Birds of South Asia. The Ripley Guide

Birds of South Asia. The Ripley Guide by Pamela C. Rasmussen and John C. Anderton is a two-volume ornithological handbook, covering the birds of South Asia, published in 2005 (second edition in 2012) by the Smithsonian Institution and Lynx Edicions. The geographical scope of the book covers India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, the Chagos archipelago and Afghanistan (the latter country had been excluded from previous works covering this region). In total, 1508 species are covered (this figure includes 85 hypothetical and 67 'possible' species, which are given only shorter accounts). Two notable aspects of Birds of South Asia are its distribution evidence-base — the book's authors based their distributional information almost completely on museum specimens — and its taxonomic approach, involving a large number of species-level splits.

Birds of South Asia. The Ripley Guide
BoSA covers
AuthorPamela C. Rasmussen and John C. Anderton
IllustratorAnderton and eleven other artists
Cover artistAnderton
PublisherSmithsonian Institution and Lynx Edicions
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardback)
ISBN84-87334-67-9 (both vols.)
84-87334-65-2 (vol. 1)
84-87334-66-0 (vol. 2)

The books

Pamela Rasmussen

Volume 1 is a field guide. A nine-page introduction is followed by 180 colour plates, each with an accompanying text page giving brief identification notes, and, for most species, range maps. In addition to the 69 plates by Anderton, eleven other artists contributed, including Ian Lewington and Bill Zetterström. Volume 2: Attributes and Status contains more detailed supporting texts for every species. Twelve other authors are listed as having contributed to this volume, including Per Alström, Nigel Collar and Craig Robson. This volume opens with an appreciation, written by Bruce Beehler, of S. Dillon Ripley, who initiated the work which led to the book, and after whom it is named. This is followed by a 24-page introduction. The bulk of the book, from pages 41 to 601, consists of individual species accounts; each of these includes sections on identification, occurrence, habits and voice (this latter section accompanied by sonograms for many species). There are ten appendices, including a hypothetical list, a list of rejected species, a summary of taxonomic changes, a glossary, a gazetteer, and a list of institutions holding major collections of South Asian bird specimens.

The book's covers are illustrated by montages of South Asian birds, painted by Anderton. Volume 1 features crimson-backed flameback, stork-billed kingfisher, Indian eagle-owl, black-and-orange flycatcher and Himalayan quail on its front cover. Volume 2 features six laughingthrush species: variegated, Bhutan, grey-sided, blue-winged, black-chinned and Assam. The back covers of both volumes feature a painting of Serendib and Nicobar scops-owls.

Taxonomic changes

In preparing the book, the authors undertook a major revision of the taxonomic status of bird forms found in the region; many allopatric forms previously regarded as conspecific are treated by Rasmussen and Anderton as full species. Many of these had previously been proposed elsewhere, but the book introduced a number of innovations of its own.[1] The majority of these changes, and the overwhelming majority of the novel ones, are among the passerines. The following is a list of the groups of taxa which are considered conspecific in the sixth edition of the Clements Checklist (Clements 2007),[2][3] but split into two or more species in Rasmussen and Anderton's work (volume 2 page references in brackets).


Changeable Hawk Eagle 3
Crested hawk-eagle


Chloropsis cochinchinensis
Jerdon's leafbird
Tibetan Blackbird (Turdus maximus) 1 cropped
Tibetan blackbird
Tarsiger rufilatus (Male) I IMG 7295
Himalayan red-flanked bush-robin
Greenish Warbler I IMG 0568
Greenish warbler
Sturnia blythii
Malabar white-headed starling

New South Asian endemic birds

White-cheeked Nutthatch I IMG 7384
White-cheeked nuthatch
See also Endemic birds of the Indian Subcontinent and Endemic birds of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands

The taxonomic changes proposed increase the number of South Asian endemic bird species, and the numbers of restricted-range endemic bird species in several of South Asia's Endemic Bird Areas. Using the taxonomic arrangements in Birds of South Asia, the following species are additional South Asian endemics:[24] Ceylon bay-owl, hill swallow, white-bellied and orange minivets, square-tailed black bulbul, Jerdon's leafbird, Indian blackbird, large blue flycatcher,[25] common babbler and Indian and white-cheeked nuthatches; the following are additional Indian endemics: crested hawk-eagle, grey-fronted green-pigeon, Malabar barbet, Malabar woodshrike, flame-throated bulbul, Nilgiri thrush, white-bellied blue robin, Naga wren-babbler, Indian yellow tit, Nilgiri flowerpecker and Malabar white-headed starling; the following are new Sri Lankan endemics: Ceylon green-pigeon, Ceylon small barbet, crimson-backed flameback, Ceylon swallow, Ceylon woodshrike, black-capped bulbul, Ceylon scaly thrush and Ceylon crested drongo; and the following are additional endemics in the Andaman/Nicobar islands: Nicobar imperial-pigeon, Andaman barn-owl, Hume's hawk-owl, Andaman cuckooshrike, Andaman bulbul, Nicobar jungle-flycatcher, Andaman shama and Andaman flowerpecker.


