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    White-bellied Minivet Pericrocotus erythropygius  
    Mystery Bird of the Month - September 2002  
White-bellied Minivet Pericrocotus erythropgyius
White-bellied Minivet Pericrocotus erythropgyius copyright Vijay Cavale; 2002
  This month's mystery bird was a real challenge but it is a fact that we often get fleeting and somewhat distorted views of a flushed bird. Its always worth trying to have a go at identifying such a sighting in case it is something unusual so that it can be followed up. This bird certainly would have been worth the effort!

From the proportions it is obviously a passerine and the colour combination should quickly focus on the minivet group. A majority of people did just that but only a very few got the right species.

Of the eight species well-established on our list only the Small is widespread but not exactly common. The Scarlet is reasonably common in forests and the Long-tailed is not uncommon as a winter visitor in the north (it breeds in the Himalaya including Nepal). The Short-billed is probably overlooked (I haven't tracked it down yet!) but the other four are decidely scarce or rare and all sightings need to be reported. All the above named species plus the Ashy and the Grey-chinned have red or orange outer tail feathers so they can be ruled out immediately. One of the few very clear characters in this photo are the white outer tail feathers. The Ashy has white in the tail but it is basically a grey and white bird with a black rear crown and shawl.

So what we have here is an adult male White-bellied Minivet, one of India's most enigmatic birds. It was photographed by Vijay Cavale near Bangalore which is at the extreme southern end of its very limited range.

With care almost all the main id features can be seen. The red and white rump, the white wing flashes, the blackish hood. It is basically a black and white bird with the only reddish coloration on the lower rump and the upper breast. As such it is remarkably similar to a well-marked, long-tailed Common Stonechat, particularly one of the northern migrant races. The female is paler and greyer (rather similar to an Ashy) but always has orange on the rump.

The White-bellied Minivet is a bird of dry, open, low, thorn forest and tends to feed in pairs at rather low levels in scrub or lower branches. From recent reports, it is probably commonest in Rajasthan and the northern Deccan. There is some evidence that it moves east and south to winter and it has been recorded recently in eastern Haryana and as far east as eastern Madhya Pradesh. Certainly it tends to wander around in winter and should be kept in mind anywhere in the peninsula north to the Punjab and east to West Bengal. It really is one of our most striking birds if seen well. Keep them coming Vijay!

regards Bill


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