The Melanocharitidae, the berrypeckers and longbills, is a small bird family restricted to the forests of New Guinea. The family contains ten species in four (sometimes three) genera. They are small songbirds with generally dull plumage but a range of body shapes.

Berrypeckers and longbills
Toxorhamphus poliopterus
Slaty-headed longbill (Toxorhamphus poliopterus)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Superfamily: Passeroidea
Family: Melanocharitidae
Sibley & Ahlquist, 1985

Taxonomy and systematics

The identification of the family Melanocharitidae was not known or suspected until the work of Sibley and Ahlquist on the taxonomy of birds using DNA–DNA hybridization The genera had been instead placed with other families. The two genera of berrypecker had been placed inside the flowerpecker family Dicaeidae, and the longbills were once considered to be honeyeaters (which they closely resemble). Sibley and Ahlquist placed the berrypeckers and longbill family close to the painted berrypeckers (Paramythiidae), sunbirds and flowerpeckers, but a 2002 study found them closer to the satinbirds (Cnemophilidae, a recent split from the birds-of-paradise).[1]

It comprises ten species in four genera, the Melanocharis berrypeckers and the longbills in the genera Toxorhamphus and Oedistoma. The two longbill genera are sometimes incorrectly lumped into the same genus, Toxorhamphus, in spite of Oedistoma being erected forty years prior to Toxorhamphus (a violation of the taxonomic principal of priority).[1] There are both molecular and morphological reasons to keep the two genera separate, however. A 1993 study of the longbills, berrypeckers and some other aberrant honeyeaters found that the dwarf longbill was more closely related to the berrypeckers than the two longbills in the genus Toxorhamphus.[2] There are also some morphological differences in the shape of the tarsus.[3] The two species in Oedistoma, however, may not be closely related and more research is needed.[1] The spotted berrypecker is placed in its own genus Rhamphocharis,[4] while some treatments lump it with the Melanocharis berrypeckers it is anatomically and behaviourally distinct.[1]

There is some confusion with the common names, as there are two other berrypecker species in the tiny family Paramythiidae, once considered to be close to the flowerpeckers as well; members of several African genera—notably species in the Old World warbler genus Macrosphenus—are also known as longbills.


The berrypeckers and longbills are small to very small songbirds. They range in length from 15 cm (5.9 in) in the case of the fan-tailed berrypecker to 7.3 cm (2.9 in) in the case of the pygmy longbill, which is the smallest bird in New Guinea. The berrypeckers (Melanocharis) are usually bigger than the Toxorhamphus and Oedistoma longbills.[5] The females of two species, the fan-tailed and streaked berrypecker, are unique amongst songbirds in that they exhibit a reversal in the usual pattern of sexual dimorphism, with the females being both longer and heavier.[6] For example in the fan-tailed berrypecker the male weighs 12 to 15 g (0.42–0.53 oz), whereas the female weighs 16 to 20 g (0.56–0.71 oz).[1]

They have drab-coloured plumage in greys, browns or black and white.[7] The berrypeckers exhibit some sexual dimorphism in their plumage. The berrypeckers resemble stout short-billed honeyeaters, and the longbills are like drab sunbirds[7] or short-tailed honeyeaters.[5] The calls of the berrypeckers have been described as high pitched and faint, and the song rapid.

Distribution and habitat

The berrypeckers are generally montane species, with only one, the black berrypecker, being found in lowland forest.[8] In contrast the longbills live in lowland forests and low montane forests as well as on small islands around New Guinea.[7] Amongst the berrypeckers there is a succession of species at different altitudes, with the black berrypecker being found in the lowlands, the mid-mountain berrypecker being found at lower altitudes (mid-montane) and the fan-tailed berrypecker being found near the treeline.[7]


Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club (1963) (20445619655)
The cup-shaped nest of the streaked berrypecker

