Birds in Taiwan
Since 2004, I have spent a considerable time of each year in Taiwan, living in the city of Taichung. During this time, I have managed to get photographs of a large number of Taiwanese bird species, mainly the common ones, which live in and around Taichung. As is obvious from this collection of pictures, I prefer to depict birds in their natural surroundings, or studies of their behavior, rather than close-ups, which I find boring.
Forktails (Enicurus) are striking black-and-white passerines of the flycatcher family (Muscicapidae), all with whitish legs and a forked tail, which has given the group its name. Most of the seven species live along mountain streams in Southeast Asia and Indonesia, and several are also found in the Himalaya.
Little forktail (Enicurus scouleri) has an even larger distribution, found from the Tian Shan Mountains in north-western China, south to the Himalaya and east to southern China and Taiwan. It lives along streams with fast-flowing water, sometimes as low as 1,200 m and up to c. 3,700 m. The specific name was given in honour of Scottish naturalist John Scouler (1804-1871).
Little forktail is found here and there in the mountains of Taiwan. This bird is feeding among wet rocks beneath the Taoshan Waterfall, Wuling National Forest. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Herons are long-legged and long-beaked, fish-eating waterbirds of the family Ardeidae, comprising about 64 species, of which 21 have been observed in Taiwan. Some species are called egrets, mainly birds with ornate plumes during the breeding season, while birds of the genera Botaurus, Ixobrychus, and Zebrilus are called bitterns. Six species are presented below.
The great white egret (Ardea alba) has an almost global distribution, found in Europe, Africa, most of Asia, Australia, and the Americas, whereas its smaller cousin, the little egret (Egretta garzetta), is found in most tropical and subtropical areas of Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. Since 1994, a small population has also been breeding on the Caribbean island Barbados. Both these species are common in Taiwan.
You may read more about the little egret and its near relative, the snowy egret (Egretta thula), on the page In praise of the colour yellow.
Numerous great white egrets and little egrets on the lookout for fish along a canal, Cigu Black-faced Spoonbill Refuge, near the city of Tainan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Most smaller herons of the genus Egretta have black legs with bright yellow toes. These pictures show little egrets, photographed in the city of Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Little egrets, feeding in a sewage draining canal, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This picture shows a pair of little egrets in courtship display. One bird, presumably the male, walks around with its bill stretched towards the sky, while the other bird, presumably the female, puffs up the plumes on its back. – Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The grey heron (Ardea cinerea), which is distributed in most of Asia, Europe, Africa, and Madagascar, is quite common in Taiwan, but much scarcer than great white egret and little egret. In America, it is replaced by the similar, slightly larger great blue heron (Ardea herodias).
More pictures of grey heron may be seen on the pages Nature: Urban nature, and Fishing, whereas the great blue heron is presented at: In praise of the colour blue.
Grey heron, feeding in a river in the city of Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The smallish black-crowned night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) is found in most warmer parts of the world, except in Australia, where it is replaced by the closely related rufous night-heron (N. caledonicus). The generic name Nycticorax means ‘night raven’, from the Greek nuktos (‘night’) and korax (‘raven’), referring to the mainly nocturnal feeding habits of this genus, and their hoarse, raven-like call.
In Taiwan, the black-crowned night-heron is quite common and often confiding, as these two birds, feeding in park ponds in the city of Taichung. Note the long, white, nuptial plumes on the bird in the lower picture. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This black-crowned night-heron is sitting on a wall along a sewage canal, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Immature black-crowned night-heron, taking off from the edge of a pond, Tunghai University Park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Immature black-crowned night-heron, feeding in a sewage canal, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The small Malayan night-heron (Gorsachius melanolophus) mainly breeds in Southeast Asia and the Philippines, with northern outposts in north-eastern India and Taiwan. The majority are resident, but Indian birds, as well as some northern birds of Southeast Asia, spend the winter in Malaysia and Indonesia. The main habitats of this species are forests and marshy areas, but in Taiwan, where it is quite common, it is often found in city parks, where it can become remarkably confiding.
A pair of Malayan night-herons on a lawn in a park in Taichung. The bird to the left is probably a male in breeding plumage, showing deep blue lores and a long crest, whereas the other bird presumably is a female, which is not yet sexually mature, or has retained the immature plumage – a character known from females of this species (see Chuan-Chiung Chang: Malayan Night Heron Gorsachius melanolophus breeding in immature plumage, Forktail 16 (2000), pp. 167-168). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This Malayan night-heron is walking down a road in Taichung, moving its breast-feathers from one side to another. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This bird is sitting on its day-roost, a garden wall in Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This immature Malayan night-heron was feeding along a sewage canal in Tunghai University Park, Taichung, when a dragonfly passed close by. Immediately, the bird flashed its wings to reveal a black, white and red ‘eye’ pattern – perhaps a means to scare away enemies? (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Formerly, cattle egrets were regarded as a single species, Bubulcus ibis, but today some authorities split them into two species, the western (B. ibis) and the eastern (B. coromandus). The western cattle egret was originally native to southern Spain and Portugal, the northern half of Africa, and western Asia. In the late 1800s, it began expanding its range into southern Africa, and in 1877 it was observed in northern South America, having apparently flown across the Atlantic Ocean. By the 1930s, it had become established as a breeding bird in this area, rapidly spreading to North America, where it is now found as far north as southern Canada. The eastern cattle egret is distributed from Pakistan east to Japan, and thence south to Australia.
