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Bird in the Spotlight: Fire-tailed Myzornis

1 April, 2024

By Alexander Trifunovic

Fire-tailed Myzornis (Myzornis pyrrhoura) at Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary in India. Photo by soumyajit nandy, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.


The Fire-tailed Myzornis (Myzornis pyrrhoura) sounds more like a mythical creature than a bird, but this tiny, glistening green babbler is very real. Its plumage is emerald green and tinged with gold, accented by a black mask and speckled crown, and features a short tail set ablaze with crimson feathers, and the male has an additional red patch on his throat as if he has swallowed an ember. Fire-tailed Myzornis occur in Nepal, Bhutan, India, China, and Myanmar and make their homes at the foot of the highest mountain range in the world, the Himalayas. They are closely associated with juniper-rhododendron scrub and bamboo thickets in moist tropical and subtropical montane forests between 2000 and 4000m in elevation where their green plumage helps them disappear among the moss and mist. Fire-tailed Myzornis are active foragers, and they make frequent visits to flowering shrubs where they frantically search for spiders, insects, small fruits, nectar, and oozing tree sap. The evolutionary history and taxonomy of babblers, a large group of African and Asian birds that also includes Sylviid warblers, white-eyes, and laughingthrushes, has been a mystery for a long time, and the family Timaliidae served as a scrap bin for species that did not fit elsewhere. Recent genetic work published by Cai et al. in 2019 shed new light on this puzzle and reorganized phylogenetic relationships within the clade. The results divided babblers into seven distinct families that separated during the early Miocene between 18 and 20 million years ago. The Fire-tailed Myzornis is the sole extant member of its genus at the base of the parrotbill and Wrentit family (Paradoxornithidae), and Myzornis has been on a separate evolutionary trajectory for the last 17.5 million years.

Fire-tailed Myzornis on flowering Rhododendron. Photo by Christoph Moning, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.




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