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. As is obvious from the collection of pictures below, I prefer to depict birds in their natural surroundings, or studies of their behavior, rather than taking close-ups, which I find rather boring.

 

 

Family Accipitridae (hawks, eagles, and allies)

 

The grey-faced buzzard (Butastur indicus) is a medium-sized raptor, which breeds from south-eastern Siberia (Ussuriland) southwards 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, whereas 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.

 

 

Taiwan 2003-05
Taiwan 2003-05
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Grey-faced buzzards on migration, soaring over their night roost, near Manzhou, southern Taiwan. (Photos 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.

 

 

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When hunting, the crested goshawk sits motionless in a tree, scanning the surroundings for prey. This female is sitting in a silk-cotton tree (Bombax ceiba) at the outskirts of Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Alcedinidae (kingfishers)

 

Kingfishers are divided into three subfamilies: river kingfishers (Alcedininae), tree kingfishers (Halcyoninae), and water kingfishers (Cerylinae). They constitute c. 114 species of small to medium-sized, often brilliantly coloured birds, characterized by having a large head, a long, sharp, pointed bill, and very short legs. As their name implies, most of these birds eat fish, although many species live away from water, eating mainly small invertebrates.

 

The common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) has a very wide distribution, 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 drainage 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)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Anatidae (ducks and allies)

 

At present, this large, worldwide family contains 43 genera with about 146 species, of which 37 have been encountered in Taiwan. Following genetic studies, the formerly very large genus Anas has been divided into a number of genera, including Anas, Spatula, and Mareca.

 

Chinese spot-billed duck (Anas zonorhyncha) has a patchy distribution in Taiwan and is nowhere abundant. Formerly, it was regarded as a race of the Indian spot-billed duck (Anas poecilorhyncha). It is distributed from south-eastern Siberia southwards through Mongolia and China to Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam, and thence eastwards to Japan and Taiwan, whereas the Indian spot-billed duck is found in the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia. Research has shown that interbreeding rarely takes place where the two species overlap.

Both species were named due to the yellow point of the otherwise black bill.

 

 

Chinese spot-billed ducks, Zhu’an Wetlands, near Yilan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Chinese spot-billed duck, taking off from a fish pond, Zhu’an Wetlands. Note the water droplets in the air, sprinkled by the bird’s wings. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

The northern pintail (Anas acuta) is a common winter visitor to Taiwan. This species, which was named due to its long, pointed tail, breeds across the northern hemisphere, from Alaska and Canada southwards to central United States, in Iceland, and from Norway and Denmark eastwards to the Pacific, and it also has a spotted breeding distribution in central and eastern Europe, and in Turkey. It avoids the harshest areas of the Arctic. The winter months are spent in the southern half of North America, in Central America and the Caribbean, in the major part of Europe and the Middle East, in northern and eastern Africa, and in the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, southern China, Taiwan, and the northern Philippines.

 

 

Northern pintail, males and females, Aogu Wetlands. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

The northern shoveler (Spatula clypeata) has more or less the same breeding and wintering distribution as the pintail. It is an abundant winter visitor to Taiwan.

 

 

Large congregation of resting northern shovelers, Aogu Wetlands. In the upper picture, Eurasian wigeon (Mareca penelope), great cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), grey heron (Ardea cinerea), and little egret (Egretta garzetta) are also seen, and in the centre picture, a single male common teal (Anas crecca) is seen far to the left. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

These two females northern shoveler are feeding by swimming in circles, hereby creating an upwards flow of water and snapping whatever small animals may appear. This way of feeding is well-known among phalaropes (Phalaropus). In the upper picture, a little grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) is also seen. – Aogu Wetlands. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

In breeding plumage, the male Eurasian wigeon (Mareca penelope) is a very pretty bird, whereas the female is a uniform spotted brownish. This species was named Anas penelope by Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), also called Carl von Linné, in 1758. He may have referred to Penelope, who, in Homer’s Odyssey, was the wife of Odysseus. She was known for her fidelity to him, while he was away on his journeys. However, as most ducks are certainly not known for their fidelity, this connection is hard to discover. Another possible explanation may be the Proto-Greek word penelops, mentioned as ‘some kind of bird’ by Greek grammarian Hesychius of Alexandria, who, probably in the 5th or 6th century A.D., compiled a lexicon of unusual and obscure Greek words. (Source: R. Beekes 2009. Etymological dictionary of Greek. Brill)

The Eurasian wigeon breeds in Temperate Eurasia, from Iceland and Scotland eastwards to the Pacific, whereas the wintering quarters are more or less the same as the pintail and the shoveler. In North America, it is a regular winter visitor to the Pacific lowlands, from Canada southwards to California. Small numbers are also seen elsewhere in the continent. In Taiwan, it is a common winter visitor.

 

 

Sleeping ducks, Aogu Wetlands. In the front six wigeons, five males and one female, in the background northern shovelers. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Wigeons and northern shovelers, resting on a grass-clad islet, Aogu Wetlands. A male wigeon is seen in the centre, a female to the far left. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Apodidae (swifts)

 

Swifts, which constitute a separate family, 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.

 

Previously, 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)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Ardeidae (herons, egrets, and bitterns)

 

Herons are long-legged and long-beaked, fish-eating water birds, 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, whereas birds of the genera Botaurus, Ixobrychus, and Zebrilus are called bitterns.

 

The great white egret (Ardea alba) has an almost global distribution, found in Europe, Africa, most of Asia, Australia, and the Americas. It is common in Taiwan.

 

 

Large congregation of great white egrets, a few little egrets (Egretta garzetta), and a single grey heron (Ardea cinerea), Budai Wetlands. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2008
Numerous great white egrets and little egrets on the lookout for fish along a canal, Qigu Wetlands, near Tainan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Great white egret, Aogu Wetlands. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

The grey heron (Ardea cinerea), which is distributed in most of Asia, Europe, Africa, and Madagascar, is common in Taiwan, but not as numerous as 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, Aogu Wetlands. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Taiwan 2018
Grey heron, feeding in a river in the city of Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

The yellow-billed egret (Mesophoyx intermedia) resembles a smaller edition of the great white egret. It also has a very wide distribution, found in sub-Saharan Africa, the Indian Subcontinent, East and Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and Australia. In East Asia, it breeds as far north as South Korea and southern Japan. These northern birds are migratory, spending the winter in Taiwan, the Philippines, Southeast Asia, and Indonesia. It is a fairly common winter visitor to Taiwan, but tends to be overlooked due to its similarity to great white egret.

 

 

Yellow-billed egret, Sandiao Cape, north-eastern Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

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. It is very common in Taiwan.

You may read more about this species and its near relative, the snowy egret (Egretta thula), on the page In praise of the colour yellow.