The eastern cattle egret is quite common in Taiwan. These birds are following a tractor, ploughing a rice field near Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In former days, redstarts were regarded as small thrushes, belonging to the family Turdidae. However, DNA research has revealed that they are in fact flycatchers of the family Muscicapidae.
The Daurian redstart (Phoenicurus auroreus) is breeding in south-eastern Siberia, from Lake Baikal eastwards to Amurland, Ussuriland, and Sakhalin, and in Mongolia, Tibet, most of China, and northern Korea, wintering in southern China, Japan, Taiwan, north-eastern India, and Southeast Asia.
Like most of the 14 species in the genus Phoenicurus, Daurian redstart is strongly sexually dimorphic, males having red breast, belly, and tail, black face, throat, and back, greyish crown and nape, and a prominent white wing-patch, while females are pale brown with an orange-red tail, and, like the male, a prominent white wing-patch. This species is a common winter visitor in Taiwan, often seen in gardens and city parks.
Male and female Daurian redstart, Tunghai University Park, Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Previously, the plumbeous redstart (Phoenicurus fuliginosus) was placed in the genus Rhyacornis, but recent genetic research has revealed that it is in fact a ‘true’ redstart of the genus Phoenicurus, despite differing somewhat from the other members of that genus, being smaller, and with a shorter tail. The male is slate-black with a red tail, while the female has dark-grey back, whitish, mottled breast, and two large white spots at the base of the tail. This bird lives exclusively along fast-flowing streams, often seen perched on a rock, from where it alights to snap some bypassing insect.
Male plumbeous redstart, perched on a large rock in the Penglai River, Lion’s Head Mountain, northern Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Swinhoe’s pheasant (Lophura swinhoii), also known as Taiwan blue pheasant, is endemic in the mountains of central Taiwan, where it is quite common. It is named after British biologist Robert Swinhoe (1836-1877) who, in 1860, became the first European consular representative to Taiwan. He discovered many new species, and four mammals and 15 birds are named after him.
Male and female Swinhoe’s pheasant, Dasyueshan National Forest. To lure this gorgeous bird closer, many Taiwanese photographers strew maize or other food near roads or trails, often causing it to become remarkably tame. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The black-naped monarch (Hypothymis azurea), of the monarch-flycatcher family (Monarchidae), has a very wide distribution, found in the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Southern China, and Taiwan. No less than 23 subspecies have been described. The male is bright blue with a distinctive black patch on the crown and a narrow black stripe across the throat, while the female is dull-blue with brownish wings, lacking the black markings of the male.
In Taiwan, the black-naped monarch, subspecies oberholseri, is quite common in forests in lower parts of the country. This male was feeding in a dense growth of trees in a city park in Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The threatened black-faced spoonbill (Platalea minor) breeds on islets off the west coast of Korea, on offshore islets in Liaoning Province in China, and since 2006 also a few pairs in the Tumen Estuary in Russia. (Source: Birdlife International). From an estimated number as high as 10,000, the population plummeted to a low of 288 individuals in 1988. Since then, conservation efforts have caused the population to increase to c. 4,000 birds in 2017.
With a total of c. 2,500 individuals, southern Taiwan is the most important wintering area for the black-faced spoonbill. These pictures are from Cigu Black-faced Spoonbill Refuge near the city of Tainan. In the upper photograph, a flock of Caspian terns (Hydroprogne caspia) are passing over the spoonbills. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Naturally, this iconic bird is also represented in Taiwanese folk art, as seen in this ‘sculpture’ from the same refuge. – Many more examples of Taiwanese folk art are presented at Culture: Folk art of Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Parrotbills are a group of peculiar passerines, comprising 21 small and medium-sized species in 8 genera. At an early stage, mainly due to their acrobatic habits and their superficial likeness to long-tailed tits (Aegithalos), they were placed in the tit family (Paridae), to which the long-tailed tits then belonged. Later studies found that parrotbills were not at all related to tits, and, together with the bearded reedling (Panurus biarmicus), they were placed in a distinct family, Paradoxornithidae (‘paradoxical birds’), related to the babbler family (Timaliidae).
Since then, genetic research has split the former Timaliidae into a number of more or less related families, declaring Paradoxornithidae void and placing parrotbills (but not the bearded reedling) in the present family Sylviidae, together with the Sylvia species, which were formerly regarded as warblers, belonging to the warbler family, in those days called Sylviidae. This family has now also been split into several families.
The vinous-throated parrotbill (Sinosuthora webbiana) is a small parrotbill, distributed from southern Russia and Mongolia southwards to Taiwan and Vietnam. Subspecies bulomachus is fairly common in the lowlands of Taiwan, but is not often seen due to its skulking habits. The specific name was given in honour of English botanist Philip Barker-Webb (1793-1854).
