Oriental Magpie Robin: Distraction tactic

posted in: Feeding chicks | 4


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.

4 Responses

  1. angie

    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. Lam Chun See

    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. Myron Tay

    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. YC

    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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