Chestnut-backed Scimitar-babbler: Opinion solicited on this behaviour

posted in: Miscellaneous | 2

On 30th March 2015, Simon van der Meulen wrote to Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS” about an unusual behavior of a Chestnut-backed Scimitar-babbler (Pomatorhinus montanus) that he documented in Thailand:

“I recently visited the Hala Bala WLS in South Thailand; I was actually a few hundred meters from the Malaysian border. There we encountered a Chestnut-backed Scimitar-babbler and I’m somewhat struggling to understand its initial display as shown in enclosed picture. As it flew into our vision it stuck to a branch with both wings spread and kept that posture for some 30-45 seconds after which it flew to a nearby branch and assumed a ‘normal’ posture.

“The pictured posture somewhat resembles that of a bird that fakes a slight injury in order to distract attention from a nearby nest (at least that’s what I’ve seen on a previous occasion in Europe).
Would you (or your friends from BESG) have an explanation for it?”

This is Amar’s response:

“There is little information I can find on social behaviour of the Chestnut-backed Scimitar-babbler. I think there are two possibilites to explain this behaviour:

1. The first is your suggestion, a distraction technique when we are close to it’s nest. Akin to the ‘broken wing’ display of many birds. This is still the most likely reason.

2. The second possibility is a courtship display. We may not have seen the female(s) nearby to recognise this happening. We know so little about courtship displays in most birds and I have seen some in common birds that surprised me.”

Anyone who has any opinion on the above behavior, please respond. Thanks.

2 Responses

  1. Lee Chiu San

    This wing-opening display can very often be observed among Hwamei (Garrulax canorus) and various bulbuls in bird-singing competitions. The main difference is that the birds in managed competitions perform it on horizontal perches, whereas the bird in the photo is doing it while clasping a vertical perch. It is usually accompanied by swaying from side to side, and rubbing on the branch, as in copulation. I assume that it is some form of threat behaviour.

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