Taiwan vinous-throated parrotbill, ssp. bulomachus, is much paler than the mainland subspecies and lacks the vinous throat (sic!). – Tunghai University Park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The spotted, or pearl-necked dove (Spilopelia chinensis), is a pretty bird, distinguished by its pearl-like white spots on black background on the side of the neck. Formerly, it was included in the genus Streptopelia (turtle doves), but studies on vocalization, together with DNA analyses, led to the conclusion, that this species and its near relative, the laughing dove (Spilopelia senegalensis), differed sufficiently from other Streptopelia species to constitute a separate genus.
Spotted dove is widely distributed in Asia, from the Indian Subcontinent east to China and Taiwan, thence south through the Philippines and Southeast Asia to Indonesia. Five subspecies have been described, of which the nominate chinensis is found in Taiwan, where it is one of the most common birds.
The spotted dove is very common in Taiwan, also in cities. In this picture, a pair is sitting on the rail of an apartment balcony in a skyscraper in Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The tiny red turtle dove (Streptopelia tranquebarica) is found from Pakistan eastwards to eastern China and Taiwan, and thence south to Southeast Asia and the island of Luzon in the Philippines. The eastern race humilis is common in the lowlands of Taiwan, especially in the south.
The common name stems from the red wings and reddish breast of the male, while the specific name tranquebarica means ‘from Tranquebar’ – a former Danish colony on the east coast of present-day Tamil Nadu, South India. Presumably, the type specimen of the species was collected here.
Tranquebar is presented on the page Culture: Entrances.
The male red turtle dove is quite distinct, having grey head, black collar on the hind neck, red wings, and reddish breast, while the female is brownish, also with a black collar. This male was observed in Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The oriental turtle dove (Streptopelia orientalis) is widely distributed, from the southern Ural Mountains, Kazakhstan, and Afghanistan eastwards to the Pacific Ocean, and from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards through Southeast Asia and China to Taiwan and Japan. This species breeds in forests, along forest edges, and in parks and larger gardens. In Taiwan, the doubtful race orii is rather common, but much scarcer than the two species mentioned above.
This male oriental red turtle is cooing, perched atop a pole in a park at the outskirts of Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
White-eyes are a group of small passerines, most of which belong to the genus Zosterops, from the Greek zoster (‘girdle’), and ops (‘eye’), referring to the white eye-ring of most species of this genus.
Traditionally, they have been placed in a family of their own, Zosteropidae, but recent genetic studies indicate that they are closely related to the nine remaining genera in the babbler family, Timaliidae, which was previously a true ‘waste-bin of systematics’, in which hundreds of bird species were placed. (Today, most of these species have been moved to other families.) Genetic research indicates that yuhinas (see below) are the nearest relatives of white-eyes, but some experts point out that further studies have to be made, before the true relationship of white-eyes with other birds can be determined.
The Japanese white-eye (Zosterops japonicus) is very common in the lowlands of Taiwan. It has a bright yellow throat, crown, and vent, while the back is olive-green and the underside greyish. This bird is also found in Japan, eastern China, Vietnam, and the Philippines, and it has been introduced to other areas, including Hawaii, where it is outcompeting native bird species, such as honeycreepers.
Japanese white-eyes, feeding in flowers of Taiwanese cherry trees (Prunus campanulata), Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Japanese white-eye, taking off from a flower of a silk-cotton tree (Bombax ceiba), Tunghai University Park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Yuhinas are a group of mostly small passerines, which, following genetic studies, are either placed in the timaliid family (Timaliidae), or with the white-eyes in the family Zosteropidae (see above).
As its name implies, the Taiwan yuhina (Yuhina brunneiceps) is endemic to Taiwan, living in forests at elevations between 1,000 and 3,200 m, in cold winter weather often descending to lower altitudes. This species is one of the most common birds in forests between 1,500 and 2,500 m.
Taiwan yuhina, feeding in flowers of Taiwanese cherry (Prunus campanulata), Dasyueshan National Forest. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In Ancient Egypt, the sacred ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus) was venerated as a symbol of the god of knowledge, Thoth, which is often depicted with the head of an ibis. Today, the sacred ibis is a common and popular species in zoological gardens worldwide. It often escapes, and populations in the wild have been established in France, Italy, Spain, the Canary Islands, Florida, Taiwan, and elsewhere. These populations are a great threat to many other birds, which breed in colonies. Ibises are predators, which can ravage colonies of terns and other birds by eating their eggs and young, and they also compete for nesting sites with other birds, including cattle egrets (Bubulcus) and little egret (Egretta garzetta).
The sacred ibis has been introduced to Taiwan and is spreading steadily. This picture is from Dongshi, south-western Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The most widespread swallow in the world is the barn swallow (Hirundo rustica). This species is mostly nesting on or inside buildings, very often in stables or barns – hence its name. Six subspecies are spread across the major part of the Northern Hemisphere, from the British Isles eastwards to Japan, and from northern Norway, central Siberia, and Kamchatka southwards to North Africa, Egypt, southern Iran, and southern China, and in most of North America, from northern Canada southwards to southern Mexico. Four of the subspecies are migratory, spending the winter as far south as South Africa, northern Australia, and Argentina. The birds may be seen year-round in southern Mexico, southern Iberian Peninsula, Egypt, the Himalaya, and southern China. Subspecies gutturalis is a common resident in Taiwan.
