Oriental Magpie-robinCopsychus saularis (Linnaeus, 1758)Other vernacular names: Magpie Robin, Murai Kampung, Cerang
15_sept_2015_jawharanagar_omr_1_opt.jpg
Photograph by Arijit Banerjee (2015)

Overview

The Oriental Magpie-robin (Copsychus saularis) is an unmistakable small passerine that is resident throughout its extensive range, including Singapore [1] . In Singapore, the species used to be one of the most common birds [2] . However, with habitat lost and competition from introduced bird species, the Oriental Magpie-robin's population drastically declined [3] [4] . Its population was further reduced by poaching, both in Singapore and most of its Southeast Asian range, as the Oriental Magpie-robin is highly soughed after by the caged bird trade for its charismatic song [5] [6] . In recent years, the local population is recovering and can be found throughout Singapore.


Etymology

The Oriental Magpie-robin is neither a magpie nor a robin, but is in fact an old world flycatcher (see section on Phylogeny). Its common name originated from its black and white plumage resembling a magpie, while its jerky movements, tail fanning, and confiding habits resembles that of a robin[7] . Its common name was revised from just Magpie-robin to Oriental Magpie-robin to conform to general world usage [8] .

The species epithet of the Oriental Magpie-robin, saularis, derives from the Hindi name saulary. Earlier authors suggest that Linnaeus, thinking that Latham's 'Dial-bird' (Hindi dhaiyal, magpie robin) had something to do with a sun-dial, meant to name it solaris (Latin solaris, solar, of the sun) but by a slip of the pen wrote saularis [9] .


Description

Descriptions are based on Wells (2007) [10] and specific to the subspecies found in Singapore.

The Oriental Magpie-robin is a medium sized bird of 19 -21 cm that exhibits sexual dimorphism [11] . Features present in all are black bills and slaty black legs[12] .

Adult Male

Adult Female

Juvenile


Male Oriental Magpie-robin 1.jpg
Photograph by Seng Alvin (2015)
Female Oriental Magpie-robin 1.jpg
Photograph by Seng Alvin (2015)
Juvenile Oriental Magpie-robin 1.jpg
Photograph by Seng Alvin (2015)
Head
Whole head, upper body and chin to square-cut lower margin of breast rich, glossy, blue-shot black
Whole head, upper body and chin to square-cut lower margin of breast mid-grey.
Lores and narrow eye-ring variably speckled. Rest of head, upperparts to tail coverts, dull sooty. Chin to breast pale grey, feathers shading to orange buff distally, and fringed sooty brown in an obscure scaly pattern. Fleshy gape present.
Wing
Outer-webs of secondaries 6-7 white, combined with white coverts and scapulars to form long bar across the inner part of the closed wing. All other flight feathers matt black.
Wing similar to male.
Wings as in adults except the white coverts suffused orange buff and fringed sooty. Bar along secondaries narrower, washed orange buff towards its tip. Outer webs of flight feathers to primary 9 edged dull rufous.
Tail
Tail feathers 1-3 matt black, 4-6 all white.
Tail similar to male
Tail as adult except dark parts are sooty.
Underparts
Remaining underparts from belly to under tail coverts, white.
Rump and upper tail coverts gradually darkening to all slaty black, lightly glossy but never as richly black as male. Remaining underparts white. Flanks and lower tail coverts variably washed buff grey.
Belly white shading variably to buff on flanks and lower tail coverts.


Diagnosis

The Oriental Magpie-robin is easily mistaken for the White-rumped Shama (Copsychus malabaricus), a closely related species, due to the similar built and head colouration. It has also been confused with the Pied Fantail (Rhipidura javanica) because of the similar pied plumage that both species share. All three species occur in Singapore.