 

 

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Taiwan 2018
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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)

 

 

Taiwan 2015
Little egrets, feeding in a drainage 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 smallish black-crowned night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) is found in most warmer parts of the world, also in Taiwan, where it is a common breeding bird. In Australia, it is replaced by the closely related rufous night-heron (N. caledonicus).

The generic name 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.

 

 

Adult black-crowned night-herons, and a single immature bird, sitting in mangrove, resembling nodes in a music book, Aogu Wetlands. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Taiwan 2015
In Taiwan, black-crowned night-herons are 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)

 

 

Adult bird, sleeping in mangrove, Aogu Wetlands. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Immature bird, taking off from the edge of a pond, Tunghai University Park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

This immature bird is feeding in a drainage canal in 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.

 

 

Taiwan 2017a
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)

 

 

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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)

 

 

Taiwan 2017
This bird is sitting on its day-roost, a garden wall in Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Immature Malayan night-heron, feeding on a trail in a city park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

This immature Malayan night-heron was feeding along a drainage 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)

 

 

 

 

The cinnamon bittern (Ixobrychus cinnamomeus), also called chestnut bittern, is a small heron, which breeds in reed beds, from eastern India and Sri Lanka eastwards to eastern China and Taiwan, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia and the Philippines to Indonesia. In the major part of this large distribution area, birds are resident, but the northernmost Chinese populations are migratory.

 

 

Male cinnamon bittern, Aogu Wetlands. The female has a more brownish plumage in the parts, where the male is cinnamon-coloured. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Previously, 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). Originally, the western cattle egret was 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 eastwards to Japan, and thence southwards to Australia.

 

 

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Taiwan 2018
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)

 

 

Eastern cattle egret, feeding on a lawn, Nanhua Ecological Park, near Yujing. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Campephagidae (cuckoo-shrikes and allies)

 

Minivets (Pericrocotus) are a group of about 15 species of passerines, occurring mainly in forests in southern and eastern Asia. Many of the species are brilliantly coloured, the males being predominantly red and black, the females yellow and black.

 

The grey-chinned minivet (Pericrocotus solaris) is distributed from the Himalaya eastwards to southern China and Taiwan, and thence southwards to Cambodia and Vietnam. It lives in forests at altitudes between 1,000 and 2,000 m. This species was described in 1846 from Darjiling by English zoologist Edward Blyth (1810-1873), who worked as a curator of zoology at the museum of the Asiatic Society of India in Calcutta (today Kolkata).

 

 

Male grey-chinned minivet, Buluowan, Taroko Gorge. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Charadriidae (plovers and lapwings)

 

Formerly, it was believed that there was only a single species of golden plover, Pluvialis apricaria, which was divided into three subspecies. However, it has since been divided into three separate species, the Eurasian golden plover, which breeds in tundra from Iceland eastwards to central Siberia, the Pacific golden plover (Pluvialis fulva), which breeds along the Siberian coast, from the Jamal Peninsula eastwards to Chukotka and extreme western Alaska, and the American golden plover (Pluvialis dominica), which breeds in the northernmost regions of North America.

The generic name is from the Latin pluvia (‘rain’). Formerly, it was believed that when golden plovers flocked, it would mean imminent rain.

 

 

The Pacific golden plover is a fairly common winter visitor to Taiwan, here observed in the Qigu Wetlands. (Photo 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. Subspecies curonicus is resident in Taiwan.

The specific name means ‘doubtful’ in Latin, so named in 1776 by French naturalist and explorer Pierre Sonnerat (1748-1814), as he thought that the specimen, which he described the species from, might be a variant of the common ringed plover (C. hiaticula).

 

 

Taiwan 2018a
This little ringed plover was observed in an abandoned parking lot in the city of Taichung. As it was quite anxious of my presence, a pair may have attempted to breed there. However, a later visit to the place failed to show any birds, and presumably they had given up. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

The Kentish plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) is widely distributed along shores of western and southern Europe, northern Africa, the Middle East, South India and Sri Lanka, and East Asia, including China, Taiwan, Japan, and Sakhalin Island. It also breeds inland around saline lakes in eastern Europe and large parts of Central Asia. Southern populations are resident, whereas northern birds migrate to warmer parts, including northern Africa, the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and Indonesia.

In former days, the North American snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus) and the white-faced plover (Charadrius dealbatus), which breeds along shores of southern China and Vietnam, were regarded as subspecies of Kentish plover. However, since 2011, these birds have been declared separate species.

 

 

Kentish plover, feeding on mudflats, Qigu Wetlands. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Cisticolidae (cisticolas and prinias)

 

Prinias, or wren-warblers, are a genus of small, long-tailed passerines. 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.

 

 

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Plain prinia, hopping around among stones in a dried-up stream, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

This plain prinia is scratching its head, Aogu Wetlands. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

The Chinese prinia (Prinia sonitans) was previously treated as a subspecies of the widespread yellow-bellied prinia (P. flaviventris), but it differs from that species in having buff, not yellow, underparts, browner upperparts, and shorter bill. Its song is also different. In fact, I have always been wondering, why the bird, which was called ‘yellow-bellied prinia’ in Taiwan, did not have a yellow belly!

Chinese prinia is distributed in southern China, northern Vietnam, and Taiwan. It is much scarcer in Taiwan than the plain prinia.

 

 

Chinese prinia, sitting on a dry bamboo stem, Zhu’an Wetlands, near Yilan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Chinese prinia, Aogu Wetlands. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Columbidae (pigeons and doves)

 

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.

The spotted dove is widely distributed in Asia, from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to China and Taiwan, and thence southwards 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 commonest birds.

 

 

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The spotted dove is very common in Taiwanese 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)

 

 

Young spotted dove, spreading the tail feathers, Eluanbi Nature Park, Kenting National Park. Young birds lack the black-and-white checkerboard pattern on the side of the neck. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

The tiny red turtle dove (Streptopelia tranquebarica) is found from Pakistan eastwards to eastern China and Taiwan, and thence southwards 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 male is quite distinct, having grey head, black collar on the hind neck, red wings, and reddish breast, which has given rise to the name of the species. The female is brownish, also with a black collar. The specific name means ‘from Tranquebar’, a former Danish colony on the east coast of present-day Tamil Nadu, South India. Presumably, the type specimen of this species was collected here. – Incidentally, Tranquebar is presented on the page Culture: Entrances.

 

 

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Male red turtle dove, observed in Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Male (left) and female, Aogu Wetlands. (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 turtle dove is cooing, perched atop a pole in a park at the outskirts of Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Oriental turtle doves, feeding among dead leaves, Aowanda National Forest. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Corvidae (crows and allies)

 

In former days, the large-billed crow (Corvus macrorhynchos) was called jungle crow. This name also included two other crows, which are today treated as separate species, the Indian jungle crow (C. culminatus) and the eastern jungle crow (C. levaillantii).

