Old World babbler

The Old World babblers or Timaliidae are a family of mostly Old World passerine birds. They are rather diverse in size and coloration, but are characterised by soft fluffy plumage. These are birds of tropical areas, with the greatest variety in Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. The timaliids are one of two unrelated groups of birds known as babblers, the other being the Australasian babblers of the family Pomatostomidae (also known as pseudo-babblers).

Morphological diversity is rather high; most species resemble "warblers", jays or thrushes. This group is among those Old World bird families with the highest number of species still being discovered.

Macronus gularis chersonesophilus - Kaeng Krachan
Pin-striped tit-babbler, (Macronus gularis)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Superfamily: Sylvioidea
Family: Timaliidae
Vigors & Horsfield, 1827

See article text


Timaliids are small to medium birds. They have strong legs, and many are quite terrestrial. They typically have generalised bills, similar to those of a thrush or warbler, except for the scimitar babblers which, as their name implies, have strongly decurved bills. Most have predominantly brown plumage, with minimal difference between the sexes, but many more brightly coloured species also exist.[1]

This group is not strongly migratory, and most species have short rounded wings, and a weak flight. They live in lightly wooded or scrubland environments, ranging from swamp to near-desert. They are primarily insectivorous, although many will also take berries, and the larger species will even eat small lizards and other vertebrates.[1]

Typical babblers live in communities of around a dozen birds, jointly defending a territory. Many even breed communally, with a dominant pair building a nest, and the remainder helping to defend and rear their young. Young males remain with the group, while females move away to find a new group, and thus avoid inbreeding. They make nests from twigs, and hide them in dense vegetation.[1]

Taxonomy and systematics

The systematics of Old World babblers have long been contested. During much of the 20th century, the family was used as a "wastebin taxon" for numerous hard-to-place Old World songbirds (such as Picathartidae or the wrentit). Ernst Hartert was only half-joking when in 1910 he summarized this attitude with the statement that, in the passerines: "Was man nicht unterbringen kann, sieht man als Timalien an." (What one can't place systematically is considered an Old World babbler).[2]

The most obviously misplaced taxa were removed piecemeal towards the end of the last century. Since then, with the aid of DNA sequence data, it has been confirmed that even the remaining group is not monophyletic. Analysis of mtDNA cytochrome b and 12S/16S rRNA data (Cibois 2003a) spread the Timaliidae that were studied across what essentially was a badly resolved polytomy with Old World warblers and white-eyes. As the typical warblers (genus Sylvia) grouped with some presumed timaliids (such as the fulvettas), it was suggested that some Sylviidae should be moved to the Timaliidae.

As this would include the type genus of the latter, this would lead to a nomenclatorial problem requiring ICZN intervention (Cibois 2003b) and was, at that time, not sensible in any case as the phylogeny of the remaining Old World warblers had not been fully resolved either. The problem with such an approach would be — as many Old World warblers have not been studied with the new results in mind and neither have a number of timaliids — to risk creating a huge, ill-defined family-level clade; consequently, this approach seems to have been put on hold for the time being in favor of a general resorting of the Sylvioidea.

Alström et al. (2006) supported the taxonomic proposal of Cibois (2003b), "if the Timaliidae and several groups of warblers are recognized at the same family level" but of course it is not necessary to unite them to achieve monophyly in both. Notably, one of the few conclusions beyond genus level which received quite robust support in Cibois (2003a) was the distinctness of Sylvia and the related "babblers" from the Timaliidae sensu stricto. Thus, for the time being, it seems wisest to maintain the Sylviidae and Timaliidae as distinct and just split off or move about genera as needed to achieve monophyly.

The parrotbills are somewhat tit-like birds that in the past were moved about between the timaliids, the tits, and distinct family status (under the telling name Paradoxornithidae — literally, "puzzling birds"). They are likely not a distinct family; rather, they belong into the Sylvia clade (Cibois 2003a, Alström et al. 2006).

The relationships of the white-eyes (presently Zosteropidae) are not resolved at present. Based on nDNA RAG-1 and c-mos sequence data, Barker et al. (2002) found them likelier to group closer to the timaliids proper than to Sylvia and allies, as did Cibois (2003a). Combining data from nDNA c-myc exon 3, RAG-1 and myoglobin intron 2 sequences with that of mtDNA cytochrome b (Ericson & Johansson 2003) supports their scenario as does a restudy using the myoglobin intron 2 and cytochrome b sequences of a wider (though not denser) range of taxa (Alström et al. 2006)

On the other hand, DNA-DNA hybridization (Sibley & Ahlquist 1990) placed the white-eyes closer to Sylvia. This method is nowadays considered inferior to comparison of long and various DNA sequences, however. No molecular study thus far could resolve the white-eyes' relationships with sufficient confidence beyond the mere fact that they form a clade with "core" Sylviidae and "core" Timaliidae. In this assemblage, they most likely form a monophyletic lineage with the yuhinas (and possibly other "babblers"). Consequently, were the Zosteropidae to be retained as a family, these would be moved there.

