Indian robin

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Indian robin
Male of the subspecies cambaiensis
(Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India)
Female of the subspecies cambaiensis
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Muscicapidae
Genus: Copsychus
C. fulicatus
Binomial name
Copsychus fulicatus
(Linnaeus, 1766)
  • Motacilla fulicata Linnaeus, 1766[2][3]
  • Saxicoloides fulicata (Linnaeus, 1766)
  • Sylvia cambaiensis (Latham, 1790)
  • Thamnobia cambaiensis (Latham, 1790)
  • Thamnobia fulicata (Linnaeus, 1766)
  • Sylvia ptymatura[4]
Indian robin (Copsychus fulicatus) sound

The Indian robin (Copsychus fulicatus)[note 1] is a species of passarine bird in the family Muscicapidae. It is widespread in the Indian subcontinent and ranges across Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The males of the northern subspecies have brown backs whose extent gradually reduces southwards, with the males of the southern subspecies having all-black backs. They are commonly found in open scrub areas and often seen running along the ground or perching on low thorny shrubs and rocks. The long tail is usually held up and the chestnut undertail coverts and dark body make them easily distinguishable from pied bushchats and Oriental magpie-robins.


In 1760, the French zoologist Mathurin Jacques Brisson included a description of the Indian robin in his Ornithologie based on a specimen that he mistakenly believed had been collected in the Philippines. He used the French name Le grand traquet des Philippines and the Latin Rubetra Philippensis Major.[5] Although Brisson coined Latin names, these do not conform to the binomial system and are not recognised by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature.[6] When the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus updated his Systema Naturae for the 12th edition in 1766, he added 240 species that had been previously described by Brisson.[6] One of these was the Indian robin. Linnaeus included a brief description, coined the binomial name Motacilla fulicata and cited Brisson's work.[7] The type location was subsequently corrected to Puducherry in southern India.[8] The specific name is from the Latin fulicatus for "dusky" or "black".[9]

The Indian robin was formerly placed in the monotypic genus Saxicoloides. It was moved to Copsychus based on the results of molecular phylogenetic studies of birds in the family Muscicapidae.[10][11][12][13]


Male from Andhra Pradesh, showing features of intermedius

The Indian robin is sexually dimorphic in plumage, with the male being mainly black with a white shoulder patch or stripe whose visible extent can vary with posture. The northern populations have the upper plumage brownish, while the southern populations are black above. The males have chestnut undertail coverts and these are visible as the bird usually holds the 6–8 cm long tail raised upright. The females are brownish above, have no white shoulder stripe and are greyish below, with the vent a paler shade of chestnut than the males. Birds of the northern populations are larger than those from southern India or Sri Lanka. Juvenile birds are much like females, but the throat is mottled.[14]

Several subspecies are named based on their plumage differences. The nominate subspecies refers to the population found across southern peninsular India. The subspecies leucopterus is found in Sri Lanka. In the two subspecies cambaiensis of northern and north-western India and erythrura (=erythrurus) of north-eastern India (south to around Sambalpur),[15] the males have brown backs. The subspecies intermedius includes birds in appearance between cambaiensis, erythrura and fulicata, the last one found in central India and parts of the Deccan region. The subspecies munda was named based on a specimen from the Punjab, but it is now considered synonymous with cambaiensis.[16] Older classifications treat the population in southern India as the subspecies ptymatura while considering the type locality as Sri Lanka,[17] although it has subsequently been restricted to Pondicherry.[18]

Local names recorded by Jerdon include Nalanchi (Telugu), Wannatikuruvi (Tamil, Washerman bird), Dayaal (Marathi) Kalchuri (Hindi) and Paan kiriththaa (Sinhala).[19] The former genus name indicates that it looks similar to Saxicola, the genus of the pied bushchat, a bird often found in similar habitats.

