Slaty-backed Forktail in the Lowlands

on 19th April 2022

I saw this Slaty-backed Forktail (Enicurus schistaceus) at a jungle stream on the outskirts of Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia today, 15th April 2022. I suspect from calls and movement that there were two birds. I checked the map and the location where I saw the bird was at ‘sea level’. It is very odd to see this generally highland species so low.

Wells (2007) does not record this species below 800m ASL on the peninsular.

Ebird records for Peninsular Malaysia are all highlands or hill station records. However, one record by WK Liew in April 2021 is from Sungai Congkak Recreational Forest, Hulu Langat, Selangor, which may be at ~200m ASL.

Appreciate any feedback on observations noted in lowland locations in Peninsular Malaysia.


Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS – Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia

25th April 2022



Rosli Omar’s comment: At sea level, that’s amazing. In my book Birds of the Forests of Peninsular Malaysia, I stated the old Birds I Witness records with one at Kuala Juram at about 190m.

Amar responsese: Appreciate that vital information. It appears that the range of this bird is wider than previously known or reported in literature.

Syafiq comment: From Birds of Thailand (2018, Lynx) by Treesucon, U. & Limparungpatthanakij, W., …Forages on rocks in and beside larger, more open rivers in wooded regions at 200 – 1800m.

It is possible that what you observed is unique since I am not aware of any previous records of Slaty-backed Forktail at ‘sea level’.

Any idea from which river the stream originated, and how far upstream (elevation) is the river’s source? Is it above 200m?

Amar’s response: I am aware that populations outside of the Malay Peninsula breed at lower altitudes.

Down to 300m in the Himalayas (wintering down into adjacent plains) and recorded at 400m in Thailand (Birds of the World). But our populations have largely been above 800m.

I have only been a few km up this stream – but if I look at the map it appears to go on up to a peak of about 400-500m (river source).

The highest nearby peak is 1000m (only one); all the others are 800m or lower.

It could be that side-streams feed into this river from the highest peak (1000m) but not the main stream.

David Wells comment 1: First question, does this stream system run off hills that regularly carry a Slaty-backed population, ie., could this bird have wandered down its home stream, or would it need to have flown in  from some other stream system?

Amar’s response: I have never seen Slaty-backed Forktails at this site. A location I have visited regularly (15-20 visits per year) since 1988 – it is my primary bird watching patch. But I have only climbed hills in the area only up to 800m. I have only seen Chestnut-naped Forktails at all elevations.

The nearest higher hills (above 1000m) are all >25km away and interrupted by extensive lowland/human habitation in between. This location is a small range of hills (highest mentioned before at 1000m) surrounded on all sides by city, development, agriculture.

David Wells comment 2: 

Second Question, could it be that there are no, or no longer, any competing Chestnut-naped Forktails on this particular stream system? Whatever the answers, the suspicion has to be that something is going on in the highlands that is stressing its home population.

Amar’s response: In a 2.5km stretch of this stream I used to see 3 pairs of Chestnut-naped Forktails in the past. Recently it is more common to see 1 or 2 pairs (some reduction in sightings). I just saw a pair of Chestnut-naped Forktails at almost the same location as the Slaty-backed Forktail just 5-6 weeks ago.

I am not aware of logging upstream to pressure birds to come down – the streams in the location are all still very clear & no logging trails going in.

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.

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