Melanocharitidae species are usually seen alone or in pairs.[7] They may associate with mixed-species feeding flocks, but are loose members and not core species.[1] The diet of the family is dominated by berries and small fruits. Arthropods are also gleaned from foliage, and more rarely by hovering and snatching. They are highly active feeders, seldom pausing except when at berries. Most species feed in the lower and middle levels of the forest, although records suggest that the obscure berrypecker will enter the canopy to forage. The male black berrypecker will also enter the canopy, while the female will remain lower down in the forest, suggesting some level of sexual segregation of feeding niches.[1]

The breeding of some species is entirely undescribed, and little is known about the breeding in most species. Records of nests have been made in both wet and dry seasons.[1] They build a cup nest,[5][7] usually on a forked branch near the edge of a tree, out of fern scales and plant fibres bound neatly with insect or spider silk and ornamented with lichens.[5] Little is known about the division of labour in the family, although the pattern exhibited by the black berrypecker, where the female construct the nest alone but both sexes feed the young, may be typical of the family.[1] They lay one or two eggs.[7]


The berrypeckers and longbills are not considered to be threatened by human activities. No species is listed as threatened by the IUCN, although one species, the obscure berrypecker, is listed as data deficient.[9] That species is known officially from two collected specimens, but unconfirmed reports suggest that it is not uncommon in remote parts of New Guinea.[10]


The pygmy and dwarf longbills are sometimes included in the genus Toxorhamphus.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Gregory, Phil (2008). "Family Melanocharitidae (Berrypeckers and Longbills)". In del Hoyo, Josep; Elliott, Andrew; Christie, David (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 13, Penduline-tits to Shrikes. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. pp. 322–338. ISBN 978-84-96553-45-3.
  2. ^ Christidis, L; Schodde, R; Robinson, NA (1993). "Affinities of the Aberrant Australo-Papuan Honeyeaters, Toxorhamphus, Oedistoma, Timeliopsis and Epthianura - Protein Evidence". Australian Journal of Zoology. 41 (5): 423–432. doi:10.1071/ZO9930423.
  3. ^ Boles, Walter (2005). "Fossil honeyeaters (Meliphagidae) from the late Tertiary of Riversleigh, north-western Queensland" (PDF). Emu. 105: 21–26. doi:10.1071/MU03024.
  4. ^ Salomonsen, F (1960). "Notes on flowerpeckers (Aves, Dicaeidae). 1, The genera Melanocharis, Rhamphocharis, and Prionochilus" (PDF). American Museum Novitates. 1990: 28.
  5. ^ a b c d Kikkawa, Jiro (2003). "Flowerpeckers". In Christopher Perrins (ed.). Firefly Encyclopedia of Birds. Firefly Books. pp. 584–585. ISBN 1-55297-777-3.
  6. ^ Amadon, Dean (1959). "The Significance of Sexual Differences in Size among Birds". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 103 (4): 531–536. JSTOR 985554.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Winkler, David W. "Melanocharitidae". Bird Families of the World. Cornell University, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Archived from the original on June 13, 2007. Retrieved 2008-03-19.
  8. ^ Beehler, B., Pratt, T. & Zimmerman, D. (1986) Birds of New Guinea Princeton University Press:Princeton, ISBN 0-691-02394-8
  9. ^ BirdLife International (2008) Species factsheet: Melanocharis arfakiana. Downloaded on 3/7/200
  10. ^ Gregory, P. & Webster, R. (2004) Papua New Guinea 2004 Field Guide Triplist. Downloaded on 11/9/2006

External links


Berrypecker may refer to:

One of six species of berrypecker in the bird family Melanocharitidae

One of two species of painted berrypecker in the bird family Paramythiidae

Black berrypecker

The black berrypecker (Melanocharis nigra) is a species of bird in the Melanocharitidae family.

It is found in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests.


The "Corvida" were one of two "parvorders" contained within the suborder Passeri, as proposed in the Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy, the other being Passerida. Standard taxonomic practice would place them at the rank of infraorder.

More recent research suggests that this is not a distinct clade—a group of closest relatives and nothing else—but an evolutionary grade instead. As such, it is abandoned in modern treatments, being replaced by a number of superfamilies that are considered rather basal among the Passeri.