Barn swallow, subspecies gutturalis, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Nest of barn swallow with young, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Previously, one of the common swallows of South India, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Taiwan was regarded as belonging to the widespread Pacific swallow (Hirundo tahitica). However, 7 subspecies have recently been split to form a separate species, the house swallow (H. javanica), of which subspecies namiyei is distributed in the lowlands of Taiwan, and also on the Ryukyu Islands, southern Japan. (Source: hbw.com/species/house-swallow-hirundo-javanica)
This species can be told from the barn swallow by its short outer tail feathers, the greyish, checkered vent, and lack of black breast band.
Taiwan house swallow, subspecies namiyei, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) is a bird in the family Rallidae, which includes waterhens, coots, crakes, and rails. The name mor hen can be traced as far back as the 13th Century, meaning marsh hen, as the word moor in those days referred to marshes, rather than to moorland, which today refers to areas with heather (Calluna vulgaris) and other plants of dry, poor soils.
This species is widely distributed in the Old World, found in most of Europe and Africa, much of West and South Asia, and in Southeast and East Asia, south to Indonesia. In the Americas, it is replaced by the similar common gallinule (Gallinula galeata), which was formerly regarded as a subspecies of the moorhen.
The moorhen is common in the Taiwanese lowlands. This bird is stretching a wing, standing in a riverbed in Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Drongos (Dicrurus) constitute a family of their own, Dicruridae, with altogether 25 species, of which four have been observed in Taiwan. The generic name is from the Greek dikros (‘forked’) and oura (‘tail’), referring to the forked tail of these birds. The plumage of most species is black, often with a sheen. Several are excellent imitators, one example described in detail elsewhere, see Quotes on Nature.
The black drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus) is a common resident in tropical and some subtropical areas of Asia, from southern Iran through the Indian Subcontinent to southern China and Taiwan, and thence south to Indonesia, found in open areas, where it catches flying insects from a prominent perch, such as an electric wire or a bare branch. As its name implies, the plumage of this species is jet-black, with very little sheen. Previously, it was regarded as con-specific with the African fork-tailed drongo, which is today treated as a separate species, named Dicrurus adsimilis.
Black drongo has been introduced to certain Pacific islands, where it constitutes a threat to native bird species.
Subspecies harterti is very common in the lowlands of Taiwan, found in open areas, such as farmland and city parks.
This black drongo is sitting in front of a blooming Taiwanese cherry tree (Prunus campanulata), Taichung Science Park. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Black drongo, taking off from a tree in a city park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This black drongo in Tunghai University Park, Taichung, has caught an insect. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The bronzed drongo (Dicrurus aeneus) is distributed from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to southern China and Taiwan, and thence south through Southeast Asia to Sumatra and Borneo. It lives in broadleaved forests, mainly in lower mountains. In Taiwan, subspecies braunianus is found at slightly higher altitudes than the black drongo.
These singing bronzed drongos were observed in Basian Shan National Forest. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Caspian tern (Hydroprogne caspia) has an almost cosmopolitan distribution, breeding at scattered localities in Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and North America. It is nowhere abundant, and the total population is estimated at 50,000 pairs.
In Taiwan, Caspian tern is a rather common migrant and winter visitor, with a stronghold in Cigu Black-faced Spoonbill Refuge, near Tainan, where this photograph was taken. In this reserve, several hundred birds are sometimes gathered (see photo of black-faced spoonbill above). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The tree sparrow (Passer montanus) has a huge distribution, from western Europe across Central Asia to Japan, and thence south through Southeast Asia to Indonesia and the Philippines. It is very common in Taiwan, where it has taken over the role of the house sparrow (P. domesticus) as a city bird, as the latter is not found in Taiwan.
Numerous tree sparrows, feeding in hay, which has been strewn as fodder for cows, Tunghai University Park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Tree sparrows, feeding on seeds of a Chinese tallow-tree (Triadica sebifera), Taichung. Read about this tree on the page Nature: Autumn. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The tree sparrow is a common city bird in Taiwan. These birds are sitting on a metal sculpture in Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The grey-capped pygmy woodpecker (Yungipicus canicapillus, also called Dendrocopos canicapillus) is presently divided into 11 subspecies, found in the Himalayan foothills from Pakistan east to Myanmar, in East Asia north to Ussuriland in south-eastern Siberia, and thence south through Southeast Asia to Sumatra and Borneo. This tiny woodpecker, subspecies kaleensis, is quite common in the Taiwanese lowlands, also in city parks.
Adult grey-capped pygmy woodpecker, pecking on thin branches of a fig tree (Ficus), Taichung Science Park. It may be eating soft scales (Coccidae). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Young grey-capped pygmy woodpecker, feeding on a tree trunk in a city park, Taichung. Adult birds have distinct black and white stripes in the face, and the male has a small red patch on the crown. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The most widespread Accipiter species in Taiwan is the crested goshawk (A. trivirgatus), subspecies formosae, which is endemic to the island. It is found from the lowlands up to an altitude of c. 1,000 m, living in forests, shrubland, and larger city parks.