Oriental Magpie-robin
(Copsychus saularis)[13]
White-rumped Shama
(Copsychus malabaricus)[14]
Pied Fantail
(Rhipidura javanica)[15]
Oriental Magpie-Robin_Michael Khor_elizengyx.jpg
Photograph by Michael Khor (2015)
White-rumped shama_benson brighton_elizengyx.jpg
Photograph by Benson Brighton (2015)
Rhipidura javanica_elizengyx.jpg
Photograph by JJ Harrison (2011) [CC BY-SA 3.0]
  • 19 - 21cm
  • Head, upper breast and upper parts:
    glossy blue-shot black (male), mid grey (female)
  • White wing bar present
  • White underside
  • 21.5 - 28 cm
  • Head, upper breast and upper parts:
    glossy blue black (male), matt grey (female)
  • White rump present
  • Orange rufous underside
  • Tail up to 18cm, much longer than in Oriental Magpie-robins
  • 17.5 - 19.5 cm
  • Thin white supercilium
  • Black breast band, crown, face and upperparts
  • White collar, lower breast and underparts


Habitat and Distribution

Habitat

Oriental Magpie-robins inhabit a spectrum of habitats that include dry deciduous forest, disturbed peatswamp-forest, along the banks of large rivers through forest, forest edges, bamboo, gardens, parkland, and beach strand vegetation[16] . In Singapore, the species occurs in mangroves, secondary forests, forest edges, gardens, and parks [17] .

Global Range

The Oriental Magpie-robin has a huge global range extending across 9 countries, from the Indian subcontinent to Borneo and Bali. The species has been recorded to be an established exotic in Taiwan that is increasing in numbers [18] . The species can be found at elevations of up to 1900m [19] . Across its vast distribution, variation in plumage character suggests multiple species may be present in the species, with a recent taxonomic split of the Philippine population (see section on Phylogeny).

Copsychus saularis IUCN Map(revised)_elizengyx2.jpg copy.jpg
Global range of the Oriental Magpie-robin (Copsychus saularis), indicated in orange (adapted and modified from IUCN, 2015 to reflect recent taxonomic changes)

Distribution in Singapore

In Singapore, it is an uncommon resident found in nature areas throughout mainland and offshore islands[20] , refer to the map below for specific localities (the map was complied from various sources[21] [22] [23] [24] and personal observations).

OMR Range in Singapore2_elizengyx.jpg
Map of Singapore with green areas indicating areas where the Oriental Magpie-robins have been sighted (Image by Elize Ng, 2015).


Biology

Vocalization

The prized asset of the Oriental Magpie-robin is none other than its strong melodious song that is highly variable. Its song has been described to be similar to the song of the White-rumped Shama but lack similar quality [25] . The Oriental Magpie-robin has the ability to mimic the songs of other birds. Unfortunately, its song is also appreciated by man which led to its decline in parts of Southeast Asia (see section on Global Threats and Threats in Singapore).

Songs of the Oriental Magpie-robin include rather sharp warbled phrases interspersed with held or up- or down-inflected glissalding whistles. The Oriental Magpie-robin is also known to have six call types that include - dawn emergence and roosting calls, threat calls, submissive calls, begging calls and distress calls [26] . The Oriental Magpie-robin is known to perch on open posts to sing [27] .

Video records of the variable songs capable of the Oriental Magpie-robin:






A raspy alert call by a male, with sonogram depicting the call in a series of bars:
OMR Alert call sonogram_elizengyx.jpg

Recording by Josep del Hoyo (2012)

Social Organisation and Interactions

The Oriental Magpie-robin is a resident breeder within its range and is know to be an active disperser [28] [29] . They are extremely territorial and both sexes will aggressively defend their territory, especially during breeding season [30] . During the breeding season, mean territorial ranges are about 1.3ha [31] . Both sexes regularly cock their tails vertically and fan it to expose the white margins [32] .

Feeding Habits

The Oriental Magpie-robin is typically insectivorous and feeds on a range of insects — crickets, beetles, ants, wasps, termites, and flies — and other invertebrates that include leeches, molluscs, crabs, and spiders[33] . In certain instances, small vertebrates such as lizards[34] , geckos, and fishes; nectar, seeds, and fruits are also consumed [35] .