It was presumed that cooperative breeding—present in many or most members of the Maluridae, Meliphagidae, Artamidae and Corvidae, among others—is a common apomorphy of this group. But as evidenced by the updated phylogeny, this trait is rather the result of parallel evolution, perhaps because the early Passeri had to compete against many ecologically similar birds (see near passerine).

Dwarf longbill

The dwarf longbill, spectacled longbill, plumed longbill or dwarf honeyeater (Oedistoma iliolophus) is a species of bird in the family Melanocharitidae.

It is found in New Guinea.

Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forest, subtropical or tropical moist lowland forest, and subtropical or tropical moist montane forest.

Fan-tailed berrypecker

The fan-tailed berrypecker (Melanocharis versteri) is a species of bird in the Melanocharitidae family.

It is found in New Guinea.

Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist montane forests.

The female is darker-colored and bigger than the male, an unusual feature for a passerine (Kikkawa 2003).


The flowerpeckers are a family, Dicaeidae, of passerine birds. The family comprises two genera, Prionochilus and Dicaeum, with 44 species in total. The family has sometimes been included in an enlarged sunbird family Nectariniidae. The berrypeckers of the family Melanocharitidae and the painted berrypeckers, Paramythiidae, were once lumped into this family as well. The family is distributed through tropical southern Asia and Australasia from India east to the Philippines and south to Australia. The family has a wide range occupying a wide range of environments from sea level to montane habitats. Some species, such as the mistletoebird of Australia, are recorded as being highly nomadic over parts of their range.

There is little variation in structure between species in the family although many have distinctive and colourful plumage. Flowerpeckers are stout birds, with short necks and legs. These are small birds ranging from the 10-cm, 5.7-gram pygmy flowerpecker to the 18-cm, 12-gram mottled flowerpecker. Flowerpeckers have short tails, short thick curved bills and tubular tongues. The latter features reflect the importance of nectar in the diet of many species. They also have digestive systems that have evolved to deal efficiently with mistletoe berries. They are often dull in colour, although in several species the males have brightly patterned crimson or glossy-black plumage.

Nectar forms part of the diet, although they also take berries, spiders and insects. Mistletoes of 21 species in 12 genera have been found to be part of the diet of flowerpeckers, and it is thought that all species have adaptations to eat these berries and dispose of them quickly. Flowerpeckers may occur in mixed-species feeding flocks with sunbirds and white-eyes, as well as other species of flowerpecker.

The breeding biology of the flowerpeckers has been little studied. In the species where data has been collected they apparently form monogamous pairs for breeding, but the division of labour varies; in scarlet-breasted flowerpeckers both parents participate in all aspects of nest building, incubation and chick rearing, but in the mistletoebird the female undertakes the first two tasks alone. Flowerpeckers lay 1–4 eggs, typically in a purse-like nest of plant fibres, suspended from a small tree or shrub. Recorded incubations times are scarce, but range from 10–12 days, with fledging occurring after 15 days.

The two genera in the family are separated on the basis of the length of the outermost primary which is elongated in Prionochilus and reduced in most Dicaeum species although D. melanoxanthum is an exception with an elongated outer primary. Molecular phylogeny studies however suggest that some Dicaeum are closer to species traditionally in Prionochilus and that generic placements across the family may need to be revised.The majority of flowerpeckers are resilient in their habits and are not threatened by human activities. Five species are considered to be near threatened by the IUCN, two are listed as vulnerable and one, the Cebu flowerpecker, is listed as critically endangered. The status of the enigmatic spectacled flowerpecker is unknown. Habitat loss is the cause of the declines of these species.


Melanocharis is a genus of bird in the Melanocharitidae family.

Mid-mountain berrypecker

The mid-mountain berrypecker or lemon-breasted berrypecker (Melanocharis longicauda) is a species of bird in the Melanocharitidae family.