List of genera

The family as currently constituted includes 53 species divided into the following nine genera:[3]


  1. ^ a b c Perrins, C. (1991). Forshaw, Joseph (ed.). Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds. London: Merehurst Press. pp. 188–190. ISBN 1-85391-186-0.
  2. ^ Hartert, Ernst (1910). Die Vögel der paläarktischen Fauna systematische Übersicht der in Europa, Nord-Asien und der Mittelmeerregion vorkommenden Vögel (in German). Volume 1. Berlin: R. Friedländer & Sohn. p. 469.
  3. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David, eds. (2017). "Babblers & fulvettas". World Bird List Version 7.3. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 31 July 2017.
  4. ^ Collar, N. J.; Robson, C. (2016). "Scimitar-babblers and allies". In del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D. A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 2: Passerines. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions.CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter (link)

External links

Bagobo babbler

The Bagobo babbler or Bagobo robin (Leonardina woodi) is a monotypic species of bird, once placed in the Old World babbler family Timaliidae, later placed in Pellorneidae, but molecular studies show it belongs to the family Muscicapidae.

It is endemic to the Philippines.

Black-eared shrike-babbler

The black-eared shrike-babbler (Pteruthius melanotis) is a bird species in the vireo family, Vireonidae. It was traditionally considered as an aberrant Old World babbler and formerly placed in the family Timaliidae. It was long noted that their habits resembled those of vireos, but this was previously ascribed to the result of convergent evolution. It is found in Southeast Asia from the Himalayas to western Malaysia. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist montane forests.

Bold-striped tit-babbler

The bold-striped tit-babbler (Macronus bornensis) is a species of Old World babbler found in Southeast Asia.

Cachar wedge-billed babbler

The Cachar wedge-billed babbler or chevron-breasted babbler (Sphenocichla roberti) is a species of bird in the Old World babbler family (Timaliidae). It is named for the Cachar Hills in southern Assam.

It is found from Northeast India, in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and nearby areas. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests and subtropical or tropical moist montane forests. It is becoming rare due to habitat loss.


Several unrelated groups of songbirds are called catbirds because of their wailing calls, which resemble a cat's meowing. The genus name Ailuroedus likewise is from the Greek for "cat-singer" or "cat-voiced".Australasian catbirds are the genera Ailuroedus and the monotypic Scenopooetes. They belong to the bowerbird family (Ptilonorhynchidae) of the basal songbirds:

Ochre-breasted catbird (Ailuroedus stonii)

White-eared catbird (Ailuroedus buccoides)

Tan-capped catbird (Ailuroedus geislerorum)

Green catbird (Ailuroedus crassirostris)

Spotted catbird (Ailuroedus melanotis)

Huon catbird (Ailuroedus astigmaticus)

Black-capped catbird (Ailuroedus melanocephalus)

Black-eared catbird (Ailuroedus melanotis)

Arfak catbird (Ailuroedus arfakianus)

Northern catbird (Ailuroedus jobiensis)

Tooth-billed catbird, Scenopooetes dentirostrisNew World catbirds are two monotypic genera from the mimid family (Mimidae) of the passeridan superfamily Muscicapoidea. Among the Mimidae, they represent independent basal lineages probably closer to the Caribbean thrasher and trembler assemblage than to the mockingbirds and Toxostoma thrashers:

Gray catbird, Dumetella carolinensis

Black catbird, Melanoptila glabrirostrisThe Abyssinian catbird (Parophasma galinieri) represents a monotypic genus from Africa. It is tentatively placed in the Old World babbler family (Timaliidae) of the passeridan superfamily Sylvioidea, but possibly closer to the typical warblers of the Sylviidae.

Dark-fronted babbler

The dark-fronted babbler (Rhopocichla atriceps) is an Old World babbler found in the Western Ghats of India and the forests of Sri Lanka. They are small chestnut brown birds with a dark black cap, a whitish underside and pale yellow iris. They forage in flocks in the undergrowth of forests constantly making calls and uttering alarm calls when disturbed.

Fire-tailed myzornis

The fire-tailed myzornis (Myzornis pyrrhoura) is a bird species formerly placed in the Old World babbler family (Timaliidae). Its genus Myzornis is monotypic, and has recently been placed in the (much reduced) Old World warbler family Sylviidae.


Fulvetta is a songbird genus. Originally proposed in 1877, it was recently reestablished for the typical fulvettas, which were long included with their presumed relatives in the Timaliidae (Old World babbler) genus Alcippe. But they are actually quite closely related to the typical warblers and therefore a member of the family Sylviidae.

