The Pachycephalidae are a family of bird species that includes the whistlers, shrikethrushes, and three of the pitohuis, and is part of the ancient Australo-Papuan radiation of songbirds. Its members range from small to medium in size, and occupy most of Australasia. Australia and New Guinea are the centre of their diversity and, in the case of the whistlers, the South Pacific islands as far as Tonga and Samoa and parts of Asia as far as India. The exact delimitation of boundaries of the family are uncertain, and one species, the golden whistler, has been the subject of intense taxonomic scrutiny in recent years, with multiple subspecies and species-level revisions.

Rufous Whistler male kobble
Rufous whistler (Pachycephala rufiventris)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Superfamily: Corvoidea
Family: Pachycephalidae
Swainson, 1831

Taxonomy and systematics

The genera Pachycare, Hylocitrea and the crested bellbird were previously included in the family Pachycephalidae until moved to the families Acanthizidae, Hylocitreidae and Oreoicidae respectively.[1] Some authorities have also placed the genus Mohoua, classified in the monotypic family Mohouidae, within the family Pachycephalidae.[2]

Taxonomic list

The whistler family has six extant genera as follows:[3]



The whistlers are stout birds with strong bills, and the group was once known as the thickheads due to the large rounded heads of many species. Their plumage is rufous, brown, or grey in the majority of species. Nevertheless, a few species, particularly the golden whistler and its close relatives, have bright plumage. One of the more unusual traits of this family is found in the feathers of some of the pitohuis, which have toxins.[4] These toxins are probably a deterrent to parasites and may also serve to dissuade predators from taking the birds.


Several species belonging to this family are outstanding songsters: the whistlers produce an astonishing volume for their size, and the lyrebirds aside, the grey shrikethrush is often regarded as the finest, most inventive songbird of them all.

Distribution and habitat

The whistlers are birds of forests and wooded areas. Most species inhabit rainforest, particularly in the Asian and Papuan parts of their range, but Australian species inhabit a wider range of habitats including woodlands, arid scrubland and mangrove forests. Some species are restricted to a particular ecosystem, whereas others are more catholic and will inhabit a range of habitat types.

Behaviour and ecology


Little is known about the breeding biology of most of the family; what is known generally comes from a small number of Australian species and the three New Zealand Mohoua species. They are monogamous and generally nest as simple pairs, although breeding groups have been recorded in some species.

Food and feeding

They are insectivorous, picking insects off leaves, branches, or leaf litter. While insects make up the majority of the diet they will also feed on spiders, worms, centipedes, snails, and small crabs; larger species will also tackle small vertebrates such as frogs, geckos and baby birds. They are generally sedate foragers and do not engage in hawking to obtain prey, instead being gleaners and probers. Only a few species migrate, most remaining resident in their tropical environment.[5]


  1. ^ IOC v.6.3
  2. ^ Aidala, Zachary; et al. (June 2013). "Phylogenetic relationships of the genus Mohoua, endemic hosts of New Zealand's obligate brood parasitic Long-tailed Cuckoo (Eudynamys taitensis)". Journal of Ornithology. doi:10.1007/s10336-013-0978-8.
  3. ^ "Whiteheads, sitellas & whistlers « IOC World Bird List". Retrieved 2017-03-10.
  4. ^ Dumbacher JP, Beehler BM, Spande TF, Garraffo HM, Daly JW (1992). "Homobatrachotoxin in the genus Pitohui: chemical defense in birds?". Science. 258 (5083): 799–801. doi:10.1126/science.1439786. PMID 1439786.
  5. ^ Garnett, Stephen (1991). Forshaw, Joseph (ed.). Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds. London: Merehurst Press. p. 201. ISBN 1-85391-186-0.

External links

Black pitohui

The black pitohui (Melanorectes nigrescens) is a species of bird in the monotypic genus of Melanorectes in the family Pachycephalidae.

It is found throughout the highlands of New Guinea.

Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests.

Bornean whistler

The Bornean whistler (Pachycephala hypoxantha), or Bornean mountain whistler, is a species of bird in the family Pachycephalidae. It is endemic to the island of Borneo.


Corvoidea is a superfamily of birds in the order of Passeriformes. It contains the following families:

Paramythiidae: tit berrypecker and crested berrypeckers

Psophodidae: whipbirds, jewel-babblers and quail-thrushes

Platysteiridae: wattle-eyes and batiss

Tephrodornithidae: woodshrikes and allies

Prionopidae: helmetshrikes

Malaconotidae: bush-shrikes

Machaerirynchidae: boatbills

Vangidae: vangas

Pityriaseidae: Bornean bristlehead

Artamidae: butcherbirds, currawongs and Australian magpie (formerly in Cracticidae)

Rhagologidae: mottled whistler

Aegithinidae: ioras

Campephagidae: cuckooshrikes and trillers

Mohouidae: whiteheads

Neosittidae: sittellas

Eulacestomidae: ploughbill

Oreoicidae: Australo-Papuan bellbirds

Pachycephalidae: whistlers, shrike-thrushes, pitohuis and allies

Laniidae: shrikes

Vireonidae: vireos

Oriolidae: orioles, figbirds and †piopio (formerly Turnagridae)

Dicruridae: drongos

Rhipiduridae: fantails

Monarchidae: monarchs and allies

Corvidae: crows, magpies, and jays

Corcoracidae: white-winged chough and apostlebird

Melampittidae: melampittas

Ifritidae: ifritabirds

Paradisaeidae: birds of paradise

Gilbert's whistler

The Gilbert's whistler (Pachycephala inornata), or black-lored whistler, is a species of bird in the family Pachycephalidae. It is endemic to southern Australia.


