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The Rail-babbler (Eupetes macrocerus), a chocolate-brown rail-like passerine, with a distinctive white head band and patches of red-orange plumage is an unusual bird that seems to have left scientists scratching their heads.
Eupetes macrocerus was first categorized with the Timaliidae (babbler) family, then moved to the Cinclosomatidae family (which includes a variety of mostly Australian birds, e.g., Quail Thrushes and Jewel-babblers), and then eventually to a family of its own, called Eupetidae. It’s since been suggested it should be placed into a largely African group of perching-birds that include the Rockjumper (Chaetops) and Rockfowls (Picartharthes) with which the Rail-babbler shares a number of characteristics, including position of their nostrils, shape of their foreheads, and tail.
Although mankind might be confused about where the Rail-babbler belongs, this shy songbird definitely knows where its physical home is, favoring tall lowland broadleaved forests with a dense canopy and well-vegetated floor, and sometimes swamps and moist, tropical forests. Its habitat range is the Malay Peninsula in southern Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, and the Greater Sundas on Sumatra, Borneo, and the Natuna Islands.
Sadly, many of these once-pristine habitats are being rapidly eroded due to the escalation of illegal logging and land conversion, even within protected areas. Forest fires have also had a damaging effect on reducing the biodiversity of these areas. This is why the Rail-babbler is classified as ‘Near Threatened’ by the ICUN Red List of Threatened Species, and, with its naturally timid, reclusive temperament, is a challenging and highly rewarding twitch. One of our birding guides, Andy Walker, has great memories of days spent crawling along the jungle floor looking for this great bird! According to Andy, the best tactic for finding this species is, “when you hear one (they have a distinctive long, monotonous whistling call and frog-like notes when agitated) find an area with a good view of the forest floor and sit it out and wait for it to walk into view!” The Rail-babbler is an incredible and interesting creature to watch; it bobs its head as it walks (a bit like a chicken) and definitely prefers to run rather than fly when it’s disturbed. It also dashes with great speed to catch its dinner – beetles, spiders, and worms are on the usual menu. Time to update your birding bucket-list?
So what’s the best birding tour for a chance to see a Rail-babbler?
Our 14 day Jewels of the South Thailand Birding Tour 2019 (05-18 January 2019) provides an excellent chance to see a Rail-babbler. The peninsula of southern Thailand is an incredible birding destination, lush and tropical with a unique mix of terrestrial and marine attractions.
This tour can also be combined with our Centrala and Northern Thailand 2019 (January 27 – February 18 2019) for a 21-day full Thailand birding experience.