It contains the following species:

Spectacled fulvetta, Fulvetta ruficapilla

Indochinese fulvetta, Fulvetta danisi

Chinese fulvetta, Fulvetta striaticollis

White-browed fulvetta, Fulvetta vinipectus

Grey-hooded fulvetta, Fulvetta cinereiceps

Taiwan fulvetta, Fulvetta formosana

Manipur fulvetta, Fulvetta manipurensis

Brown-throated fulvetta, Fulvetta ludlowi

Indian scimitar babbler

The Indian scimitar babbler (Pomatorhinus horsfieldii) is an Old World babbler. It is found in peninsular India in a range of forest habitats. They are most often detected by their distinctive call which is an antiphonal duet produced by pairs within small groups. They are often hard to see as they forage through dense vegetation. The long curve yellow, scimitar-shaped bills give them their name. It has been treated in the past as subspecies of the white-browed scimitar babbler which is found along the Himalayas but now separated into two species, the peninsular Indian species and the Sri Lanka scimitar babbler (Pomatorhinus melanurus).


Leiothrix may refer to:

Leiothrix (bird), a genus in the Old World babbler family

Leiothrix (plant), a genus in the family Eriocaulaceae


Neomixis is a genus of small forest birds that are endemic to Madagascar.

The genus was introduced by the English zoologist Richard Bowdler Sharpe in 1881. The type species is the stripe-throated jery (Neomixis striatigula). The genus was formerly placed in the Old World babbler family but is now considered to belong to the Cisticolidae family.

The genus comprises three species:

Stripe-throated jery (Neomixis striatigula)

Common jery (Neomixis tenella)

Green jery (Neomixis viridis)Another species the wedge-tailed jery (Hartertula flavoviridis) was until recently placed in this genus but biochemical studies suggest its true relationships lie elsewhere.

Pied shrike-babbler

The pied shrike-babbler (Pteruthius flaviscapis) is a bird species traditionally considered an aberrant Old World babbler and placed in the family Timaliidae. But as it seems, it belongs to an Asian offshoot of the American vireos and may well belong in the Vireonidae. Indeed, since long it was noted that their habits resemble those of vireos, but this was believed to be the result of convergent evolution.

It is endemic to Java. It was formerly considered a subspecies of the White-browed shrike-babbler.

Pin-striped tit-babbler

The pin-striped tit-babbler (Macronus gularis), also known as the yellow-breasted babbler, is a species of Old World babbler found in South and Southeast Asia.

Sikkim wedge-billed babbler

The Sikkim wedge-billed babbler or blackish-breasted babbler (Sphenocichla humei) is a species of bird in the Old World babbler family (Timaliidae). It is named for the Indian state of Sikkim.

It is found in the Indian subcontinent and nearby parts of Southeast Asia. Its range includes Bhutan, India, Myanmar, and Nepal. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests and subtropical or tropical moist montane forests. It is becoming rare due to habitat loss.

Slender-billed scimitar babbler

The slender-billed scimitar babbler (Pomatorhinus superciliaris) is a passerine bird in the Old World babbler family. It is found from the Himalayas to north-western Vietnam. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist montane forests.

The slender-billed scimitar babbler was formerly placed in the monotypic genus Xiphirhynchus. It was moved to Pomatorhinus based on the results of a molecular phylogenetic study of the babblers published in 2009 that showed that it nested within a clade with other members of Pomatorhinus.


Sylviidae is a family of passerine birds that includes the typical warblers, parrotbills, the wrentit, and a number of babblers formerly placed within the Old World babbler family. They are found in Eurasia, Africa, and the west coast of North America.


Yuhina (from yuhin, Nepali for Y. gularis) is a genus of bird which is placed in the Zosteropidae family by recent molecular phylogeny studies or included within the Old World babbler Timaliidae family.It contains the following species:

Striated yuhina (Yuhina castaniceps)

Indochinese yuhina (Yuhina torqueola)

Chestnut-crested yuhina (Yuhina everetti)

White-naped yuhina (Yuhina bakeri)

Whiskered yuhina (Yuhina flavicollis)

Burmese yuhina (Yuhina humilis)

Stripe-throated yuhina (Yuhina gularis)

White-collared yuhina (Yuhina diademata)

Rufous-vented yuhina (Yuhina occipitalis)

Taiwan yuhina (Yuhina brunneiceps)

Black-chinned yuhina (Yuhina nigrimenta)The white-bellied yuhina (Erpornis zantholeuca) was formerly in this genus.

Yunnan parrotbill

The Yunnan parrotbill (Sinosuthora brunnea ricketti) is a parrotbill in the Old World babbler family. This 10 cm long parrotbill is endemic to China, breeding in northwest Yunnan.

It is often considered conspecific with the brown-winged parrotbill, Sinosuthora brunnea, (sometimes the vinous-throated parrotbill, Sinosuthora webbiana). Its behaviour is described as similar to that of vinous-throated.


Zosterornis is a genus of passerine bird in the Old World babbler family Zosteropidae (Moyle et al., 2009), although some taxonomists continue to place the genus in the Old World babbler family Timaliidae. The genus is endemic to the Philippines.

It contains the following species:

Chestnut-faced babbler, Zosterornis whiteheadi

Luzon striped babbler, Zosterornis striatus

Panay striped babbler, Zosterornis latistriatus

Negros striped babbler, Zosterornis nigrorum

Palawan striped babbler, Zosterornis hypogrammicus

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