Despite these splits, the large-billed crow still has a very wide distribution, found from Afghanistan across the Himalaya and Tibet to northern China, south-eastern Siberia, and Taiwan, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to Indonesia and the Philippines. In the major part of this area, it is often encountered near human habitation, but not so in Taiwan, where it mainly lives in forests of moderate elevation.

 

 

Large-billed crows, sitting in a Taiwan sweetgum (Liquidambar formosana), Aowanda National Forest. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

The gorgeous Taiwan blue magpie (Urocissa caerulea) was first collected by 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. He called the Taiwan blue magpie ‘long-tailed mountain nymph’, from its old Chinese name 長尾山娘 (‘long-tailed mountain lady’). This bird is endemic to Taiwan, mainly living in broad-leaved forests at medium elevations, between 300 and 1,200 m.

Naturally, this iconic bird is also represented in Taiwanese folk art. Some examples are shown on the page Culture: Folk art of Taiwan.

 

 

Taiwan blue magpie, Aowanda National Forest. The birds in the lower picture are drinking water from a leaking water pipe. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Aowanda National Forest Recreation Area is justly proud of its blue magpies, as seen from this display board at a resting place along a hiking trail. (Photo 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. These pictures are all from Taichung.

 

 

Grey treepie, Tunghai University Park. A gust of wind is ruffling its plumage. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

This grey treepie in Tunghai University Park is investigating a leaf for insects. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Taiwan 2018
These treepies are feeding on seeds of the Chinese tallow-tree (Triadica sebifera). You may study a collection of pictures, depicting the gorgeous winter foliage of this tree, on the page Autumn. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2017
The grey treepie is so well-known in Taichung, that it has been depicted on manhole covers. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

The spotted nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes) has a very wide distribution, from southern Norway eastwards in a broad belt across the Siberian taiga to Kamchatka, Korea, and Japan, and also in several montane areas of central Europe, in the Himalaya, in western and northern China, and in Taiwan.

Nine subspecies of this bird are recognized by most authorities. Some, however, have split it into three separate species, one northern, caryocatactes, and two southern, hemispila and multipunctata. Subspecies owstoni is fairly common in coniferous forests in high regions of Taiwan.

The nutcracker was originally described in 1758 by Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), also called Carl von Linné. The two scientific names have the same meaning, Nucifraga from the Latin nucis (‘nut’) and frangere (‘to shatter’), caryocatactes from the Greek karuon (‘nut’) and kataseio (‘to shatter’), both relating to the fact that this bird mainly feeds on various nuts and other seeds, which it breaks open with its powerful bill.

 

 

Taiwan spotted nutcracker, ssp. owstoni, Tataja, Yushan National Park. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Dicaeidae (flowerpeckers)

 

These tiny birds, encompassing 2 genera with c. 48 species, feed mainly on nectar and fruits.

 

As its name implies, the plumage of the plain flowerpecker (Dicaeum minullum) is rather drab, being olive-brown on the back and wings, and pale yellowish or greyish on the underside. This species is distributed from the Himalaya eastwards to southern China and Taiwan, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to Indonesia.

 

 

Plain flowerpecker, feeding in a Taiwanese cherry flower (Prunus campanulata), Buluowan, Taroko Gorge. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Dicruridae (drongos)

 

Drongos (Dicrurus) constitute a separate family 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 southwards to Indonesia. It has also 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.

The black drongo lives 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.

 

 

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This black drongo is sitting in front of a blooming Taiwanese cherry tree (Prunus campanulata), Taichung Science Park. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Black drongo, taking off from a tree in a city park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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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 southwards 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.

 

 

Bronzed drongo, Yushan National Park. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2010
These singing bronzed drongos were observed in Basian Shan National Forest. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Estrildidae (munias and allies)

 

Munia, mannikin, silverbill, avadavat, waxbill, seedcracker, firefinch, twinspot – members of this family have numerous names. It is large, 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.

 

 

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Scaly-breasted munias are very social birds, often feeding in large flocks. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Scaly-breasted munias, eating seeds of torpedograss (Panicum repens). (Photos 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 white-rumped munia (Lonchura striata), also called white-rumped mannikin, is fairly common in Taiwan, but not nearly as common as the scaly-breasted munia. It is distributed from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to southern China and Taiwan, and thence southwards to Sumatra.

 

 

White-rumped munia, eating seeds of Pacific islands silvergrass (Miscanthus floridulus), east of Sanxing, Yilan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Fringillidae (finches)

 

The brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) is a small finch, which is a very common breeding bird in the taiga belt, from Norway eastwards 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 quite rare in Taiwan.

 

 

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This brambling was one out of a small flock, feeding on seeds of Chinese tallow-tree (Triadica sebifera) in Taichung Science Park. You may study a collection of pictures, depicting the gorgeous winter foliage of this tree, on the page Autumn. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

The brown bullfinch (Pyrrhula nipalensis) was described from Nepal in 1836 by English naturalist and ethnologist Brian Houghton Hodgson (1801-1894), who worked in India and Nepal. He described numerous species of birds and mammals from the Himalaya, and many other plants and animals are named after him.

This species is found in the Himalaya, from Himachal Pradesh eastwards to Myanmar, and in south-western China, Vietnam, and Taiwan. It is fairly common in Taiwan in forests at medium altitudes.

 

 

Brown bullfinch, ‘Blue Gate Trail’, Wushe. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Brown bullfinch, feeding on samaras of a species of maple, Acer insulare, ‘Blue Gate Trail’. (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). The male Chinese 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.

Chinese grosbeak breeds from Ussuriland in south-eastern Siberia, southwards through north-eastern China to Korea, spending the winter further south in China. 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, whereas Japanese is accidental.

 

 

Taiwan 2018a
Male Chinese grosbeak, Tunghai University Park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Hirundinidae (swallows and martins)

 

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 in 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 of these areas 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 shorter outer tail feathers, the greyish, checkered vent, and lack of black breast band.

 

 

Taiwan house swallows, Aogu Wetlands. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Taiwan house swallow, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

These house swallows are sitting on a wire under a bridge across the Agongdian River, western Taiwan, where they are nesting. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Lanidae (shrikes)

 

Shrikes are a group of striking passerines, 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.

 

 

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Brown shrike males, Tunghai University Park, Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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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)

 

 

These brown shrikes seem to disagree about something, Tunghai University Park, Taichung. The tree with fruits is golden-rain tree (Koelreuteria elegans). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

The long-tailed shrike (Lanius schach) is distributed from Uzbekistan eastwards to China and Taiwan, southwards 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.

 

 

Taiwan 2018
Long-tailed shrike, perched on a tall grass stem in a dry riverbed, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2003-05
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, Qigu Wetlands, near Tainan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Laridae (gulls and terns)

 

This large cosmopolitan family constitutes 22 genera with about 100 species, of which c. 30 have been encountered in Taiwan.

