Friday, 6 September 2013

Passerines 7: Red-Billed Leiothrix

Red-billed Leiothrix
Officially with the English name of Red-billed Leiothrix, I still prefer the original name Pekin Robin for Leiothrix lutea. Belonging to the same family (Leiothicidae) as last weeks’ Sumatran Laughingthrush, it is a much smaller bird, about the same size as a European Robin (15cm beak to tail length) and with a very sweet song. As a result, it featured heavily in the cage bird trade for many years, although imports to Europe are now banned under EU rules.

As with other babblers, they are sociable birds, found in small flocks outside the breeding season. They have quite an extensive range through the Himalaya, from Bhutan eastwards as far as Vietnam and southern China, and they have been introduced outside their native range as a result of escaped cage birds. The populations on Hawai’i and Japan are significant, but there is also an introduced population in France which appears to be expanding, and also a population in Italy. They are fairly hardy birds, as one might expect from their native habitat of mountain scrub, so with a warming climate their European range may increase further.

The diet is what one might expect of a small passerine – mainly insects with fruit in season. The nest is an open cup usually made within 3m of ground level and both parents will incubate and feed the chicks. When nesting they can be quite territorial to protect the food supplies needed to raise the young birds, usually 2-4 eggs in a nest.

In the wild, although deforestation has some effect, and capture for the cage bird trade in Asia is probably still quite high, they are still a numerous and widespread species, and the IUCN rates them as Least Concern.

Silver-billed Mesia
There is only one other living species of Leiothrix, the Silver-Eared Mesia L.argentauris. This is similar in its habits and lifestyle to the Red-billed Leiothrix, but as it originates from warmer habitats it is less cold tolerant, and there are fewer feral populations, although they have been introduced to Hong Kong. This too is a target for the cage bird trade, but is likewise classed as Least Concern, although it has become regionally extinct in Bangladesh.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the wonderfull article! Did not know about the mesia being naturalised outside its range before reading this