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 Post subject: Orange-Headed Ground Thrush -
 Post Posted: Sat Feb 25, 2006 2:45 am 
Orange-Headed Ground Thrush (Thambili Wal-avichchiya )
Colourful but shy, and easily overlooked


by Jagath Gunawardane
@ The Island /25Feb2006

Thrushes, chats, robins, blackbirds, shames and wheatears belong to the family Turdidae. They are small or medium sized birds with long, strong legs, strong painted beeks, medium to large tails and strong wings. They have compact plumages and the young differ from adults in colouration. In some, there is sexual dimorphism, or differences in the colouration of males and females. The family Turdidae is represented by 18 species in Sri Lanka. This is comprised of eight residents, four regular winter visitors and six vagrants. Among the eight residents are three endemic species while the other five have three endemic sub-species.

The Orange-Headed Ground Thrush (Zoothera citrina citrina), also known as the orange-headed thrush, is a regular but rare winter visitor to Sri Lanka. It is known as Thambili Wal-avichchiya in Sinhala. This species is about 22 cm (9 inches) long or a little larger than the red-vented bulbul. It looks robust, with a square tipped medium-length tail and long wings. The head breast and upper abdomen are a dark bright orange which extends up to the vent in some. The wings and back are a slaty blue (grey-blue) and the wing coverts show a prominent white wing bar. The middle of the lower abdomen is white in some. The vent and undertail coverts are white. The tail is slaty blue. The beak is black and legs pink and in some tinged with light brown. The large dark brown eyes look almost black. The female has a dull brownish orange and a brownish tinged grey, making it dull in comparison to the tails. The brightness of the plumage is enhanced by the two complimentary colours, blue and orange.

This bird is seen mostly on the ground, hopping about in an upright stance. A shy, sulking bird, it prefers areas that are shaded and with a lot of undergrowth. It spends most of the time hopping around and the colours provide a good camouflage that make it difficult to spot. It is a loner during its stay in Sri Lanka. On arrival, it will select a territory, within which it could be observed throughout the season if it is not frightened off or a change makes it move away. An individual is seen year after year in some places during the migratory seasons, which could be the same individual returning to a preferred territory. It is seen in scrub jungles but individuals readily take up residence in well wooded home gardens where they are not disturbed.

The Orange-Headed Ground Thrush feeds mainly on small creatures and also on small fallen fruits. It has a preference for earth worms, which are searched by removing fallen leaves and by digging with the beak on occasion. An alert, active bird, it is difficult to approach it without being spotted. Some who are found in home gardens become less shy with passing time. It is most active in the mornings and evenings and continue hunting late into dusk. When disturbed, it flies onto a nearby branch and sits motionless, making it difficult to spot. It is usually silent but some occasionally utter a two note chik-chik. The alarm cell, uttered when disturbed or frightened, is a long drawn screeching "Kreee".

The Orange-Headed Ground Thrush arrives in Sri Lanka in October and stays on till the end of March. It is interesting to note that all the individuals that migrate to Sri Lanka belong to the Himalayan nominate subspecies Z. citrina citrina, identified by the unmarked orange head and the white wingbar, and to the Peninsular sub species Z. citrina cyanota which is easily differentiated by having a white face and two dark streaks below and behind the eyes. The nominate sub-species that come to Sri Lanka is found in North Pakistan and North India and migrates down during winter. The species, in several sub-species, is found in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, and Indonesia.

The first record of this species from Sri Lanka had been in 1870. It has been shot by Spencer Chapmen and sent to Lord Tweeddale who had named it as a new species under the name of Giocichla Layardi and the type locality has been given as Konda Wathewan near Ambara in the Eastern Province. The two subsequent records in the 19th century were from Jaffna and Hambantota. A pair had been recorded in 1947 in Hambantota and it was initially thought of as a rare straggler to the low country dry zone. However, it has been subsequently seen in both the wet zone and in the intermediate zone. A few are recorded every year from towns around Colombo such as Nugegoda, Nawala, and Kaduwela where they take up residence in home gardens. It was G. M. Henry (1917) who stated that as it is a shy bird, it would be easily overlooked and would be visiting Sri Lanka more often than the records show.

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