When hunting, the crested goshawk sits motionless in a tree, scanning the surrounding for prey. This female is sitting in a silk-cotton tree (Bombax ceiba) at the outskirts of Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Shrikes are a group of striking passerines of the family Lanidae, which perch on trees, bushes, poles, or wires, scanning the surroundings for small prey, such as beetles, dragonflies, bees, lizards, and mice, sometimes impaling them on thorns to be consumed later. Five species of the genus Lanius (true shrikes) have been observed in Taiwan. The generic name is from the Latin lanio (‘butcher’), referring to their food-storing habit.
Altogether four subspecies of the brown shrike (Lanius cristatus) have been described. This species breeds over much of eastern Asia, in most of Siberia, Mongolia, China, Korea, and Japan, spending the winter in Tropical Asia. Further west, it is replaced by two sister species, the red-backed shrike (L. collurio) and the isabelline shrike (L. isabellinus).
The pictures below show subspecies lucionensis of the brown shrike, which is a common migrant and winter visitor in Taiwan.
Brown shrike males, Tunghai University Park, Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Immature brown shrikes, Taichung. The bird in the upper picture is sitting in front of a blooming Taiwanese cherry tree (Prunus campanulata). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The long-tailed shrike (Lanius schach) is distributed from Uzbekistan east to China and Taiwan, south to Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Indonesia, with an isolated population in Papua New Guinea. Eight subspecies are recognized, of which the nominate schach is a rather uncommon resident in the lowlands of Taiwan.
Long-tailed shrike, perched on a tall grass stem in a dry riverbed, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This long-tailed shrike is feeding on a dead black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus), whose legs got entangled in a net, covering a fish pond, Cigu Black-faced Spoonbill Refuge, near Tainan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Liocichlas are colourful birds, found from northern India east to southern China, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Today, they are placed in the newly established laughing-thrush family (Leiothrichidae), together with laughing-thrushes (Garrulax), sibias (Heterophasia), minlas (Minla), barwings (Actinodura), leiothrixes (Leiothrix), and others. In former days, these genera were all placed in the babbler family, Timaliidae, which was a true ‘waste-bin of systematics’, in which hundreds of bird species were placed. Today, most of these species have been moved to other families.
Among the liocichla species, Steere’s liocichla (Liocichla steerii), which is endemic to montane areas of central Taiwan, is the one with the most ancient lineage. At a distance, the plumage of this species appears uniformly green, but at close quarters it shows various shades of blue and brown, besides a bright yellow spot in front of the eye.
Steere’s liocichla, Dasyueshan National Forest. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The grey, or Himalayan, treepie (Dendrocitta formosae), is distributed along the foothills of the Himalaya, eastwards through montane areas of northern Indochina and southern China to Taiwan. In Taiwan, however, the nominate subspecies, formosae, lives almost down to sea level. In most areas, this bird is rather shy, but in Taiwan it has become accustomed to people, showing no fear at all.
Grey treepie, Tunghai University Park, Taichung. A gust of wind is ruffling its plumage. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
These pictures from Taichung show treepies, feeding on seeds of the Chinese tallow-tree (Triadica sebifera). This tree is presented at Nature: Autumn. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The grey treepie is so well-known in the city of Taichung, that it has been depicted on manhole covers. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Starlings, family Sturnidae, are a group of about 115 species of passerines, divided among c. 30 genera. Their natural area of distribution includes Europe, Africa, Asia, northern Australia, and some Pacific islands. Many species have been introduced elsewhere, including North America, Hawaii, and New Zealand. They often compete with native birds, and many are regarded as invasive species, in North America especially the common starling (Sturnus vulgaris), which is dealt with on the page Nature: Invasive species.
In Taiwan, 16 species of this family have been observed, many of which, however, are escaped cage birds.
As a native, the Javan, or white-vented, myna (Acridotheres javanicus) is only found on the Indonesian islands of Java and Bali, but it has been introduced to numerous other countries as a cage bird, escaping in many places to form wild populations, including Taiwan, Japan, Southeast Asia, and Puerto Rico.
Today, the Javan myna is very common in Singapore and Taiwan, where it outcompetes local bird species, in Taiwan especially the native crested myna (Acridotheres cristatellus), which has become very rare. This species can be told from the Javan myna by its blackish plumage, red eye, pale yellow bill, and larger crest.
The Javan myna is very common in the city of Taichung. Usually, it is quite wary of people, but this one showed no fear at all. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Javan myna, feeding in a flower of a silk-cotton tree (Bombax ceiba), Tunghai University Park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Javan mynas, resting on a fence, Taichung. Note the Pieris butterfly, flying upside down. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The crested myna is scarce in Taiwan. This bird is sitting on a wall along a drainage canal in the outskirts of the city of Taichung. Paddy fields are seen in the background. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The chestnut-tailed starling (Sturnia malabarica), also known as grey-headed myna, is distributed in the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, southern China, and Taiwan. Three subspecies are recognized. Nominate malabarica is found in northern India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and north-western Burma, subspecies nemoricola in Southeast Asia, southern China and Taiwan, and blythii in southern India. Some authorities regard the latter as a separate species, the Malabar starling (Sturnia blythii). However, one study found that genetically it did not differ significantly more from malabarica, than did nemoricola. (Source: Zuccon et al. 2008. Phylogenetic relationships among Palearctic-Oriental starlings and mynas (genera Sturnus and Acridotheres : Sturnidae). Zoologica Scripta, 37:469-481)
Eastern subspecies nemoricola is fairly common in the Taiwanese lowland, by some authorities regarded as a feral population.
