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Tropical Songbirds - Part 1

Updated on August 21, 2014

Sweet singers or sweet songbirds don't migrate, so unless you travel a lot, many people are not aware of some of Mother Nature's sweetest melodies. In the tropical parts of the world there are some interesting families of small birds not found in the Western Hemisphere. They are mainly, sweet singers. Some are brightly colored, but many wear quiet coats of sober hues.

These birds of the tropics do not migrate, though they wander a good bit, changing their home according to the wet or dry seasons. They are in general, insectivores, although some species also eat fruit and berries, and a few sip the nectar of flowers. In the case of the latter, most of their bills are curved at the tip and cannot be used to open hard seeds as, for example, a canary can.

Let's Take A Closer Look At The Songbirds Of The Tropics

A Satin Bowerbird Ptilonorhynchus violaceus
A Satin Bowerbird Ptilonorhynchus violaceus | Source

The Campephagidae (Caterpillar-eaters)

One large family of these small birds, the Campephagdae, or caterpillar-eaters, are widely distributed from Africa to India and from Australia to Japan. Among them are the Cuckoo Shrikes, and this group also includes:

  • Bowerbirds
  • Graybirds
  • Trillers
  • Minivets

They are forest birds. Their plumage is soft and fluffy, of sober hues in general, although some of the minivets are very brightly colored.

Regent Bowerbird, Sericulus chrysocephalus, male; wild bird
Regent Bowerbird, Sericulus chrysocephalus, male; wild bird | Source

The Bowerbirds

The Bowerbirds of Australia have a mottled plumage and the males bear a brightly colored crest on the nape of the neck. Bowerbirds have some remarkable habits. The males clear a space on the ground between two rows of grass stems and then arch the grasses inward and intertwine them to form a sort of shed or bower. Some add twigs to the structure.

The little builder decorates the entrance with whatever strikes its fancy: bright feathers, bee wings, sun-bleached bones, or shiny pebbles. The bowers are not nests. They are runs or dance halls, made to attract the females. When it comes time to make the actual nest, the male does not offer his services. The female instead, builds it in the branches of a tree.

One especially attractive variety of this songbird is the Satin Bowerbird (named for the satiny gloss on its feathers). It makes a little hut of twigs open at each end. The floor of the hut and the ground outside are covered with colored feathers, pebbles, and other bright objects.

Orchids on display at the Krohn Conservatory of Cincinnati
Orchids on display at the Krohn Conservatory of Cincinnati | Source

The Gardener Bird

The rare Gardener Bird of New Guinea makes a cone-shaped wigwam of moss and stems around the trunk of a tree. The preferred stems are those of an orchid, with flowers attached. The orchids actually stay fresh for some time.

A space outside the wigwam is cleared. Then, a mossy carpet is laid down by the bird and the orchids are planted there. When the flowers fade away, the bird throws them away and brings fresh ones.

Another unique thing that the Gardener Bird does is add brilliantly colored insects that it has caught to it's garden of orchids.

Graybirds (Cuckoo Shrikes)

The true Cuckoo Shrikes or Graybirds are, as the last names indicates, dressed in gray. They look something like cuckoos, and also something like Shrikes. The Barred Graybird, almost twelve inches long, is grayish, with black wing tips and tail. It's rumps and upper tail are white, barred with dark gray. It is found in the East Indies. There is also a species of Graybird, called the Keroula found in India.

Pied Triller, male (Lalage nigra striga
Pied Triller, male (Lalage nigra striga | Source

The Trillers

The Trillers, close relatives of the Bower Birds, are numerous in India, the East Indies, Australia, and in the South Sea islands. The Pied Triller of Indonesia and the Philippines is a trim black and white bird with a gray rump. While the Graybirds have a harsh chatter, the Trillers' song, as their name implies, is a trilled whistle.

Small Minivet Pericrocotus cinnamomeus at Bharatpur, Rajasthan, India.
Small Minivet Pericrocotus cinnamomeus at Bharatpur, Rajasthan, India. | Source

The Minivets

The Minivets of the East Indies, southern China and Japan are small birds, many of them having a bright plumage, of variegated black, red, orange, and yellow.

For instance, the Fiery Minivet, only six inches in total length, has a black cap and back, tail, with its tail and wings marked with scarlet and black. Then, it's forehead, chin, throat, and underparts are bright scarlet fading to orange toward the tail.

Just like with Tanagers, the males have the bright plumage, the females are brown and yellow. The Minivets make a small well-woven cup-shaped nest.

Wood Swallows (Wood Shrikes) Are Neither Swallows Nor Shrikes

The family of the Artamidae, sometimes called Wood Swallows or Wood Shrikes, is confined to Australia and the surrounding area. While they are unrelated to either Shrikes or Swallows, they resemble the first in their strong bill and the latter by their small feet, long wings, and powerful sustained flight. They live in flocks and hunt insects by plunging at them from their perch.

Their voices are a harsh chatter. The East Indian specials, the White Breasted Wood Swallow, is a short-tailed, dark gray bird with a bluish white bill and white rump and under parts.

Irena puella, San Diego Zoo aka Lightmatter fairy bluebird
Irena puella, San Diego Zoo aka Lightmatter fairy bluebird | Source

The Irenidae Forest Songsters

The Irenidae form of a small family of tropical forest songsters are among the most beautifully dressed of tires. Their bill is long and, as in most tree-dwelling birds, their feet are short and strong.

They are confined to south Asia and the East Indies. They feed on fruit. This bird family has three groups:

Ioras -- Small birds with plumage of olive-green, yellow, black and white.

Leafbirds -- Under eight inches in length, almost entirely vivid green except for patches of blue, yellow, or black.

Fairy Bluebirds -- The size of a robin, with bright blue and black under parts and coral red legs and beak.


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    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      8 years ago from United States

      Thanks stephhicks68! I have a bunch of topics that are close to my heart so enjoy writing these.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 

      8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      The minivets are especially beautiful. And I have to say I agree 100% with your last comment. Writing about nature not only helps the writer reconnect with nature, but can be inspirational for others that really should get out and enjoy the beauty that surrounds us. Really great series!

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      8 years ago from United States

      Thanks Eiddwen! One of the ways we as writers can help nature is to write about it. There are far too many people today who are disconnected from it by their busy lives.

    • Eiddwen profile image


      8 years ago from Wales

      Animals and nature are subjects very close to my heart and I loved this hub. We have a bird table with feeders out the back and it's lovely to see all the different birds that come and go.Especially one Robin who seems to be getting very tame. Thank you so much for sharing this one Jerilee Wei. Take care.

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      8 years ago from United States

      Thanks Hello, hello!

      Thanks Varenya! I watch them even here in the suburbs.

    • Varenya profile image


      8 years ago

      Thank you Jerilee, I really enjoyed this hub, as I am addicted to bird-watching from a long time; these birds are very beautiful and never seen before by me! I could remain hours enjoying the sweet melodies of the birds in the woods or in the wetlands...lovable!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      8 years ago from London, UK

      Thank you for writing such a wonderful hub.

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      8 years ago from United States

      Thanks alekhouse!

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 

      8 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Nice Jerilee, really enjpyed this

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      8 years ago from United States

      Thanks ecoggins! Awareness of our surroundings is the only way we are going to evolve into more compassionate earth stewards.

    • ecoggins profile image


      8 years ago from Corona, California

      What a beautiful array of birds! Most of us don't take enough time to enjoy the wonder of God's vast creation. Thank you for reminding us of the beauty that is around us.


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