  1. ^ Collar & Pilgrim (2008) includes an analysis of Rasmussen & Anderton's proposed changes, indicating which had previously been proposed by other authors, and which are novel.
  2. ^ At the time of Birds of South Asia's publication, Clements was the most widely used world bird checklist; the sixth edition was published shortly after Birds of South Asia, and hence is used here as the best work to view the effect of Rasmussen & Anderton's proposals; when compared with earlier regional lists, such as the Oriental Bird Club checklist (Inskipp et. al. 1996), the effects are greater still.
  3. ^ Rasmussen & Anderton do not split two pairs of taxa which are treated as separate species in Clements' sixth edition, MacQueen's and houbara bustards (vol 2, pp. 148-9), and carrion and hooded crows (vol 2, p. 599).
  4. ^ This treatment had been followed in the first edition of Peters' checklist (Peters 1931) but not by most other 20th-century authors.
  5. ^ McAllan & Bruce (1988) had previously adopted this treatment, but the two taxa had been regarded as conspecific by almost all other recent authors.
  6. ^ The fifth edition of Clements' checklist (Clements 2000) treated these two taxa as distinct species, but they were lumped in the sixth edition
  7. ^ A treatment previously proposed in the Conspectus of the ornithological fauna of the USSR (Stepanyan 1990), but not adopted widely in Europe or North America.
  8. ^ Sympatric occurrence of the two putative species in the breeding season without interbreeding was first documented by Carey & Melville 1996.
  9. ^ Rasmussen and Anderton made a firm decision to split Himalayan buzzard; they describe Japanese buzzard as "probably specifically distinct".
  10. ^ A treatment previously proposed by Fleming et. al. 1984
  11. ^ Rasmussen & Anderton treat three South Asian taxa (affinis, pompadora & chloropterus) as monotypic species, separate from the remainder of the "pompadour green-pigeon" complex (the name phayrei having priority for this group); this treatment is in line with Hussain (1958). They also state that two extralimital taxa (axillaris & aromaticus) are probably also better treated as separate species.
  12. ^ König et. al. (1999) had earlier proposed this split.
  13. ^ A treatment previously proposed in Wijesinghe (1994)
  14. ^ The same conclusions were contemporaneously reached in the Handbook of the Birds of the World (Fishpool and Tobias 2005).
  15. ^ A treatment previously proposed in Wells et. al. (2003)
  16. ^ An arrangement previously proposed by Kryukov (1995). Rasmussen & Anderton use the names isabelline and rufous shrikes for Daurian and Turkestan shrikes, respectively.
  17. ^ Rasmussen and Anderton made firm decisions to split Tibetan blackbird, and the simillimus group of southern races as Indian blackbird; in the case of mandarinus, they stated that this taxon probably deserved species status. In addition, they suggested that within the simillimus group, the Sri Lankan race kinnisii is also probably better treated as a separate species. The simillimus group had previously been treated as a full species in Henry (1971). However this treatment had not gained widespread acceptance: both Birds of the Western Palearctic (Cramp 1988) and the Oriental Bird Club checklist (Inskipp et. al. 1996) had retained these forms within common blackbird. Clement & Hathway (2000) had suggested that mandarinus and maximus probably deserved to be treated together as a separate species; again the OBC checklist had treated these as conspecific with common blackbird.
  18. ^ The same conclusions were contemporaneously reached in the Handbook of the Birds of the World (Collar, 2005)
  19. ^ A treatment previously recommended by Ivanov (1941), Panov (1999) and by the Taxonomic Advisory Committee of the Association of European Rarities Committees (AERC TAC 2003); the Collins Bird Guide (Svensson et. al. 1999) had also suggested that these two taxa may be separate species
  20. ^ The treatment of nitidus as a full species is, however, described as "equivocal".
  21. ^ The neglecta group is not formally split, but "is likely to comprise a third species".
  22. ^ This treatment is in line with that proposed by the Taxonomic Advisory Committee of the Association of European Rarities Committees in 2003 (AERC TAC 2003); it had previously been anticipated, though not adopted, in the Collins Bird Guide (Svensson et. al. 1999)
  23. ^ A treatment earlier proposed tentatively by Madge & Burn (1994)
  24. ^ Compared against those listed in Clements' sixth edition (2007)
  25. ^ Endemic as a breeder; winters in south-east Asia


Andaman cuckooshrike

The Andaman cuckooshrike (Coracina dobsoni) is a species of bird in the Campephagidae family.