The Oriental Magpie-robin feeds largely on the ground, hopping about in an upright stance [36] . They are also known to have shrike-like still-hunting from a vantage perch and capture ground animal prey, especially small vertebrates [37] . The species is usually seen foraging solitary or in pairs[38] .

OMR with prey (Seng Alvin)_elizengyx.jpg
Oriental Magpie-robin with invertebrate prey (Photograph by Seng Alvin, 2015)

OMR with prey (too seng)_elizengyx.jpg
Oriental Magpie-robin with a gecko (Photograph by Tia Too Seng, 2013)


Video of a male capturing a grasshopper whilst hopping on the ground


Reproduction

Oriental Magpie-robins have nesting sites in natural cavities 2 - 7m above ground in the axil of palm fronds, rotten tree stumps, hollow logs, and broken bamboo clumps, amongst others [39] [40] . Artificial equivalents include letter boxes[41] , and electrical switch boxes [42] . Nests are often filled with pads of grass, fibers, hair, feathers, snakeskin. Nests are constructed between January and June.

The eggs are blue green with brown molting[43] . Generally, 2-5 eggs are laid and they are incubated for periods of up to weeks [44] . A second clutch of eggs are sometimes laid even before the full independence of the first brood [45] . Both male and female tend to their young . Juveniles from the first brood were recorded to assist their parents in feeding the second brood of nestlings[46] .

OMR eggs_elizengyx.jpg
Blue green eggs with brown splotches of the Oriental Magpie-robin (Photograph by Neenad Abhang, 2013) (Permission pending)

OMR nest sites4_elizengyx (henry goh).JPG
Fledglings awaiting their parent's return (Photograph by Henry Goh, 2011) (Permission pending)

Anting Behaviour

The Oriental Magpie-robin has been observed to practice anting - the application of ants or any other insects to their plumage [47] . The functional behaviour for anting is still vague, but it has been hypothesized to include: removing ectoparasites, grooming feathers, decreasing skin irritation during moult, and acting as a sensory stimulus [48] .

Video of an Oriental Magpie-robin anting with a millipede



Conservation Status

IUCN Status

The Oriental Magpie-robin is listed as least concerned on the IUCN red list in 2012 due to its large range, and stable global population size which according to the range size criterion does not reach Vulnerable thresholds[49] . The global population was not quantified but known to be common in India, Sri Lanka, China, Hong Kong, Thailand [50] . Since the inception of the IUCN red list, this species has always been listed as a species of least concern.

Global Threats

Prized for its melodious song, the Oriental Magpie-robin has been poached to near extinction in Indonesia [51] [52] . Its decline is mainly fueled by songbird competitions, a popular hobby in Indonesia, with Oriental Magpie-robins having an official song contest class. It is the third most popular and prestigious species after the Long tailed Shrike (Lanius schach) and White-rumped Shama (Copsychus malabaricus) [53] . Based on market surveys, the species is proposed to be severely declining [54] .

Besides being captured for the caged bird trade, Oriental Magpie-robins are also trapped for its meat in Medan as it is believed to cure speaking disorders[55] . In Vietnam, Oriental Magpie-robins are one of many species captured indiscriminately for merit release by Buddhist believers daily [56] .

Video of poachers trapping the Oriental Magpie-robin using a caged individual to lure wild individuals:


Video of poached birds, including an Oriental Magpie-robin (at 4:59) sold in a Vietnam bird market:


Video of Oriental Magpie-robins competing in a song competition:


Threats in Singapore

During the 1920s, the Oriental Magpie-robin was one of three most common birds in Singapore [57] . By the 1940s, its population was declining, and by the 1960s it is recognized as being uncommon. Its decline was attributed to rapid urbanisation which resulted in habitat loss and poaching [58] [59] . Additionally, competition for nesting space from more aggressive and abundant exotic species such as the White-vented Myna (Acridotheres javanicus) and Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis) also contributed to its decline[60] . By 1984, there were only 15 wild individuals found on mainland [61] . A reintroduction program started in 1984 with about 40 releases over a two year period in various protected areas reversed the decline, but progress was slow [62] [63] . In a 1996 survey, only 114 birds were recorded [64] . The species is considered to be endangered in Singapore[65] .

