Oriental Magpie Robin: Distraction tactic

on 2nd August 2007


Many birds will try to distract you if you are near their nest, especially when there are chicks around. I have personally experience a Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) as well as a Large-tailed Nightjar (Caprimulgus macrurus) trying to get me away from their nests by trying the “broken wing” trick.

The Oriental Magpie Robin (Copsychus saularis) does something else.

Last week, Johnny Wee came across a male Oriental Magpie Robin accompanied by a pair of recently fledged chicks perched on a branch of a tree (left top). The adult bird was foraging on the ground and found an earthworm to feed the hungry fledglings (left bottom).

When the bird noticed that Johnny was around, it flew away from the fledglings and had its back facing him, looking back all the time. It cocked its tail right up, showing off the prominent white margins, fanned it wide and then lowered it (below). At the same time the wings were spread downwards. All the time it was making scolding calls.


Obviously the bird was trying to lure Johnny away from the fledglings. When the trick did not work, it flew off in the opposite direction.

Smythies (1999) mentions that the bird, when on the ground, lowers its tail, expands it into a fan, then closes and jerks it up over the back, past the vertical. There is no mention that this is a distraction tactic. Wells (2007) records that “both sexes regularly cock the tail vertical and part-fan it to expose white margins; probably signal behaviour that is often accompanied by scolding calls.”

Johnny Wee
August 2007

Smythies, B. E. (1999). Birds of Borneo. Kota Kinabalu: Natural History Pub. (Borneo) Sdn. Bhd. & The Sabah Society. 4th ed, revised by G. W. H. Davison.
Wells, D.R. (2007). The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsular. Vol. II, Passerines. Christopher Helm, London.

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

Other posts by YC Wee

4 Responses

  1. was once close to tracking down a chirping young sunbird when an adult male (OBS) suddenly appeared, perched on a twig just one metre from my eyes; posed for me a full minute along various parts of the twig, but just long enough for me to realise that the chirping bird sound was fading into the distance.

  2. Yesterday, my son went to the balcony to check on the baby sunbirds. The parents flew into the garden and made such a lot of noise for more than 5 minutes. I approached within 10 ft of one of them and even continued to talk to my friend on my handphone and yet it did not fly away. Now I know why. Thanks for the post.

  3. I am beginning to see more magpie robins on the main island. Any reasons for the increase? Are we releasing more of these birds or are they making a comeback?

  4. Some time ago these birds were trapped to near extinction. The predecessor of NParks conducted some release programmes and for some years now we have experienced a comeback. I am not sure whether poachers are again trapping them as I see less around my place…

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