It is endemic to the Andaman Islands. It was formerly considered a subspecies of the bar-bellied cuckooshrike.

Andaman flowerpecker

The Andaman flowerpecker (Dicaeum virescens) is a species of bird in the Dicaeidae family.

It is endemic to the Andaman Islands.

Andaman shama

The Andaman shama (Copsychus albiventris) is a species of bird in the family Muscicapidae.

It is endemic to the Andaman Islands. It was previously considered a subspecies of the white-rumped shama.

Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forests and subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests.

Asian brown flycatcher

The Asian brown flycatcher (Muscicapa dauurica) is a small passerine bird in the flycatcher family Muscicapidae. The word Muscicapa comes from the Latin musca, a fly and capere, to catch. The specific dauurica refers to Dauria, an area of south-eastern Siberia named after a local nomadic tribe.This is an insectivorous species which breeds in Japan, eastern Siberia and the Himalayas. It is migratory and winters in tropical southern Asia from southern India and Sri Lanka east to Indonesia.

The correct specific epithet for this species is disputed.

Buru green pigeon

The Buru green pigeon (Treron aromaticus) is a pigeon in the genus Treron. It is found in the forests of Buru in Indonesia. Many authorities split the species from the pompadour green pigeon complex.


Coloeus is a genus of the bird that is sometimes treated as a subgenus of Corvus, including the IUCN. It contains two relatively small species both named jackdaws. They have a blackish crown, wings and tail, the rest of the plumage being paler. The word Coloeus is New Latin, from the Ancient Greek for jackdaws: koloiós (κολοιός).While some authors consider Coloeus a subgenus of Corvus, others have classified Coloeus as a distinct genus in the family Corvidae. Following Birds of South Asia: The Ripley Guide, the International Ornithological Congress has also reassigned the two jackdaw species from the genus Corvus to the genus Coloeus.The species are the western jackdaw (Corvus monedula), which breeds in the British Isles and western Europe, Scandinavia, northern Asia and Northern Africa, and its eastern counterpart, the Daurian jackdaw (Corvus dauuricus), found from China and eastern Siberia to Japan. The eastern species is smaller than the western jackdaw, and in the adult the pale areas of the plumage are almost white, whereas in the western bird these areas are pale grey. The iris is pale in western jackdaw and dark in Daurian jackdaw. The two species are otherwise very similar in shape, calls, and behaviour. There is an argument for lumping the subgenus members as one species, but they do not interbreed where their ranges meet in Mongolia.


Eumyias is a genus of birds in the Old World flycatcher family Muscicapidae.

It contains the following species:

Dull-blue flycatcher (Eumyias sordidus)

Verditer flycatcher (Eumyias thalassinus)

Turquoise flycatcher (Eumyias panayensis)

Nilgiri flycatcher (Eumyias albicaudatus)

Indigo flycatcher (Eumyias indigo)

Streak-breasted jungle flycatcher (Eumyias additus)The streak-breasted jungle flycatcher was previously placed in the genus Rhinomyias but was moved to Eumyias when a 2010 molecular phylogenetic study found that Rhinomyias was polyphyletic.

Grey nightjar

The grey nightjar (Caprimulgus jotaka) is a species of nightjar found in East Asia. It is sometimes treated as a subspecies of the jungle nightjar (C. indicus), its South Asian relative.

Hypothetical list of biota

A hypothetical list of biota, or "hypothetical list" for short, is a list of taxa (of plants, animals, fungi etc.) which are not recorded from a given geographical area, but which may be found there. Such lists are sometimes included by authors of regional biota, partly to demonstrate that the authors have considered and rejected the taxa in question rather than overlooked them, and partly to encourage researchers and others to seek out the taxa in question so that they can be added to the list of the area's biota in future revisions.

Taxa may be included for different reasons:

They may be resident close to the region in question, and the region may have habitat which appears suitable

They may be long-distance vagrants with a pattern of occurrence

They may be poorly studied taxa, which the authors feel could be found in the region if appropriate search techniques are used

There may be historical evidence of occurrence which the authors felt was not watertight enough to justify inclusion in a definitive list for the regionA 1973 checklist of fleas in Connecticut added species to its hypothetical list if they were documented in a bordering state and have a host found in Connecticut.Ornithological works which have included hypothetical lists include the following:

A field guide to the birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific by Pratt, Bruner and Berrett

Birds of South Asia. The Ripley Guide by Rasmussen and Anderton

Indian spotted eagle

The Indian spotted eagle (Clanga hastata) is a large South Asian bird of prey. Like all typical eagles, it belongs to the family Accipitridae. The typical eagles are often united with the buteos, sea eagles and other more heavyset Accipitridae, but more recently it appears as if they are less distinct from the more slender accipitrine hawks.