Eastern chestnut-tailed starlings, feeding in flowers of a silk-cotton tree (Bombax ceiba), Tunghai University Park, Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The grey-faced buzzard (Butastur indicus) is a medium-sized raptor, which breeds from Ussuriland, in south-eastern Siberia, south through north-eastern China to Korea and Japan, spending the winter in southern China, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Taiwan lies on a major migration route for this species, and in October, thousands move south along the central mountains, while the northward movement takes place in March-April along the low mountains on the western part of the island. A few spend the winter on Lanyu Island.
Grey-faced buzzards on migration, soaring over their night roost, near Manzhou, southern Taiwan. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Bulbuls (Pycnonotidae) are medium-sized passerines, encompassing 27 genera with c. 150 species, distributed in much of Africa, through the Middle East to Tropical Asia and Indonesia, north to Japan. African species, called greenbuls, brownbuls, leafloves, and bristlebills, are mainly forest birds, whereas the majority of Asian species live in open areas.
The light-vented, or Chinese, bulbul (Pycnonotus sinensis) is one of the most common birds in Taiwan, living in a wide variety of habitats, such as secondary forest, farmland, parks, gardens, and even cities with scant vegetation.
Light-vented bulbul, Tunghai University Park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
These two photographs of light-vented bulbul are from a skyscraper in the city of Taichung. One bird is sitting on a balcony rail, enjoying the morning sun (top), while the other is singing, perched on a potted bush. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Light-vented bulbul, feeding in a Taiwanese cherry flower (Prunus campanulata), Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
These light-vented bulbuls take off after quenching their thirst in a stream, Tunghai University Park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In many parts of eastern Taiwan, large numbers of light-vented bulbuls have been mass-released during Buddhist festivals, and they have become naturalized in many areas, where they compete with – and also hybridize with – the local, endemic Styan’s bulbul (Pycnonotus taivanus), causing the latter to have declined drastically, and already gone extinct in the Yilan County. This species is quite similar to light-vented bulbul, differing in its pure white breast, black cap, and thin moustachial stripe.
Styan’s bulbul, eating fruits of a species of maritime persimmon (Diospyros maritima), Taitung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Formerly, the black bulbuls of Mainland Asia were regarded as subspecies of the Malagasy bulbul (Hypsipetes madagascariensis), but most authorities now recognize two separate Asian species, the Asian black bulbul (H. leucocephalus), which is widely distributed, found from north-eastern Afghanistan along the Himalaya to Indochina, China, and Taiwan, and the square-tailed bulbul (H. ganeesa), which is restricted to montane areas of South India and Sri Lanka.
Asian black bulbul is predominantly black, or slate-black, bill and gape are bright read, and the feet are orange. Sometimes white-headed morphs are seen. The specific name leucocephalus is from the Greek leukos (‘white’), and kephalos (‘head’), so the species must have been described from a white-headed specimen.
Black bulbul, of the Taiwanese subspecies nigerrimus, Tunghai University Park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Black bulbuls, drinking from a stream, likewise in Tunghai University Park. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Black bulbul, feeding in an African tulip tree flower (Spathodea campanulata), also in Tunghai University Park. This gorgeous tree is presented on the page In praise of the colour red. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The collared finchbill (Spizixos semitorques) is a bulbul, found in central and southern China, northern Vietnam, and Taiwan, living in secondary forest and gardens at moderate elevations. The Taiwanese subspecies, cinereicapillus, was originally described as a separate species by Robert Swinhoe (see Swinhoe’s pheasant above) in 1871.
This collared finchbill was photographed near Wushe, central Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
There are altogether eleven subspecies of the white wagtail (Motacilla alba), breeding from East Greenland in the west to Alaska in the east, and south to Morocco, Iran, the Himalaya, and Taiwan. Subspecies leucopsis, called Amur wagtail, is a common winter visitor in Taiwan, whereas it is rather scarce as a breeding bird.
Read more thoroughly about the white wagtail at Nature: Urban nature.
Male Amur wagtail, feeding on a lawn, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This male Amur wagtail is sitting on an outlet pipe in a wall along a sewage canal, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The grey wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) is distributed over a huge area, breeding in most of Europe, Morocco, the Middle East, the Himalaya, Siberia, Central Asia, China, Japan, and Taiwan, the northern populations spending the winter further south, in Ethiopia, Arabian Peninsula, Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and Indonesia. The subspecies melanope breeds in montane areas of Taiwan, many birds spending the winter in the lowlands.