Despite being punishable by law, poaching of wildlife (including Oriental Magpie-robins) still occur in Singapore, albeit to a lesser extent[66] . Penalties for poaching wildlife in Singapore are:
  • Under the Wild Animals and Birds Act (Chapter 351), it is an offence to kill, take or keep any wild animal or bird without a licence. Any person found doing so will be fined a maximum of S$1,000.
  • Under the Parks and Trees Act (Chapter 216), it is an offence to capture, collect or remove any animal from the national parks and nature reserves. Any person found guilty of an offence can be fined up to S$50,000 or jailed for up to 6 months, or both.

OMR for trapping_elizengyx copy.jpg
Poachers in Singapore using traps to capture Oriental Magpie-robins at Lim Chu Kang. Photographs by nd1370sg (Permission pending). Click on photograph to visit original blog post.

What can be done if poaching is observed (adapted from ACRES website):
  1. Collect information, photographs or video evidence, of the traps, poachers, and any animals trapped. If the poacher uses a vehicle, take note of the license plate number and photograph of it.
  2. Call the relevant authorities:
    - If you are inside a protected area, contact NParks at their hotline 1800 4717300.
    - Alternatively, you can contact AVA hotline 1800 2262250 or +65 63257625.
    - If you are unable to contact any of the above numbers, you can contact ACRES Wildlife Crime Hotline +65 97837782. Note: They are not an enforcement agency but they will be able to go to the site and wait for the authorities to arrive.
  3. Do not attempt to release any trapped animals, wait for the authorities to arrive.

Taxonomy and Systematics

A hierarchical summary of the taxa within which the Oriental Magpie-robin is provided below:
Animalia
  • Chordata
    • Aves
      • Passeriformes
        • Muscicapidae
          • Copsychus (Wagler, 1827)
            • Copsychus saularis (Linnaeus, 1758)

Subspecies

There are 13 subspecies that are currently recognized[67] and C. s. musicus is the subspecies present in Singapore.
Subspecies
Distribution
C. s. saularis
(Linnaeus, 1758)
Northeast Pakistan, and north, central and west India
C. s. ceylonensis
Sclater, 1861
South India and Sri Lanka
C. s. erimelas
Oberholser, 1923
Northeast India to Thailand and Indochina
C. s. andamanensis
Hume, 1874
Andaman Island
C. s. prosthopellus
Oberholser, 1923
South and east China, Hainan Island (off Southeast China)
C. s. musicus
(Raffles, 1822)
Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra, Belitung and Bangka Island, west Java, and south and west Borneo
C. s. zacnecus
Oberholser, 1912
Simeulue Island (off Northwest Sumatra)
C. s. nesiarchus
Oberholser, 1923
Nias Island (off Northwest Sumatra)
C. s. masculus
Ripley, 1943
Batu Island (off West Sumatra)
C. s. pagiensis
Richmond, 1912
Mentawai Island (off West Sumatra)
C. s. amoenus
(Horsfield, 1821)
East Java and Bali
C. s. pluto
Bonaparte, 1850
Maratua Island, and east and southeast Borneo
C. s. adamsi
Elliot, 1890
North Borneo and Banggi Island

Type Specimen

The species was first described by Linneaus (1758) from Bengal[68] with the protonym, Gracula saularis. The type specimen is believed to be currently held at the Natural History Museum of Vienna that acquired specimens from the world famous Leverian Museum[69] [70] .

