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Magpie Robin
Copsychus saularis

Oriental Magpie Robin, Straits Robin, Magpie,
Murai/Murai Kampung/Cerang (Malay)


The Magpie Robin's sad story is a parable of near extinction in Singapore. Magpie Robins were once widespread and common in Singapore, as they still are in Peninsular Malaysia. But they were nearly wiped out in Singapore. Happily, they have made a slow comeback through reintroduction efforts, although their status remains vulnerable (see details below). Sungei Buloh Nature Park is among the few strongholds on the main island for this delightful bird.

Magpie Robins have a varied diet of fruits and animals but are particularly fond of insects and worms. They forage in trees as well as on the ground, where they hop with their tail raised. They also sip nectar.
Mangrove and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
Main features: Large (20-23cm); bill black; legs grey.

Male: Black head, breast and upperparts; underparts white; tail black with white outer feathers; bold white wingbars.

Female:
Back upperparts and breast replaced by dull dark grey.

Juvenile: As in the adult but with mottled brown breast
magpie robin on a perch
Male
female magpie robin
Female
Photo from
Morten Strange
Call: Described as a melodious song; a mournful rising whistle; and harsh raspy alarm note.

Status in Singapore:
Rare resident on the main island, uncommon resident in offshore islands.

World distribution: Pakistan across the Asian subcontinent to the Philippines, Borneo and Java.

Classification: Family Muscicapidae (which also includes Thrushes, Flycatchers, Chats). World 449 species, Singapore 19 species.
They prefer open areas such as mangroves, gardens, cultivated areas. They are not found in the deep forest.

Magpie Robins have a delightful varied song and are said to be able to imitate the calls of other birds. They are sprightly and lively, often cocking their long tails. They are easy to spot as they are not shy and sing from exposed perches. Sometimes, they may abruptly sing in at night!

Breeding: Magpie Robins breed in January to June. Males court females with hearty song, usually at dawn and dusk, moving their tails up and down in tune. They can be very territorial during breeding. They build their nests almost anywhere from thick shrubs, in the fork of branches of small trees, palms (at the base of the palm frond), hollow trees and even near human habitation: under a veranda, in a hole in the wall, in an old tin can, and in stables. Nests are usually built low. Their nests are large, untidy, shallow cups loosely made from grass or dried leaves, twigs, moss, roots. These are lined with fibres or grass. 3-5 eggs are laid, pale blue or greenish with brown or purple spots. The female incubates, but both raise the young.

Migration? Magpie Robins don't migrate.

Status and threats: The Magpie Robin was once among the top three most common garden birds in the 1920's. By the late 1970's, it became virtually extinct on Singapore and was only found on some offshore islands. This was caused mainly by illegal trapping for the cage-bird trade, competition from the better-adapted Mynas (Acridotheres spp.) and loss of their favoured habitats: mangroves and rural areas. In the 1980's, C J Hails initiated a reintroduction programme of the birds to protected areas. This, combined with increased public awareness of the Magpie Robin's plight, resulted in a slow increase in numbers. Magpie Robins are still considered vulnerable in Singapore. In Malaysia, Magpie Robins are still common and are not protected by law. They continue to be trapped for the caged-bird trade.


LINKS

REFERENCES
  To buy these references & others, visit
Nature's Niche
  • Morten Strange, "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Malaysia and Singapore: including Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Borneo", Periplus, 2000 (p. 296: description, voice, habits, distribution, status, photo).
  • Morten Strange, "Tropical Birds of Malaysia and Singapore", Periplus Editions, 2000 (p. 52: habits, habitat, photo).
  • Lim Kim Seng, "Pocket Checklist of the Birds of the Republic of Singapore", Nature Society (Singapore), 1999 (Abundance, status, Chinese and Malay names).
  • Morten Strange, "Birds of Southeast Asia: A photographic guide to the birds of Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia", New Holland, 1998 (p. 81: photo, facts).
  • Lim Kim Seng and Dana Gardner, "Birds: An Illustrated Field Guide to the Birds of Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing Ltd., 1997 (p. 102: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, diagram, number of species).
  • G W H Davison and Chew Yen Fook, "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore", New Holland Publishers Ltd., 1995 (p. 94: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, photo).
  • Morten Strange and Allen Jeyarajasingam, "Birds: A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing, 1993 (p. 56: description, distribution, habits, habitat, photo).
  • Clive Briffett, "A Guide to the Common Birds of Singapore", BP Science Centre,1992 (p. 113: habit, habitat).
  • Christopher Hails, "Birds of Singapore" illustrated by Frank Jarvis, Times Editions, 1987 reprinted 1995 (p. 129: habits, description, status in Singapore, and lovely drawings of the birds).
  • Lim Kim Seng, "Vanishing Birds of Singapore", Nature Society (Singapore), 1992 (p. 15, 46-47: status in Singapore).
  • M W F Tweedie, "Common Birds of the Malay Peninsula", Longman,1970 (p. 47: description, distribution, habits, habitat, drawing).
  • G C Madoc, "An Introduction to Malayan Birds", Malayan Nature Society, 1947 (p. 168-167: description, habits, habitat).
  • Sir John A S Bucknill and E N Chasen, "Birds of Singapore and South-East Asia", Tynron Press, 1927, edition 1990 (p. 190-191: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, field notes on habits, drawings).
  • Prof. Dr. Yong Hoi Sen (ed.), "The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Animals"; Songbirds by Siti Hawa bt Yatim, Editions Didier Millet, 1998 (p. 46: habits, habitats).
  • Dr. Harold G Cogger (et. al), "Encyclopedia of Animals"; Dippers and Thrushes by C. Perrins, 1993 (p. 406-407: habits, habitats).
 
By Ria Tan, 2001