 

The small black-headed gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) breeds from southern Greenland and Iceland across most of Europe and temperate areas of Asia, eastwards to Kamchatka, Russian Ussuriland and north-eastern China. It is also a rare breeding bird in north-eastern North America. It winters in Europe, northern Africa, the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast and East Asia, Japan, and along the east coast of North America. It is a fairly common winter visitor to Taiwan.

The generic name is from the Greek khroizo (‘to colour’) and kephale (‘head’), referring to its chocolate-brown head in the breeding plumage. The specific name is from the Latin ridere (‘to laugh’), referring to its harsh call, kree-ar, which is mostly heard in the breeding colonies.

 

 

Black-headed gulls, resting on a bamboo raft in Budai fishing harbour. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

As a breeding bird, the common tern (Sterna hirundo) is distributed in most temperate and subtropical areas of the Northern Hemisphere, and also in arctic areas of northern Norway and extreme north-western Russia. It spends the winter along coasts from about 20o northern latitude, southwards to southern South America, Africa, and Australia. Subspecies longipennis is rather common on passage in Taiwan, scarce in the winter.

 

 

Common tern, Dongshih, south-western Taiwan. (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, this species is a rather common migrant and winter visitor. It is often encountered in wetlands along the west coast, where several hundred birds are sometimes gathered.

 

 

Large flock of Caspian terns, resting together with black-headed gulls and a single great white egret (Ardea alba), Budai Wetlands. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2006-07
Caspian terns, flying over Qigu Wetlands just before dusk. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

As a breeding bird, the whiskered tern (Chlidonias hybrida) has a very wide, but spotty distribution, found in southern and eastern Europe, west-central Asia, East Asia, northern India, Indonesia, Australia, and the southern part of Africa. In winter, it occurs in most of Africa, Tropical Asia, and Australia, being a common winter visitor to Taiwan.

The generic name is from the Greek khelidonios (‘swallow-like’), from khelidon (‘swallow’), referring to the elegant flying style of Chlidonias terns. The specific name, meaning ‘hybrid’ in Latin, was applied by Prussian naturalist Peter Simon Pallas (1741-1811), who presumed that the bird he shot was a hybrid between white-winged tern (Chlidonias leucoptera) and common tern (Sterna hirundo). (Source: Jobling, J.A. 2010. The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. Christopher Helm, London)

 

 

Whiskered tern, feeding over a fish pond, Dongshih, south-western Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Leiothrichidae (laughing-thrushes and allies)

 

Laughing-thrushes, comprising altogether 45 species of colourful, noisy passerines in the genera Garrulax, Trochalopteron, Pterorhinus, and Grammatoptila, are now placed in the recently established family Leiothrichidae, together with sibias (Heterophasia), minlas (Minla), barwings (Actinodura), liocichlas (Liocichla), leiothrixes (Leiothrix), and others. In the past, these genera all belonged to the family Timaliidae, which constituted 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.

Laughing-thrushes are restricted to Asia, where they live in a wide range of habitats, from humid tropical rainforests to rather cold areas in China and the Himalaya. Six species are found in Taiwan, two of which, however, are escapes, the Chinese hwamei (Garrulax canorus) and the black-throated laughing-thrush (Pterorhinus chinensis).

 

The white-whiskered laughing-thrush (Trochalopteron morrisonianum), 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.

 

 

Taiwan 2011
White-whiskered laughing-thrushes, photographed near a parking lot on Hohuan Shan Mountain. In the lower picture, a gust of wind ruffles the plumage of the bird. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

White-whiskered laughing-thrush, feeding in a pine tree, Yushan National Park. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Sibias (Heterophasia) are a genus of seven colourful birds, which are restricted to forests in South, East, and Southeast Asia. Some authorities only include the long-tailed sibia (H. picaoides) in this genus, placing the others in the genus Malacias.

 

White-eared sibia (Heterophasia auricularis) is endemic to Taiwan, living in forests and woodlands. It is very common, breeding at altitudes between 1,200 and 3,000 m, but some populations descend in winter, sometimes as low as 200 m.

 

 

White-eared sibias, feeding in flowers of Taiwanese cherry (Prunus campanulata), Aowanda National Forest. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Liocichlas (Liocichla) are colourful birds, found from northern India eastwards to southern China, Taiwan, and Vietnam. In this genus, Steere’s liocichla (L. 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.

 

 

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Steere’s liocichla, Dasyueshan National Forest (top), and Chunyang Experimental Farm, near Wushe. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Megalaimidae (Asian barbets)

 

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 separate family, 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 (Psilopogon nuchalis) was regarded as a subspecies of the black-browed barbet (P. oorti), but recent studies conclude that it is a separate species, 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.

 

 

Taiwan barbets, Buluowan, Taroko Gorge. In the lower picture, a bird is eating a flower of Taiwanese cherry (Prunus campanulata). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Monarchidae (monarch-flycatchers)

 

The male black-naped monarch (Hypothymis azurea) is bright blue with a distinctive black patch on the crown and a narrow black stripe across the throat, whereas the female is dull-blue with brownish wings, lacking the black markings of the male. This species 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, of which oberholseri is quite common in forests in the Taiwan lowlands and lower mountains.

 

 

This male black-naped monarch is feeding in a dense growth of trees in a city park in Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Motacillidae (wagtails, pipits, and longclaws)

 

This family contains 6 or 7 genera with altogether c. 65 species. Wagtails, named for their long, wagging tail, are mainly found in Europe, Africa, and Asia, with two species also encountered in Alaska. Pipits, most of which have a rather drab plumage, are distributed across most parts of the globe, whereas the colourful longclaws are restricted to Tropical Africa.

 

There are altogether eleven subspecies of the white wagtail (Motacilla alba), breeding from East Greenland in the west to Alaska in the east, and from northern Europe and Siberia southwards 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.

Various other races of white wagtail are presented on the page Nature: Urban nature.

 

 

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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 drainage canal in 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. Northern populations spend the winter further south, in Ethiopia, the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and Indonesia. In Taiwan, where subspecies melanope breeds in the lower hills, it is common in winter along streams and canals in the lowlands.

 

 

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Grey wagtail females, feeding in drainage canals, Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

The olive-backed pipit (Anthus hodgsoni) breeds in open wooded country, from the Ural Mountains eastwards across the Siberian taiga to Kamchatka, thence southwards through north-eastern China to northern Japan and Korea, and also in the Himalaya and southern Tibet. In winter, it migrates to the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, southern China, southern Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and northern Borneo.

This species is similar to the Eurasian tree pipit (A. trivialis), but its back is more olive-tinged, and it has a broader supercilium. The specific name commemorates Brian Hodgson (see Pyrrhula, Fringillidae).

 

 

Olive-backed pipit, Aowanda National Forest. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Muscicapidae (flycatchers and allies)

 

Genetic research has revealed that many smaller birds, which were formerly regarded as belonging to the thrush family (Turdidae), are in fact flycatchers, including all the species mentioned below, with the exception of the small vivid niltava, which was always placed in Muscicapidae.