Copsychus saularis type description_elizengyx.png
Original description by Linnaeus (1758)

Phylogeny

The Oriental Magpie-robin was historically associated with the thrushes (Turdidae)[71] [72] based on the speckling on plumage in juveniles and the presence of a thumb-like syrinx musculature[73] . Recent molecular studies found that the Oriental Magpie-robin was more closely related to the old world flycatchers and chats (Muscicapidae) and was reclassified accordingly [74] [75] [76] .

Turdidae phylogeny1_elizengyx (Cropped).jpg
Relationships of Muscicapidae and Turdidae based on Bayesian analysis of combined mitochondrial cytochrome b, and nuclear ODC, myoglobin and LDH intron sequences (3240 bp). The Oriental Magpie-robin's position is indicated by the red outline. (Figure adapted from Sangster et al., 2010).

Turdidae phylogeny2_elizengyx (Cropped) .jpg
The majority rule consensus tree for the Muscicapinae complex obtained from the mixed-model Bayesian analysis of the concatenated dataset which included five genes (G3P, myoglobin, ODC, PEPCK, ND2). The Oriental Magpie-robin's position is indicated by the red outline. (Figure adapted from Zuccon & Ericson, 2009).


A study on the Shamas and Magpie-robins revealed that the Rufous-tailed Shama (Trichixos pyrropygus) is sister to the Magpie-robins, and together they are sister to the Copsychus Shamas[77] . The study also revealed that C. albospecularis of Madagascar and C. sechellarum of Seychelles are sister to the Oriental Magpie-robin (C. saularis).

Copsychus phylogeny_elizengyx (Cropped).jpg
Phylogeny of Copsychus and Trichixos estimated by Bayesian analysis and maximum likelihood (ML) bootstrapping. Branch support numbers are Bayesian/ML-bootstrapping values, respectively. The Oriental Magpie-robin's position is indicated by the red line. (Figure adapted from Lim et al., 2010)

Within the Magpie-robins, C. saularis was found to be polyphyletic as the Malagasy population (C. albospecularis) was between the Philippine and the remaining C. saularis populations [78] . The study went on to propose for the Philippine population to be recognized as a distinct species on the basis that it is not monophyletic with other C. saularis populations, distinctive plumage (all black tail), and substantial genetic difference (6%). The Philippine population has since been recognized as a species in recent checklists [79] [80] [81] .

The phylogenetic relationship of Oriental Magpie-robins from Singapore are inconclusive as the sample(s) may have originated from elsewhere (Sumatra or Java), which resulted in the substantial divergence between the Singapore individuals (31 and 32 in figure below) [82] . There was minimal genetic differences (1%) between the Sino-Indian and western Sundaic Magpie-robins, which were then included within C. saularis [83] .

Black-bellied taxa from east Borneo (adamsi and pluto; individuals from clade C in figure below) and presumably east Java (amoenus) have substantial genetic differences from the remaining populations constituting C. saularis [84] . Despite distinct plumage and genetic differences, the black-bellied taxa hybridized with the white-bellied individuals of C. s. musicus. These hybrid individuals have intermediate plumage and occurred widely on both side of the contact zone. As such the Sheldon et al. (2009) conservatively subsumed the black-bellied taxa in C. saularis.

Sheldon et al. 2009. Page 6 phylogeny of C. saularis_elizengyx.jpg
Maximum likelihood phylogenetic estimate of Magpie-robin (Copsychus saularis and Copsychus albospecularis) mitochondrial haplotypes based on mtDNA sequence (ND2 and COI). Numbers above branches indicate maximum likelihood bootstrap support and Bayesian posterior probabilities, respectively, and support measures below branches indicate symmetric resampling and jackknife parsimony support, respectively. (Figure adapted from Sheldon et al., 2009)

Genetic Resources

Genbank has barcode sequences of the Oriental Magpie-robin for several genes including: ND2, CO1, Fib5 and ctyb. The full genome of the Oriental Magpie-robin has not been sequenced, and the closest reference genome for the species will be the Collared Flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis).


Literature Cited


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