It is found in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

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

Obscure berrypecker

The obscure berrypecker (Melanocharis arfakiana) is a small passerine bird from the berrypecker family Melanocharitidae. It was described by the German ornithologist Friedrich Finsch based on a specimen collected on the island of New Guinea (to which the berrypecker family is endemic); collected in 1867 in the Arfak Mountains (now in Papua). Another specimen was collected in 1933 in the mountains (950–1000 m) northwest of Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea (BirdLife International 2006), these two specimens are the only confirmed records of the species. Unconfirmed sight records have been made in regions of New Guinea; these suggest that the species is not rare, and is a resident of disturbed forest, able to cope with human modification of its habitat. All these sightings were all made in the mountains (640-1,100 m), which is consistent with the range of the rest of the berrypeckers, only the black berrypecker has a lowland range (Beeher et al. 1986).

The obscure berrypecker is a drab olive coloured bird with a greyish wash on its upperparts. It resembles the female black berrypecker except that its wing linings and pectoral tufts are yellowish and the bill is pale coloured. The species is arboreal (Gregory & Webster 2004) and probably is a solitary forager of fruit and small invertebrates obtained by hover-gleaning (like the rest of the berrypeckers).


Oedistoma is a genus of longbill in the bird family Melanocharitidae (berrypeckers and longbills). The genus, like the family, is endemic to New Guinea. The genus contains two species, both of which are sometimes placed in the genus Toxorhamphus.

Painted berrypecker

The painted berrypeckers, Paramythiidae, are a very small bird family restricted to the mountain forests of New Guinea. The family comprises two species in two genera: the tit berrypecker (Oreocharis arfaki) and the crested berrypecker (Paramythia montium). These are colourful medium-sized birds which feed on fruit and some insects. These species were formerly included in the Dicaeidae, but DNA–DNA hybridization studies showed these species were related to each other but distinct from the flowerpeckers. Some sources group painted berrypeckers as two genera belonging to the berrypecker family Melanocharitidae.


Passerida is, under the Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy, one of two parvorders contained within the suborder Passeri (standard taxonomic practice would place them at the rank of infraorder). While more recent research suggests that its sister parvorder, Corvida, is not a monophyletic grouping, the Passerida as a distinct clade are widely accepted.

Pygmy longbill

The pygmy longbill or pygmy honeyeater (Oedistoma pygmaeum) is a species of bird in the Melanocharitidae family. It is placed in the genus Toxorhamphus or in Oedistoma, which no usually includes the dwarf longbill (Oedistoma iliolophus).

It is found in New Guinea and adjacent islands.

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


The satinbirds or cnemophilines, are a family, Cnemophilidae of passerine birds which consists of three species found in the mountain forests of New Guinea. They were originally thought to be part of the birds-of-paradise family Paradisaeidae until genetic research suggested that the birds are not closely related to birds-of-paradise at all and are perhaps closer to berry peckers and longbills (Melanocharitidae). The current evidence suggests that their closest relatives may be the cuckoo-shrikes (Campephagidae).

Slaty-headed longbill

The slaty-headed longbill or grey-winged longbill (Toxorhamphus poliopterus) is a species of bird in the family Melanocharitidae.

It is found in New Guinea.

Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forest and subtropical or tropical moist montane forest.

Spotted berrypecker

The spotted berrypecker (Rhamphocharis crassirostris) is a species of bird in the berrypecker and longbill family Melanocharitidae. Although it is sometimes placed in the genus Melanocharis with the other berrypeckers in the family, it is now treated as distinct enough to merit a monotypic genus, Rhamphocharis.

It is found in New Guinea.

Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist montane forest.

Streaked berrypecker

The streaked berrypecker (Melanocharis striativentris) is a species of bird in the Melanocharitidae family.

It is found in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

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


Toxorhamphus is a genus of birds in the Melanocharitidae family. They are commonly known as longbills and were once thought to be in the honeyeater family. The genus is endemic to the islands of New Guinea.

Yellow-bellied longbill

The yellow-bellied longbill or green-crowned longbill (Toxorhamphus novaeguineae) is a species of bird in the Melanocharitidae family.

It is found in New Guinea.

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

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