Lesser yellownape

The lesser yellownape (Picus chlorolophus) is a type of woodpecker which is a widespread and often common breeder in tropical and sub-tropical Asia, primarily the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. It ranges from India, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka eastwards to Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam. Much of the scientific knowledge gathered about this species is sourced from formal studies in various parts of India.

Lynx Edicions

Lynx Edicions is a Spanish ornithological publishing company.

It publishes the Handbook of the Birds of the World, a 16 volume series which, when it is completed in 2011, will document for the first time in a single work an entire animal class, illustrating and treating in detail all the species of that class. No such comprehensive work has been completed before for this or any other group in the animal kingdom.

Other books published by this company are Birds of South Asia. The Ripley Guide and the Handbook of the Mammals of the World (an undertaking like the work on birds; work on it began in 2009).

As a complement to the Handbook of the Birds of the World, and with the ultimate goal of disseminating knowledge about the world's avifauna, in 2002 Lynx Edicions started the Internet Bird Collection (IBC). This is a free-access, on-line audiovisual library of footage of the world's birds which permits the posting of videos, photographs, and recordings illustrating various biological traits of every species (e.g. subspecies, plumages, feeding, breeding, etc.). It is a non-profit endeavour fuelled by material from more than one hundred contributors around the world.

Malabar woodshrike

The Malabar woodshrike (Tephrodornis sylvicola) is a species of bird usually placed in the family Vangidae. It is found in western India. It is sometimes considered a subspecies of the large woodshrike.

Pamela C. Rasmussen

Pamela Cecile Rasmussen (born October 16, 1959) is a prominent American ornithologist and expert on Asian birds. She was formerly a research associate at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and is based at the Michigan State University. She is associated with other major centers of research in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Rasmussen's early research investigated South American seabirds and fossil birds from North America. She later specialised in Asian birds describing several new species and clarifying the status of others, particularly white-eyes and owls. More recently, she has been involved in large scale collaborations looking at patterns of global biodiversity, and has assessed the taxonomic status of South Asian vultures.

She was the main author of Birds of South Asia: The Ripley Guide, a landmark publication due to its greater geographical and species coverage compared to its predecessors. As a result of her study of museum bird specimens when researching for the book, she was instrumental in unveiling the extent of the theft from museums and fraudulent documentation perpetrated by eminent British ornithologist Richard Meinertzhagen.

Plain flowerpecker

The plain flowerpecker (Dicaeum minullum) is a species of bird in the Dicaeidae family.

It is found in the central Himalayas, through western Indonesia to Taiwan.

Przevalski's nuthatch

Przevalski's nuthatch (Sitta przewalskii), originally given the nomen nudum "Sitta eckloni", is a bird species in the Sittidae family, collectively known as nuthatches. Long regarded as a subspecies of the white-cheeked nuthatch (Sitta leucopsis), it nevertheless differs significantly in morphology and vocalizations. Both S. przewalskii and S. leucopsis have been regarded as closely related to the North American white-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis). It is a medium-sized nuthatch, measuring about 13 cm (5 in) in length. Its upper body is a dark gray-blue or slate color, becoming dark blue-black at the crown. The cheeks and throat are a white buff-orange, turning to a rich cinnamon on the underparts that intensifies in color on the sides of the breast. Vocalizations consist of alternating series of ascending whistles and short notes.

The bird is endemic to areas in southeastern Tibet and west central China, including eastern Qinghai, Gansu and Sichuan, inhabiting coniferous mountain forests of spruce or fir. The altitude at which it nests varies according to locality, but typically is from 2,250–4,500 m (7,380–14,760 ft). The species was first described in 1891 from a specimen collected in China's Haidong Prefecture. The common name and Latin binomial commemorate the Russian explorer Nikolay Przhevalsky, who discovered the species in 1884. Little is known about its ecology, which is probably comparable to that of the white-cheeked nuthatch.

It was given the rank of full species (separate from the white-cheeked nuthatch) in 2005 in Pamela C. Rasmussen's Birds of South Asia. The Ripley Guide. Other authorities followed suit, but as of 2014, S. przewalskii does not have a full threat-status evaluation by BirdLife International or the International Union for Conservation of Nature. A 2014 phylogenetic study of the species found it to be at the base of the nuthatch evolutionary tree out of 21 species examined, dispelling a hypothesis that S. przewalskii could belong to the same species as S. carolinensis.

Rain quail

The rain quail or black-breasted quail (Coturnix coromandelica) is a species of quail found in the Indian subcontinent, its range including Pakistan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Viet Nam.

Sri Lanka woodshrike

The Sri Lanka woodshrike (Tephrodornis affinis ) is a species of bird in the family Vangidae. It is found on Sri Lanka. It is sometimes considered a subspecies of the common woodshrike.


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