 

Niltavas are six or seven species of colourful flycatchers in the genus Niltava, so named by Brian Hodgson (see Pyrrhula, Fringillidae) from the Nepalese name, niltau, for rufous-bellied niltava (N. sundara).

 

The small vivid niltava (Niltava vivida) is restricted to montane forests of Taiwan. Formerly, this bird was considered to be conspecific with the large vivid niltava (N. oatesi), but that species is larger, the female is slightly paler with crown and upperparts more uniform, and its song is different. It is found in south-western China and probably in Assam and northern Myanmar. (Source: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Lynx Edicions)

 

 

Male small vivid niltava, feeding on berries of Chinese wonder tree (Idesia polycarpa), Dasyueshan National Forest. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

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, whereas 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 Daurian redstart, perched in a Taiwanese cherry tree (Prunus campanulata), Aowanda National Forest. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Male, Tunghai University Park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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This female is stretching a wing, Tunghai University Park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Female, east of Sanxing, near Yilan. (Photo 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, whereas 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 an algae-covered stone, near Cing Yun Waterfall, south of Alishan. In the lower picture, the bird is spreading its tail feathers – a typical habit of this species. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

The white-tailed blue robin (Myiomela leucura) is distributed from the Himalaya eastwards across Southeast Asia, with an isolated population, subspecies montium, in mountains at medium altitude in Taiwan. It 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. The female is brown with a whitish throat, and its tail is similar to that of the male.

 

 

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This male white-tailed blue robin was photographed in a dense thicket in Dasyueshan National Forest. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

The white-rumped shama (Kittacincla malabarica) is a colourful, long-tailed bird, which is distributed in the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and the Chinese island of Hainan. It has been introduced elsewhere due to its beautiful, melodious song, including in Taiwan, where it is found in lowland forests and parks.

 

 

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Male white-rumped shama, Tunghai University Park, Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Male white-rumped shama, feeding on a lawn in Tunghai University Park. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Collared, or Johnstone’s, bush-robin (Tarsiger johnstoniae, sometimes called Luscinia johnstoniae), 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.

 

 

Taiwan 2011
This male collared bush-robin is singing from willow bushes near the Hohuan Shan Pass, central Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Forktails (Enicurus) are striking black-and-white passerines, 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. A single species, the little forktail (Enicurus scouleri), is found in Taiwan. It is widely distributed, from the Tian Shan Mountains in Sinkiang southwards to the Himalaya, and thence eastwards 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).

 

 

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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)

 

 

 

 

Despite the fact that whistling-thrushes (Myophonus) very much resemble thrushes, genetic research has shown that they are closer relatives of flycatchers and allies. There are altogether nine species, distributed from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to Taiwan, and thence southwards to Indonesia. Males of all species are blue or bluish-black, whereas the females of some species are brown.

 

As its name implies, Taiwan whistling-thrush (Myophonus insularis) is endemic to Taiwan, where it is fairly common in mountains at medium altitudes.

 

 

Taiwan whistling-thrush, photographed in Aowanda National Forest (top), and in the town of Wushe. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Paridae (tits)

 

This family, whose members are variously called tits, titmice, or chickadees, contains about 64 species, which, following genetic studies, have been divided into 14 genera. However, the mutual relationship of these birds is far from being clarified, and future studies may again revise the nomenclature.

The name titmouse can be traced back to the 14th Century, composed of the words tit, which denotes something small, and the Old English name for these birds, mase, from Proto-Germanic maison, which is also the source of the German name Meise, and the Scandinavian names of these birds.

 

The green-backed tit (Parus monticolus) is widely distributed in Asia, from northern Pakistan along the Himalaya to northern Myanmar and western China, with an isolated population in the lower mountains of Taiwan, which constitutes a separate subspecies, insperatus.

 

 

Green-backed tit, Aowanda National Forest. In the lower picture, it is feeding in flowers of Taiwanese cherry (Prunus campanulata). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

The yellow tit (Machlolophus holsti) is quite common in the lower mountains of Taiwan, but is found nowhere else.

 

 

The yellow tit is omnivorous, which can be seen from these pictures, taken at Buluowan, Taroko Gorge. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Passeridae (sparrows)

 

The tree sparrow (Passer montanus) has a huge distribution, from western Europe across Central Asia to Japan, and thence southwards 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.

 

 

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Numerous tree sparrows, feeding in hay, which has been strewn as fodder for cows, Tunghai University Park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Tree sparrows, feeding on seeds of a Chinese tallow-tree (Triadica sebifera), Taichung. You may study a collection of pictures, depicting the gorgeous winter foliage of this tree, on the page Autumn. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2018b
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)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Pellorneidae (ground-babblers)

 

This family was first introduced in 1946 by French-American ornithologist Jean Théodore Delacour (1890-1985). For many years, it was regarded as a subfamily of the timalids (Timaliidae), but was then re-established as a separate family in 2011. Members of this family are quite diverse, ranging in length between 10 and 25 cm.

 

Some of the fulvettas, which were formerly all placed in the genus Alcippe, in the family Timaliidae, have now been moved to Sylviidae (see below), under the Latin name Fulvetta, whereas others have been retained in Alcippe, but transferred to Pellorneidae, including the grey-cheeked, or Morrison’s, fulvetta (A. morrisonia). This bird, which is endemic to Taiwan, is very common at lower and medium altitudes.

 

 

Morrison’s fulvetta, feeding in flowers of Taiwanese cherry (Prunus campanulata), Aowanda National Forest. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Phalacrocoracidae (cormorants)

 

Cormorants and shags are a cosmopolitan family of c. 42 species of small to medium-sized, fish-eating birds. Some taxonomists divide these birds into three genera: 22 species of mainly larger birds in the genus Phalacrocorax, 15 species of mainly medium-sized birds in the genus Leucocarbo, and 5 species of small birds in the genus Microcarbo. However, the number of genera is often disputed.

 

The generic name of most cormorants, Phalacrocorax, is from the Greek phalakros (‘bald’) and korax (‘raven’), thus ‘the bald raven’, where bald refers to the white crown of great cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) during the breeding season. This bird has an extremely wide, but rather patchy, distribution, found all over Europe and most of Asia, in Australia and New Zealand, and in north-eastern North America and Greenland. The race sinensis is a common winter visitor to Taiwan.

In the 1800s, this species was persecuted all over Europe, partly because it was competing with fishermen, partly because its guano destroyed the trees, in which it was breeding. The complete contrast to this persecution is seen in the Far East, where fishermen, for thousands of years, have been using tamed great cormorants for fishing. A picture of this practice may be seen on the page Fishing.