Grey wagtail females, feeding in sewage canals, Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Today, laughing-thrushes (Garrulax), comprising altogether 45 species of colourful, noisy passerines, belong to the family Leiothrichidae – formerly they were placed in the huge babbler family (Timaliidae). This genus is restricted to Asia, but is found in a wide range of habitats, from humid tropical rainforests to rather cold areas in China and the Himalaya. Six species live in Taiwan, two of which, however, are escapes, Chinese hwamei (G. canorus) and black-throated laughing-thrush (G. chinensis).
White-whiskered laughing-thrush (Garrulax morrisonianus), also called Taiwan laughing-thrush, is common in upper montane forests of Taiwan, but is found nowhere else. It easily becomes accustomed to people and is often surprisingly confiding.
White-whiskered laughing-thrushes, photographed near a parking lot on Hohuan Shan Mountain. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The little ringed plover (Charadrius dubius) is a small wader with an enormous distribution, breeding in most of Europe, and in the Middle East, Central Asia, China, Japan, the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, the Philippines, and New Guinea. The specific name dubius means doubtful in Latin, so named in 1776 by French naturalist and explorer Pierre Sonnerat (1748-1814), as he thought that the bird might be a variant of the common ringed plover (C. hiaticula).
Little ringed plover, subspecies curonicus, is a resident in Taiwan. This bird was observed in an abandoned parking lot in the city of Taichung, and as it was quite anxious of my presence, it may have bred there. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Swifts, which constitute a family of their own, Apodidae, are fast-flying birds, which catch insects in the air. They are superficially similar to swallows, but are not even distantly related to them, the resemblance being a result of convergent evolution due to similar life styles. The family name is derived from the Greek apous (‘footless’), referring to the tiny, weak legs of these birds.
Formerly, it was thought that the most common swift of East Asia, Southeast Asia, and Indonesia was a subspecies of the widespread little swift (Apus affinis), but today, birds from Nepal eastwards to Japan, and thence south through Southeast Asia to Indonesia, are regarded as a separate species, the house swift (A. nipalensis).
The house swift is very common in Taiwan, often breeding in dense colonies on high-rise buildings. This picture shows two such colonies in the city of Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The collared, or Johnstone’s, bush-robin (Tarsiger johnstoniae, sometimes called Luscinia johnstoniae), belongs to the Old World-flycatcher family (Muscicapidae). It is endemic to Taiwan, living in forests and shrubland at high altitudes, between 2,000 and 3,500 m in summer, descending to lower elevations in winter. The male is a striking bird, having blackish head, back, and tail, with a long, white eyebrow and a bright red collar, which stretches down on the scapulars. The female is brown with reddish breast and a faint white eyebrow.
This male collared bush-robin was singing from willow bushes near the Hohuan Shan Pass, central Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Thrushes are a large, almost global family, Turdidae, of small to medium-sized birds, which spend much time feeding on the ground for worms and other invertebrates, and many species also eat fruit. Once, the family was much larger, including many genera which are today included in the Old World flycatcher family (Muscicapidae).
The brown-headed thrush (Turdus chrysolaus) is endemic to East Asia, breeding from Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands, south to central Honshu, Japan, spending the winter in southern Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines. This bird is mainly of a warm brown colour, with reddish breast and white central belly. The male has blackish-brown head and throat, while the female has whitish throat with black vertical stripes.
Male brown-headed thrush, feeding on fruits of a Chinese tallow-tree (Triadica sebifera), Taichung. Read about this tree on the page Nature: Autumn. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Female brown-headed thrush, eating fruits of maritime persimmon (Diospyros maritima), Taitung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Asian barbets are colourful, small to medium-sized birds. They were formerly placed in the family Capitonidae, which also included New World barbets and African barbets, but the Asian species have been found to be distinctive and now constitute a family of their own, Megalaimidae, with African barbets (Lybiidae) and toucans (Ramphastidae) as sister groups.
Asian barbets, altogether 35 species, are found in forests and shrubland, from Pakistan eastwards to southern China and Taiwan, southwards to Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Previously, they were all named Megalaima, with the exception of two species of Caloramphus. Today, however, the name Megalaima has been replaced by Psilopogon.
Formerly, Taiwan barbet was regarded as a subspecies of the black-browed barbet (Psilopogon oorti), but recent studies conclude that it is a separate species, P. nuchalis, which is endemic to Taiwan. It is very common in forests and parks in the lower parts of the island, up to an altitude of c. 2,800 m.
Calling Taiwan barbet, Tunghai University Park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In the past, the white-tailed blue robin (Myiomela leucura) was regarded as belonging to the thrushes, but recent DNA studies indicate that it is in fact a flycatcher of the family Muscicapidae. It is distributed from the Himalaya eastwards across Southeast Asia, with an isolated population, subspecies montium, in the lower mountains of Taiwan.
This species lives in dense forest and bamboo growths, feeding on the ground. Male and female have a very different plumage, the male being dark blue with pale-blue forehead and wing coverts, and a black tail with a large white spot at the base of each side, while the female is brown with a whitish throat, its tail being similar to that of the male.
