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 Post subject: Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher - Kopi-Kurulla or Coffee-bird
 Post Posted: Fri May 06, 2005 12:22 am 
Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher
The Kopi-Kurulla or Coffee-bird

By Jagath Gunawardene


The name flycatcher is broadly applied to members of three related families of birds. Ten species belonging to these three families have been recorded from Sri Lanka. All flycatchers share certain basic characteristics. They have short, broad and flat beaks with wide gapes. A row of long, strong bristles known as the rictal bristles are found on the sides of the beak.This arrangement helps them to efficiently catch and consume flying insects while the birds are in flight. The long wings provide them good powers of flight and manoueverability necessary to pursue and capture flying prey. The weak, short legs makes it only possible to perch. Of the ten species of flycatchers recorded from Sri Lanka seven belong to the family Muscicapidee. This include the endemic Dusty Blue Flycatcher, four migrants and two residents.

The Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, (Muscicapa tikellae), one of the two residents, is known also as the Orange-breasted Blue Flycatcher and Tickell’s Niltava. In Sinhala, it is called the kopi-kurulla (Coffee bird) and Marawa (a common name for several species). It is 14c.m. (5 1/2 inches) in length, or about the size of a house sparrow. The upperparts of males are dull dark blue with a brilliant dark blue forehead and a line above eye. The lores and face are black. The chin, throat and breast are a dark, bright orange tinged with brown. The abdomen and undertail coverts are white. In females, the upperparts are duller and suffused with grey, giving a faded appearance. The orange in the underparts is similarly lighter and is almost yellow in some. Eyes are brown. Legs and feet grey. The beak is black.

It is an active bird that is found singly, as pairs during breeding periods or as small loose parties.

It does not mix well with others, both with individuals of the same species or other species. Individuals tend to keep away from each other for most of the time. When sitting, it adopts an upright stance, flicts the tail up and keeps on the alert by constantly looking around. This bird inhabits places with trees and thick undergrowth that provides shady, dark places. In such places, it flits restlessly from branch to branch and is mostly active in the mornings and evenings, spending the hot midday mostly at rest. It becomes quite agile in the evening and activity goes on till it is quite dark, which makes the thickets even darker. This shows that it is crepuscular in habits. The male often utters a whistling "chee-chi-chi", or a continuous "chi-chi-chi" but the quicter female would only utter an occasional "chik" as a call note.

The Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher is always seen on the lower branches and would come down to the ground at times. It feeds on a wide variety of small insects, caught on the wing and swallowed immediately. It makes a short sortie in pursuit of prey and always comes back to a perch either after catching the prey or missing it occasionally. Unlike the majority of flycatchers that rely totally on flying insects for food, this species may come down and pick prey off the ground at times. It was seen that not only ants and small insects, but even maggots were consumed in this manner. The crepusculer habits help it a lot to obtain food because large numbers of flying insects come out towards dusk. The blue colour of the upper parts makes it difficult to detect at dark shady places and provides it with a good camouflage.

Breeding occurs during the first half of the year, nests being found mainly from February to June, but can be occasionally found in other months as well. The nest is always constructed on a low place, less than a meter from the ground, in a hole or crevice of a tree or even of a building. The nest is constructed at a place that is well-concealed. Both birds bring nesting material and participate in the building. The nest is made up of plant fibre, parts of leaves, creepers and is shaped like a cup. The interior, which is about 6cm in diameter is lined with fine soft material.

Three or four eggs are laid in a nest. They are light greyish or greenish in colour with a lot of reddish-brown markings. Incubation is usually done by the females. The male keeps watch from a short distance, breaking into a song from time to time. Intruders are promptly chased away by both, often by vigorous pecking. The eggs take about 14 days to hatch and the young are born blind. They are constantly fed with small, soft-bodied insects by both parents and grow quite fast. They leave the nest after 12-14 days but stay in the company of the parents who continue to protect and feed them. They look distinctly different from the parents by being dark brown above with lighter markings and a dull white below.

The Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher inhabits, forests, scrubland and well-shaded homegardens in many rural areas. It is not shy of human beings and allows a close approach. Gardens with a lot of coffee bushes are a favourite haunt, providing the optimum conditions with a lot of branches and shady places to roam about. It is this preference to places with coffee bushes that has given it the Sinhala name "kopi-kurulla". In gardens it will be often seen near garbage heaps where there is always a lot of insects to feed ipon, but would avoid such places if there is no cover nearby. Other preferred places in home gardens are the shade provided by arecanut palm, jak, breadfruit and kadju trees.

It is found in the low country wet zone and the dry zone and in the hills upto 1,200 meters (4000 feet). It had been seen that it is more numerous in the wet zone. In the dry zone, the distribution is somewhat local, found mainly in wet places such as along rivers, canals and near tanks. The form found in Sri Lanka Muscicapa tickellas jerdoni is an endemic. This species has a wide distribution in the Indian sub-continent, Burma, Thailand, Indo-China to Malaysia Indonesia and Philippines.

— Jagath Gunawardene

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