 

 

Great cormorants and a male northern pintail (Anas acuta), Aogu Wetlands. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Great cormorants, resting in Casuarina equisetifolia trees, Aogu Wetlands. Beneath the trees, the following birds are present: black-faced spoonbill (Platalea minor), grey heron (Ardea cinerea), great white egret (Ardea alba), little egret (Egretta garzetta), northern shoveler (Spatula clypeata), black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus), and greenshank (Tringa nebularia). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Great cormorants, resting on a grass-clad islet in the Aogu Wetlands, together with northern shovelers, Eurasian wigeons (Mareca penelope), a single male greater scaup (Aythya marila), and a female northern pintail. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Phasianidae (pheasants and allies)

 

This family, which includes pheasants, partridges, junglefowl, quail, peafowl, and many others, contains 150-180 species, depending on authority. Some include grouse (Tetraoninae), guineafowl (Numidinae), and turkeys (Meleagridinae) as subfamilies of Phasianidae, whereas others treat them as separate families.

 

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.

 

 

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Taiwan 2017a
Male and female Swinhoe’s pheasant, Dasyueshan National Forest. To lure this gorgeous bird closer, many Taiwanese photographers strew maize or other food items near roads or trails, often causing it to become remarkably tame. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Taiwan bamboo partridge (Bambusicola sonorivox) is a small gamebird, living in dense shrubs, bamboo, and grassy areas, usually below 1,000 m altitude. It was formerly considered a subspecies of the Chinese bamboo partridge (B. thoracicus) of south-eastern China, but is today generally regarded as being restricted to Taiwan.

 

 

Taiwan bamboo partridge, Aowanda National Forest. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Picidae (woodpeckers)

 

The tiny grey-capped pygmy woodpecker (Yungipicus canicapillus, also called Dendrocopos canicapillus) is presently divided into 11 subspecies. It is found in the Himalayan foothills from Pakistan eastwards to Myanmar, and from Ussuriland in south-eastern Siberia southwards through China, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia to Sumatra and Borneo. Subspecies kaleensis is quite common in the Taiwanese lowlands, also in city parks. The sexes are quite similar, but the male has a tiny red spot on each side of the crown.

 

 

Feeding female grey-capped pygmy woodpecker, Buluowan, Taroko Gorge. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Female, pecking on thin branches of a fig tree (Ficus), Taichung Science Park. It may be eating soft scales (Coccidae). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Podicipedidae (grebes)

 

Grebes are aquatic birds with webbed feet, encompassing 22 species in six genera.

 

About six subspecies of the little grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis), also known as dabchick, are distributed in the major part of Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent, and the Far East, southwards to Indonesia and New Guinea. Subspecies poggei or philippensis is quite common in Taiwan.

The generic name is from the Greek takhus (‘fast’) and baptizo (‘to immerse’), referring to the fact that one moment you see the dabchick, the next instant it’s gone. The specific name is from the Latin rufus (‘red’) and collum (‘neck’), referring to the red neck of this bird in the breeding plumage.

 

 

Little grebe, partly in summer plumage, Tunghai University Park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Little grebe in winter plumage, Aogu Wetlands. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Part of a flock of 55 little grebes, Budai Wetlands. Some of the birds are in breeding plumage, although the picture was taken in January. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Prunellidae (accentors)

 

Accentors are a small group of passerines, comprising 13 species, which constitute a separate family. Most species live in montane areas of Asia, and two species, the dunnock (Prunella modularis) and the alpine accentor (P. collaris), are also found in 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.

 

 

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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)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Pycnonotidae (bulbuls and allies)

 

Bulbuls and allies are medium-sized passerines, encompassing 27 genera with c. 150 species, distributed in much of Africa, across the Middle East to Tropical Asia and Indonesia, and thence northwards 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.

 

 

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Light-vented bulbul, Tunghai University Park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Taiwan 2009
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), and the other one is singing, perched on a potted bush. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Light-vented bulbul, feeding in a Taiwanese cherry flower (Prunus campanulata), Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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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 Taiwan bulbul (Pycnonotus taivanus), or Styan’s bulbul, causing it 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, thin moustachial stripe, and a tiny red spot at the base of the bill.

 

 

Taiwan bulbuls, Hengchuen, southern Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan bulbul, Sheding Nature Park, Kenting National Park. In this picture, the red spot at the base of the bill is seen. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Taiwan bulbul, eating fruits 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. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Black bulbuls, drinking from a stream, likewise in Tunghai University Park. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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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)

 

 

This black bulbul, which is feeding in a Taiwanese cherry tree (Prunus campanulata) in Aowanda National Forest, has caught an insect. (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 in 1871 by Robert Swinhoe (see Swinhoe’s pheasant at Phasianidae).

 

 

Sitting on a stem of Pacific islands silvergrass (Miscanthus floridulus), this collared finchbill is shaking its plumage after bathing, Longmei, near Alishan. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Collared finchbill, eating seeds of turn-in-the-wind (Mallotus paniculatus), Longmei. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Rallidae (rails and allies)

 

This family, which includes gallinules, waterhens, coots, crakes, and rails, is divided into 41 genera with altogether c. 156 species, of which 11 have been observed in Taiwan.

 

The moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) is widely distributed in the Old World, found in most of Europe and Africa, much of Central Asia, on the Indian Subcontinent, and in Southeast and East Asia, southwards to Indonesia. It is common in the Taiwanese lowlands. Central and East Asian populations are migratory, mixing with the resident populations further south in winter.

In the Americas, this species is replaced by the similar common gallinule (Gallinula galeata), which was formerly regarded as a subspecies of the moorhen.

The name mor hen can be traced as far back as the 13th Century, meaning marsh hen, as the word mor in those days referred to marshes, rather than to moorland, which today indicates areas with heather (Calluna vulgaris) and other plants of dry, poor soils.

 

 

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This moorhen is stretching a wing, standing in a riverbed in Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

The common coot (Fulica atra) is a fairly common winter visitor to Taiwan. As a breeding bird, this species has a very wide distribution. The nominate race is found from the Azores, the Canary Islands, and North Africa across Europe and the Middle East to the Pacific Coast, and southwards to the Indian Subcontinent, including Sri Lanka. Other races breed in New Guinea, Australia, and New Zealand. Northern populations are migratory, and birds breeding along the Pacific spend the winter in Korea, southern Japan, south-eastern China, Taiwan, and the Philippines. Other northern populations winter in northern Africa and Southeast Asia.

 

 

Common coot, Aogu Wetlands. In the lower picture, it is just about to dive for water plants, which constitute the major part of its food. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Two members of the family Rallidae: Moorhen and common coot, Aogu Wetlands. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Recurvirostridae (avocets and stilts)

 

Avocets and stilts are wading birds, characterized by their very long and thin legs. There are four species of avocets, of the genus Recurvirostra, and three to seven species of stilts, of which all, except one, belong to the genus Himantopus. Handbook of the Birds of the World (Lynx Edicions) only recognizes two Himantopus species, H. himantopus and H. novaezelandiae. The remaining species is the banded stilt (Cladorhynchus leucocephalus), a strange nomadic bird, which is restricted to Australia, where it only breeds after ample rain, when large salt lakes are created at various places in the desert.