This male white-tailed blue robin was photographed in a dense thicket in Dasyueshan National Forest, central Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Munia, mannikin, silverbill, avadavat, waxbill, seedcracker, firefinch, twinspot – members of the family Estrildidae have numerous names. It is a large family, comprising c. 130 species of small, seed-eating birds, distributed across Africa and Asia. Their bill is short and thick, adapted to crushing grass seeds and other seeds. A large number of species are in the pet trade, and many of these have escaped to form feral populations. Three species are indigenous to Taiwan, whereas five pet species have established themselves locally.
The scaly-breasted munia (Lonchura punctulata), also called spotted munia or nutmeg mannikin, is the commonest of the three Taiwanese indigenous munias, occurring anywhere in the lowlands, as long as there are grassy areas. The pictures below were all taken in the city of Taichung.
Scaly-breasted munias are very social birds, often feeding in large flocks. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Scaly-breasted munia, eating seeds of torpedograss (Panicum repens). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Sitting on a rope between two concrete pillars, these scaly-breasted munias are feeding on seeds of peacock-plume grass (Chloris barbata). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This picture clearly shows the scaly breast of this species. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The common sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) is a small wader, which breeds across large parts of temperate and subtropical Eurasia, spending the winter in Africa, southern Asia, and Australia. In North America, it is replaced by a close relative, the spotted sandpiper (A. macularia).
The generic name is from the Greek aktites (‘living on the coast’), derived from akte (‘coast’), while the specific name is from the Greek hupo (‘beneath’), and leukos (‘white’), referring to the whitish belly of this species.
In the Nukumanu Islands of Papua New Guinea, the common sandpiper is called matakakoni, meaning ‘the bird that walks a little, then copulates’, referring to the habit of this bird of pumping its hind body up and down while foraging. (Source: D.W. Hadden, 2004. Birds of the northern atolls of the North Solomons Province of Papua New Guinea. Notornis. 51 (2): 91-102)
The common sandpiper is a rather common winter visitor to Taiwan, often feeding in sewage canals, like this bird in the city of Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Accentors are a small group of passerines, comprising 13 species, which constitute a family of their own, Prunellidae. Most species live in montane areas of Asia, the dunnock (Prunella modularis) and the alpine accentor (P. collaris) reaching Europe. (Incidentally, the dunnock is mainly a lowland bird.)
The alpine accentor has a very wide distribution, from Spain and Morocco, across central Europe and the Middle East to Central Asia, the Himalaya, China, Japan, and Taiwan. Birds in Taiwan constitute a separate subspecies, fennelli, which lives in the highest mountains of the island.
The alpine accentor is a hardy bird. In snowy and foggy weather, this bird was hopping around near a parking lot on the Hohuan Shan Pass, central Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Grosbeak is a name applied to finches of various genera, which have one thing in common: their beak is very thick, adapted to crack hard seeds. Two of these birds, of the genus Eophona, have been observed in Taiwan, the Chinese grosbeak (E. migratoria) and the Japanese grosbeak (E. personata). Chinese breeds from Ussuriland in south-eastern Siberia, south through north-eastern China to Korea, spending the winter further south in China, while the Japanese has more or less the same distribution, but also breeds in Japan and on Sakhalin. Chinese is a rare winter visitor to Taiwan, while Japanese is accidental.
Male Chinese grosbeak, Tunghai University Park, Taichung. The male has a black hood, which the female lacks, and the bill of both sexes is lemon-yellow with a black tip. The Japanese is a heavier bird with a black mask, lacking the black tip of the bill. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The white-rumped shama (Kittacincla malabarica) is a colourful, long-tailed bird of the flycatcher family (Muscicapidae), which is distributed in the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and the Chinese island Hainan. It has been introduced elsewhere due to its beautiful, melodious song, among other places in Taiwan, where it is found in lowland forests and parks.
Male white-rumped shama, Tunghai University Park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) is a small finch, which is a very common breeding bird in the taiga belt, from Norway east to Kamchatka, spending the winter further south, in Europe, the Middle East, the Himalaya, China, Japan, Taiwan, and the island of Luzon, Philippines. It is rare in Taiwan.
This brambling was one out of a small flock, feeding on seeds of Chinese tallow-tree (Triadica sebifera) in Taichung Science Park. This tree is presented elsewhere, see Nature: Autumn. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Prinias, or wren-warblers, are a genus of small, long-tailed warblers, belonging to the family Cisticolidae. About 30 species are distributed across Africa and Asia. The plain prinia (Prinia inornata) is found in the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, China, and Taiwan, with an isolated population on the Indonesian island Java. Subspecies flavirostris is endemic to Taiwan, where it is very common in grassy areas of the lowland.
Taiwan plain prinia, stretching a wing, sitting on a stem of torpedograss (Panicum repens), Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This Taiwan plain prinia is hopping around among stones in a dried-up stream, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) is distributed from western Europe, all the way across Asia to Sakhalin and Japan. The eastern subspecies bengalensis is fairly common in Taiwan, mainly in the lowland.
This common kingfisher is sitting on a stick, which has been stuck into an outlet at a sewage canal, Taichung. Presumably, this stick is being used as a night roost for a heron, judging from the smudges of dung on the wall. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
(Uploaded September 2018)
(Latest update July 2019)