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Kittacincla malabarica (Scopoli, 1786)

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Kittacincla malabarica (Scopoli, 1786)

The White-rumped Shama (Kittacincla malabarica), also known as murai batu, is one of the most popular birds because of its beautiful melodious songs and long beautiful tails. This species belongs to the family Muscicapidae, subfamily Muscicapinae (Old world flycatchers and allies) and is classified under order Passeriformes (perching birds), which is the largest order of birds (Robson, 2014). This species is a resident of the Indian subcontinent except for Pakistan, West Indian subcontinent, North West Indian subcontinent and Andaman Islands. It can also be found in South West China, South China, and the Greater Sundas. It can be found as a fairly common to common resident bird throughout Southeast Asia but is scarce in Singapore (Robson, 2014).

The White-rumped Shama can be distinguished from other species by its striking, conspicuous white rump, and long blackish tail with white outer feathers. The male has a glossy blue-black head, upperparts and upper breast, with orange-rufous underparts (Robson, 2014). Usually the male is more attractive and colourful compared to the female, in order to attract the female’s attention. The female has similar patterns but its head, upper breast and upperparts are a dark greyish colour. The female has duller and paler rufous coloured underparts and a shorter tail compared to the male (Robson, 2014). The sides of the head of the juvenile are paler and brownish, with buff streaks and speckles on the upperpart. The juvenile also has some brownish feather-fringes on the rump and upper tail coverts (initially lacking white), while the throat and breast are buffish and dark greyish mottled (Robson, 2014). This species is approximately 21.5 to 28.0 cm in length with the tail of the male up to 7 cm longer than the female’s (Robson, 2014).

This bird inhabits various types of forest, from broadleaved evergreen and mixed deciduous forest, secondary growth forest to bamboo forest, which can be up to 1,525 m altitude, and low montane forest (Robson, 2014). It likes to stay hidden (or skulking) which is why it prefers undergrowth, shady ravines and also the vicinity of small streams (Robson, 2014; Bird Ecology Study Group, 2017; Collar, 2005, cited in Birdlife International, 2017).

It prefers to forage on the ground and in the lower strata for arthropods and worms (Collar, 2005, cited in Birdlife International, 2017). It also feeds on insects such as grasshoppers, centipedes, ants, worms, spiders and caterpillars which it picks up from the ground or from among bushes (Smythies, 1981, cited in Low, 2006). This species breeds from March to September (in Peninsular Malaysia from March to August) (Robson, 2014; Collar, 2017). Its nest is usually slightly cup- or pad-shaped, in holes of trees or at the base of bamboo clumps, located within 2 m above the ground (Robson, 2014). This species is typically solitary where the male and female have different territories when they are not breeding. During the breeding season, the male and female form monogamous pair bonds that may last two breeding seasons, and live in the same territories, with the male becoming very territorial. The male will defend its territory by singing in order to warn off other males (Aguon, 1994; Low, 2006; Wells, 2007). The female usually lays four to five eggs at a time (Robson, 2014). The eggs are greenish to pale-bluish green coloured, densely streaked and spotted brownish-red to umber-brown (Robson, 2014).

The White-rumped Shama is classified as a protected species under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 and is listed as Least Concern in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (Birdlife International, 2017). Although this species is protected by law, it is still being smuggled for the cage-bird trade. For example, in March this year, The Star Malaysia (2017) reported that a total of 247 White-rumped Shama were smuggled by express bus and intercepted at the Kulai rest area, Johor Bahru. The birds were found cramped in 17 cages, meaning that one cage held an average of 15 birds. Sixteen birds died during the journey probably due to the pressure from hot, stuffy, smoky and noisy conditions. This species is popular as cage-birds because of its rich and melodious calls with a wide repertoire. At the same time, it is an interesting bird for breeders especially when it is able to innovate new calls without mimicking other bird calls. In some countries within its range, this species has declined to near extinction because of exploitation for the cage-bird trade (Collar 2005, cited in BirdLife International, 2017).

In conclusion, it is very crucial that steps be taken now to protect this species from wildlife smuggling as it will sooner or later turn out to be “one more in a cage and no more in the wild”. In the future, it will not be surprising if this species becomes extinct if it is not protected starting now.

References

  1. Kittacincla malabarica. (Amended version published in 2016). IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
  2. Keep Stern Eye on Wildlife Smuggling (March 2017). Retrieved from http://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/letters/2017/03/18/keep-stern-eye-on-wildlife-smuggling/
  3. Aguon C.F. & Conant S. (1994). Breeding Biology of the White-rumped Shama on Oahu, Hawaii. Wilson Bulletin 106 (2): pp. 311-328
  4. Amar-Singh H.S.S. (01/09/2017). Call of the male White-rumped Shama (September 2017). Retrieved from http://www.besgroup.org/2011/02/25/call-of-the-male-white-rumped-shama/
  5. Collar N. (2017). White-rumped Shama (Kittacincla malabarica).. Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Retrieved from http://www.hbw.com/node/58486
  6. Low E (2006). White-rumped Shama (2006). Retrieved from http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_1510_2009-04-21.html
  7. Robson C. (2014). Birds of South-East Asia (2nd ed.). Helm Field Guides. London, 50 Bedford Square: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, England. pp. 304.
  8. Wells D.R. (2007). The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula, Volume 2. London, 38 Soho Square: A & C Black Publisher Ltd., England. pp. 848.
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