The generic name of avocets, Recurvirostra, is from the Latin recurvus (‘curved backwards’) and rostrum (‘bill’), referring to their upcurved bill, an adaptation to ‘skim’ the surface of the water in search of tiny animals. The common name probably derives from an old Italian word, avosetta, which, presumably, was the name of the pied avocet.

The first part of the generic name of most stilts, Himantopus, is from the Latin amentum, a leather strap, which was attached to a javelin, used in ancient Greek athletics, hunting, and warfare. This strap helped to increase the range and stability of the javelin in flight. (Source: E. Gardiner 1907. Throwing the Javelin. The Journal of Hellenic Studies, 27: 249-273)

The second part of the name is from the Greek pous (‘foot’). Thus, Himantopus may be translated as ‘strap-leg’, which of course refers to the very long, thin legs of these birds.

 

The pied avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) is mainly breeding in two widely separated areas, in a broad belt from eastern Europe across Central Asia to north-eastern China, and in eastern and southern Africa, but it also has a scattered occurrence in Europe and the Middle East. Most European and Asian birds are migratory, spending the winter in Africa, the Indian Subcontinent, along the Chinese east coast, and also in Taiwan.

 

 

Large mixed flock of pied avocet and black-winged stilt, Aogu Wetlands. Northern shoveler (Spatula clypeata), great cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), grey heron (Ardea cinerea), great white egret (Ardea alba), moorhen (Gallinula chloropus), and northern pintail (Anas acuta) are also present. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Sleeping avocets, Budai Wetlands. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Feeding avocets, Tainan. To the left northern shovelers (Spatula clypeata). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

The black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus) is distributed in most temperate, subtropical, and tropical regions of the world, but is restricted to areas with shallow water. Northern populations are migratory. It is a scarce breeding bird in Taiwan, but is common in the winter.

 

 

Part of a large flock of black-winged stilts, Tainan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Female (left) and male black-winged stilt, Aogu Wetlands. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Immature black-winged stilt, Aogu Wetlands. Young birds have black crown and hindneck. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Scolopacidae (sandpipers and allies)

 

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. It is a rather common winter visitor to Taiwan. 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’), whereas 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 often feeding in drainage canals, like this bird in the city of Taichung. The pink blots are eggs of the golden apple snail (Pomacea canaliculata). You may read about this species on the page Nature: Invasive species. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

The greenshank (Tringa nebularia) is a common breeding bird in the northern subarctic zone, from northern Scotland and Scandinavia across the Siberian taiga to Chukotka and the Kamchatka Peninsula. It is migratory, wintering in Africa, southern Asia and Australia. Large numbers pass Taiwan on migration, and some spend the winter here.

The generic name Tringa was given to the green sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) by Italian naturalist Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1599), who was the founder of the botanical garden of Bologna – one of the first of its kind. The name is derived from the Greek trungas, a thrush-sized, tail-bobbing wading bird, mentioned by Greek scientist and philosopher Aristotle (384-322 B.C.). (Source: J.A. Jobling 2010. The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names)

 

 

Greenshank, feeding together with a redshank (Tringa totanus), Qigu Wetlands. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

The common redshank (Tringa totanus) is a widespread breeding bird in almost all of Europe, including Iceland, and in a broad belt across southern temperate areas of Asia, eastwards to extreme south-eastern Russia (Ussuriland), north-eastern China, and the Japanese island Hokkaido. Around the North Sea and the Mediterranean, birds are resident. Other populations are migratory, wintering in northern Africa, the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and Indonesia. In Taiwan, it is common on passage, rare in the winter.

The specific name is from totano, the Italian name for this bird.

 

 

Feeding redshank, Qigu Wetlands. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nine redshanks, resting on a grassy islet together with northern shovelers (Spatula clypeata), Aogu Wetlands. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Sittidae (nuthatches)

 

Nuthatches are a family of c. 29 species of small passerines, with only a single genus, Sitta. These birds are characterized by their feeding behavior, creeping up and down tree trunks in search of larvae, which they extract from the wood, using their powerful bill.

 

The common nuthatch (Sitta europaea) has an enormously large distribution, found in the major part of Europe, in Turkey and the Caucasus, in the entire Siberian taiga, and in most of East Asia, including Japan and Taiwan, where subspecies formosana is fairly common in forests at medium altitudes.

 

 

Common nuthatch of the Taiwanese subspecies formosana, feeding on a lichen-covered tree, Aowanda National Forest. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Sturnidae (starlings and mynas)

 

Starlings and mynas constitute a family of about 115 species of passerines, divided into 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 myna (Acridotheres javanicus), also called white-vented myna, is restricted to 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.

 

 

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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)

 

 

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Javan myna, feeding in a flower of a silk-cotton tree (Bombax ceiba), Tunghai University Park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Javan mynas, landing in a drainage canal to quench their thirst, Taichung. The upper bird shows the black-and-white wing pattern of this species. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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The crested myna is scarce in Taiwan. This bird is sitting on a wall along a drainage canal at 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 does not differ significantly more from malabarica, than does 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)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Sylviidae

 

In former days, this family contained a large number of genera, consisting of small passerines, called warblers. Since then, genetic research has split the former Sylviidae into a number of families, of which some are only distantly related, and among the warblers, only the Sylvia species have remained in the family. Research also showed that these species were relatively closely related to the timalids (Timaliidae).

The timalids, however, have also been split into several families, and a number of genera have been transferred to Sylviidae, including parrotbills (genera Paradoxornis, Suthora, Sinosuthora, and others) and fulvettas (Fulvetta, formerly Alcippe). Some fulvettas, which have been retained in Alcippe, including grey-cheeked (A. morrisonia), have now been moved to the ground-babbler family (Pellorneidae).

 

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’), which was placed near Timaliidae. Since then, Paradoxornithidae has been declared void, and the parrotbills (but not the bearded reedling) have been transferred to Sylviidae.

 

The vinous-throated parrotbill (Sinosuthora webbiana) is a small bird, which is distributed from southern Russia and Mongolia southwards to Taiwan and Vietnam. The specific name was given in honour of English botanist Philip Barker-Webb (1793-1854).

The Taiwanese subspecies bulomachus is fairly common in the lowlands of Taiwan, but is not often seen due to its skulking habits. It is much paler than the mainland subspecies and lacks the vinous throat (sic!). It probably merits specific status.

 

 

Taiwan vinous-throated parrotbill, Tunghai University Park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

As its name implies, Taiwan fulvetta (Fulvetta formosana) is endemic to Taiwan, where it is restricted to forests and bamboo thickets at high altitudes. Formerly, it was regarded as a subspecies of the streak-throated fulvetta (F. cinereiceps), which lives in a large part of China.

