zool. Soc. London: 832–834.
  8. ^ Baker, ECS (1921). "The birds of the Indian Empire: Hand-list of the "Birds of India", Part 3". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 27 (4).
  9. ^ Ticehurst CB (1939). "Systematic Notes on Indian Birds.–II". Ibis. 81 (2): 348–351. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919X.1939.tb03983.x.
  10. ^ Baker, ECS (1924). The Fauna of British India, Including Ceylon and Burma. Volume 2 (2nd ed.). Taylor and Francis, London. pp. 9–11.
  11. ^ a b Ali, S & SD Ripley (1997). Handbook of the birds of India and Pakistan. Volume 8 (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. pp. 209–210.
  12. ^ Rasmussen, P.C. (2005). "Biogeographic and conservation implications of revised species limits and distributions of South Asian birds". Zool. Med. Leiden. 79 (13): 137–146.
  13. ^ Robin VV, Sinha A, Ramakrishnan U (2010). "Ancient Geographical Gaps and Paleo-Climate Shape the Phylogeography of an Endemic Bird in the Sky Islands of Southern India". PLoS ONE. 5 (10): e13321. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0013321. PMC 2954160. PMID 20967202.
  14. ^ Sangster, George; Per Alström; Emma Forsmark & Urban Olsson (2010). "Multi-locus phylogenetic analysis of Old World chats and flycatchers reveals extensive paraphyly at family, subfamily and genus level (Aves: Muscicapidae)" (PDF). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 57 (1): 380–392. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2010.07.008. PMID 20656044.
  15. ^ Horsfield, Thomas (1824). Zoological researches in Java, and the neighbouring islands. Printed by Kingsbury, Parbury, & Allen, London. ISBN 0-19-588982-7.
  16. ^ a b Robin, V.V.; Vishnudas, C. K.; Gupta, Pooja; Rheindt, Frank E.; Hooper, Daniel M.; Ramakrishnan, Uma; Reddy, Sushma (2017). "Two new genera of songbirds represent endemic radiations from the Shola Sky Islands of the Western Ghats, India". BMC Evolutionary Biology. 17. doi:10.1186/s12862-017-0882-6.
  17. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David (eds.). "Chats, Old World flycatchers". World Bird List Version 7.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 10 May 2017.
  18. ^ Robin, VV & Sukumar, R (2002). "Status and habitat preference of White-bellied Shortwing Brachypteryx major in the Western Ghats (Kerala and Tamilnadu), India" (PDF). Bird Conservation International. 12 (4): 335–351. doi:10.1017/s0959270902002216.
  19. ^ Collar NJ; A.V. Andreev; S. Chan; M.J. Crosby; S. Subramanya; J.A. Tobias (2001). Threatened Birds of Asia (PDF). BirdLife International. pp. 2019–2022.
  20. ^ Davison, W (1888). [Letter to, ed. "On the presence of Claws in the Wings of the Ratitae". Ibis. 30 (1): 146–148. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919X.1888.tb07729.x.
  21. ^ Terry, Horace (?) (1887). "A few additional notes on birds on the Pulney Hills". Stray Feathers. 10 (6): 467–480.
  22. ^ Balachandran, S (1999). "Moult in some birds of Palni Hills, Western Ghats". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 96 (1): 48–54.
  23. ^ Hume, AO (1889). The nests and eggs of Indian birds. Volume 1 (2nd ed.). R H Porter, London. pp. 128–129.

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