The goldenface (Pachycare flavogriseum) is a species of passerine bird endemic to New Guinea. It is the only species (monotypic) within the genus Pachycare.

Grey shrikethrush

The grey shrikethrush or grey shrike-thrush (Colluricincla harmonica), formerly commonly known as grey thrush, is one of the best-loved and most distinctive songbirds of Australasia. It is moderately common to common in most parts of Australia, but absent from the driest of the inland deserts. It is also found in New Guinea.

Lorentz's whistler

The Lorentz's whistler (Pachycephala lorentzi) is a species of bird in the family Pachycephalidae.

It is found on New Guinea.

Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist montane forests. It was originally described as a subspecies of the regent whistler

Mangrove whistler

The mangrove whistler (Pachycephala cinerea) is a species of bird in the family Pachycephalidae found in South-east Asia.

New Caledonian whistler

The New Caledonian whistler (Pachycephala caledonica) is a species of bird in the family Pachycephalidae.

It is endemic to New Caledonia.


The whistlers, shrike-thrushes and pitohuis are the fifty-seven species of birds from the subfamily Pachycephalinae. They are found in the ecozones of Australasia, Oceania and Indomalaya, but the vast majority of the species are found in Wallacea, New Guinea and Australia. Most genera are species-poor or monotypic, but Pachycephala (typical whistlers or thickheads) has a considerable diversity. The genera Pachycare and Hylocitrea were previously included in the subfamily Pachycephalinae until moved to the families Acanthizidae and Hylocitreidae respectively.

Genus Coracornis - 2 species

Genus Melanorectes – black pitohui

Genus Pachycephala – typical whistlers (47 species)

Genus Pseudorectes – 2 species

Genus Colluricincla – shrike-thrushes (5 species)


The pitohuis are bird species endemic to New Guinea. The onomatopoeic name is thought to be derived from that used by New Guineans from near Dorey (Manokwari) but it is also used as the name of a genus Pitohui which was established by the French naturalist René Lesson in 1831. The unitalicized common name however refers to perching birds that belong to several genera which belong to multiple bird families. The genera include Ornorectes, Melanorectes, and Pseudorectes apart from Pitohui.


Poecilodryas is a genus of passerine birds in the Australasian robin family Petroicidae.

The genus was erected by the English ornithologist and bird artist John Gould in 1865. The type species was subsequently designated as the buff-sided robin (Poecilodryas cerviniventris). The genus name combines the Ancient Greek poikilos "variegated" with dryad "tree-nymph".The genus contains four species:

Black-chinned robin (Poecilodryas brachyura)

Black-sided robin (Poecilodryas hypoleuca)

White-browed robin (Poecilodryas superciliosa)

Buff-sided robin (Poecilodryas cerviniventris)Formerly, some authorities also placed the following species (or subspecies) in the genus Poecilodryas:

Brown-backed whistler (now Pachycephala modesta in the family Pachycephalidae)

Golden monarch (nitidus) (now Carterornis nitida in the family Monarchidae)

Black-throated robin (now Plesiodryas albonotata)

Banded yellow robin (now Gennaeodryas placens)


Pseudorectes is a bird genus in the family Pachycephalidae endemic to New Guinea.

Samoan whistler

The Samoan whistler (Pachycephala flavifrons), also known as the yellow-fronted whistler, is a species of bird in the family Pachycephalidae. It is endemic to Samoa, where found in forest, plantations and gardens.

Sandstone shrikethrush

The sandstone shrikethrush (Colluricincla woodwardi) is a species of bird in the family Pachycephalidae.

It is endemic to Australia. Alternate names for the sandstone shrikethrush include the brown-breasted shrike-thrush and sandstone thrush.


A shrikethrush, also spelt shrike-thrush, is any one of five species of songbird that is a member of the genus Colluricincla. They have nondescript, predominantly brown or grey, plumage, but are accomplished singers, their calls described as "strong, mellow and beautiful." Shrikethrushes are generally insectivorous, though have been recorded eating molluscs and berries. They build cup-shaped nests in the forks of trees.

Sulphur-vented whistler

The sulphur-vented whistler or sulphur-bellied whistler (Pachycephala sulfuriventer) is a species of bird in the family Pachycephalidae. It is endemic to Sulawesi in Indonesia. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forest and subtropical or tropical moist montane forest.

Alternate names for the sulphur-vented whistler include the Celebes mountain whistler, Celebes whistler and yellow-vented whistler.

Tongan whistler

The Tongan whistler (Pachycephala jacquinoti) is a species of bird in the family Pachycephalidae. It is endemic to the islands of Vava'u and Late in Tonga. It is mainly found in tropical primary forest, but can sometimes be seen in second growth or wooded plantations. It is similar to the Australian golden whistler in appearance, but the head and throat of the male is entirely black, and the underparts of the female are yellow. The Tongan whistler is threatened by habitat loss. The Tongan whistler was also described by Jacques Pucheran in the genus Eopsaltria and has been variably considered as a subspecies of the golden whistler.

White-bellied pitohui

The white-bellied pitohui (Pseudorectes incertus) is a species of bird in the family Pachycephalidae.

It is found in New Guinea.

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