 

 

Taiwan fulvetta, Tataja, Yushan National Park. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Threskiornithidae (ibises and spoonbills)

 

The threatened black-faced spoonbill (Platalea minor) breeds on islets off the west coast of Korea, on offshore islets in Liaoning Province of 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 birds in 1988. Since then, conservation efforts have caused the population to increase to c. 4,000 in 2017. With a total of c. 2,500 individuals, the southern half of Taiwan is the most important wintering area for this species.

Naturally, this iconic bird is also represented in Taiwanese folk art. Some examples are shown on the page Culture: Folk art of Taiwan.

 

 

Black-faced spoonbills, resting beneath Casuarina equisetifolia trees, in which great cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo) are sitting, Aogu Wetlands. Beneath the trees, the following birds are also present: grey heron (Ardea cinerea), great white egret (Ardea alba), northern shoveler (Spatula clypeata), and black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus). The slightly larger bird in the centre of the spoonbill flock is a common spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia), a rare visitor to Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Black-faced spoonbills, Qigu Wetlands, near Tainan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Black-faced spoonbill, Aogu Wetlands. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

In this picture from Qigu Wetlands, the spatula-shaped bill is clearly seen. (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. These pictures are from Aogu Wetlands. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Timaliidae (Old World babblers)

 

In former days, this primarily Asian family was very large, consisting of 34 genera with almost 300 species. Genetic research has since concluded that many of the birds placed here were only distantly related, and most have now been moved to other families. As of today, nine genera have remained in Timaliidae, with altogether c. 53 species. One of these genera is the scimitar-babblers (Pomatorhinus), c. 15 species of smaller to medium-sized birds, easily recognized by their long, curved bill.

 

As its name implies, Taiwan scimitar babbler (Pomatorhinus musicus) is endemic to Taiwan, where it is fairly common in the lowlands, up to an altitude of c. 2,500 m. It mainly feeds in dense thickets and is often hard to spot. Previously, this bird was regarded as a subspecies of the streak-breasted scimitar babbler (P. ruficollis), which is distributed from eastern Nepal and Bangladesh eastwards to southern China and Vietnam.

 

 

Taiwan scimitar babbler, Tunghai University Park, Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Turdidae (thrushes)

 

Thrushes constitute a large, almost global family 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. Previously, this family was much larger, including many genera which are today included in the Old World flycatcher family (Muscicapidae).

Many thrush species are dealt with on the page Animals: Thrushes.

 

The brown-headed thrush (Turdus chrysolaus) is endemic to East Asia, breeding from Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands southwards 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, whereas the female has whitish throat with black vertical stripes.

 

 

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The brown-headed thrush is a common migrant and winter visitor in Taiwan. This male is feeding on fruits of a Chinese tallow-tree (Triadica sebifera) in a city park in Taichung. You may study a collection of pictures, depicting the gorgeous winter foliage of this tree, on the page Autumn. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Female brown-headed thrush, eating fruits of maritime persimmon (Diospyros maritima), Taitung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Previously, the Taiwan thrush (Turdus niveiceps) was considered to be a subspecies of the widespread island thrush (T. poliocephalus), but is now generally regarded as a separate species, which is restricted to Taiwan. It mainly lives in montane forests at moderate altitudes, but is occasionally seen in the lowlands. The adult male is a very pretty bird, with black back and breast band, reddish belly, and pure white head, whereas the female has brown back and crown, buffy eye stripe, reddish breast and belly, and whitish throat.

 

 

Male Taiwan thrush, feeding on berries of Chinese wonder tree (Idesia polycarpa), Dasyueshan National Forest. A male small vivid niltava (Niltava vivida) is seen in the background. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Young male Taiwan thrush, feeding among dead leaves, Longluan Lake, Kenting National Park. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

As its name implies, the pale thrush (Turdus pallidus) has a rather drab plumage, brown on the wings and back, white underside speckled with reddish-brown, and greyish head with a narrow yellow eye-ring. This species lives in forest, breeding in south-eastern Siberia (Ussuriland), north-eastern China, and Korea, and wintering in Korea, southern Japan, south-eastern China, and also Taiwan, where it is fairly common.

 

 

Pale thrush, Buluowan, Taroko Gorge. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Formerly, the distribution area of the scaly thrush (Zoothera dauma) was thought to be the major part of Siberia, and South and East Asia, southwards to Australia. Lately, however, this bird has been split into about eight species, and according to Handbook of the Birds of the World (Lynx Edicions), Siberian and East Asian birds are now called White’s thrush (Z. aurea). In Taiwan, this species is a fairly common resident in montane forests.

The generic name is derived from the Greek zoon (‘animal’) and theras (‘hunter’), referring to the habit of these thrushes to be searching for invertebrates on the forest floor. The specific name is from the Latin aureus (‘golden’). Presumably, this name refers to the wings and back of this bird, although they are more brownish than golden. The common name commemorates English naturalist Gilbert White (1720-1793), who is best known for his book Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, first published in 1789.

 

 

White’s thrush, feeding on berries of Chinese wonder tree (Idesia polycarpa), Dasyueshan National Forest. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Vireonidae (vireos and allies)

 

The white-bellied erpornis (Erpornis zantholeuca) was formerly placed in the genus Yuhina (see Zosteropidae), named white-bellied yuhina. However, genetic studies have revealed that it is by no means closely related to yuhinas, but probably to the American vireos, as one of the few Old World representatives of this family.

This bird is widely distributed in Asia, from the Himalaya eastwards to southern China and Taiwan, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to northern Sumatra and Borneo.

 

 

White-bellied erpornis is fairly common in Taiwan at mid-elevations. This one was encountered in Taroko Gorge. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Family Zosteropidae (white-eyes, yuhinas, and allies)

 

Traditionally, white-eyes were regarded as a distinct family of small passerines, whose members were all much alike. However, recent genetic studies indicate that they are closely related to yuhinas, which were formerly placed in the babbler family (Timaliidae). As of today, the family Zosteropidae contains 14 genera with about 139 species, but some experts have pointed out that further studies must be made, before the true relationship of white-eyes with other birds can be determined.

The family name is derived from the Greek zoster (‘girdle’) and ops (‘eye’), referring to the bright white eye-ring of most species of the genus Zosterops.

 

The Japanese white-eye (Zosterops japonicus) is very common in the lowlands of Taiwan. It has a bright yellow throat, crown, and vent, whereas 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.

 

 

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Japanese white-eyes, feeding in flowers of Taiwanese cherry trees (Prunus campanulata), Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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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 11 small passerines, which were formerly included in the timaliid family (Timaliidae), but have now been tentatively placed in the family Zosteropidae.

 

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), Aowanda National Forest. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

(Uploaded September 2018)

 

(Latest update March 2020)