Male fulicatus from Tharparkar, Sindh
Male from Tharparkar, Sindh, Pakistan

Distribution and habitat[edit]

This bird is found in open stony, grassy and scrub forest habitats. They are mainly found in dry habitats and are mostly absent from the thicker forest regions and high rainfall areas. All populations are resident and non-migratory. The species is often found close to human habitation and will frequently perch on rooftops.[14][17]

The species was introduced into the New York region, but did not become established there.[20][21] A vagrant or escape has been noted from the Maldives.[14]


Population densities of 193-240 individuals per square km have been estimated in the Pondicherry University campus. The ratio of males to females was about 1.5:1. Territory size for males is estimated at about 6650 m2.[22] Males can be aggressive to others during the breeding season and will even attack reflections.[23] Human activities such as felling and firewood removal in forests appear to benefit them.[24]


They feed mostly on insects but are known to take frogs and lizards especially when feeding young at the nest.[25] Individuals may forage late in the evening to capture insects attracted to lights.[26]


Nest with eggs

The breeding season is December to September, but varies according to region and usually begins with the first rains.[27] Peak breeding in northern India is in June[28] and is earlier in Southern India.[27] In Sri Lanka, breeding is in March to June and August to September.[14] Males sing during this season and display by lowering and spreading their tail feathers and strutting around the female, displaying their sides and fluffing their undertail coverts.[29] The songs of males have variants for inviting mates and for deterring other males.[30] Males will drive away other males and patrol their territory by flying with slow wing beats from perch to perch. They may sometimes peck at their reflections.[31] An aggressive display involves fluffing up the feathers and holding the bill high.[32]

Male feeding young (Parli, India)

Nests are built between rocks, in holes in walls or in a tree hollow[33] and are lined with animal hair. It has been noted that many of them are also lined with pieces of snakeskin sloughs.[17][34][35] The eggs are of regular oval form, but many are elongated and a few pointed. They have a fair amount of gloss. The ground colour is white, often tinged with faint green or pink which is rather closely spotted, speckled, streaked, or mottled with rich reddish- or umber-brown and brownish-yellow with some underlying lavender. The markings are denser at the larger end of the egg, where they form an irregular cap. Some eggs are blotched with dark reddish-brown at the large end. They are about 0.76–0.84 inches (1.9–2.1 cm) long and 0.55–0.62 inches (1.4–1.6 cm) wide.[28] Three to four eggs is the usual clutch.[36] An abnormal clutch of seven has been noted, although none of the eggs hatched at this nest.[37] Only the female incubates the eggs,[38] which then hatch in about 10–12 days.[32] The chicks have black down.[27] Both males and females feed the young, the male sometimes passing food to the female who, in turn, feeds the young.[32][39] Nestlings may feign dead (thanatosis) when handled[32] and may be preyed on by the rufous treepie.[40] The same nest site may be reused in subsequent years.[32][41]

An old anecdotal record of these birds laying their eggs in the nests of Turdoides babblers has not been supported by later observers.[42] Laboratory studies have demonstrated cyclic changes in the melanin pigmentation of the tissue surrounding the testes. The dark pigmentation is lost during the breeding season and regained later.[43]


Several parasites, including a cestode, have been identified in this species.[44][45]


  1. ^ Rasmussen & Anderton emend the species epithet from fulicata to fulicatus since Saxicola is masculine and the -oides ending is always masculine according to ICZN Code ICZN Code Archived 2015-09-24 at the Wayback Machine. See also David, Normand; Gosselin, Michel (2002). "The grammatical gender of avian genera". Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club. 122 (4): 257–282.


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Saxicoloides fulicatus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2012. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  2. ^ Linnaeus (1766). Systema Naturae i:336 (Ceylon).
  3. ^ Baker, E C Stuart (1921). "A hand-list of genera and species of birds of the Indian Empire". J. Bom. Nat. Hist. Soc. 27 (1): 87.
  4. ^ George Robert Gray (1855). Catalogue of the Genera and Subgenera of Birds Contained in the British Museum. British Museum Natural History. p. 36.
  5. ^ Brisson, Mathurin Jacques (1760). Ornithologie, ou, Méthode contenant la division des oiseaux en ordres, sections, genres, especes & leurs variétés (in French and Latin). Vol. 3. Paris: Jean-Baptiste Bauche. pp. 444–446, Plate 23 fig 2. The two stars (**) at the start of the section indicates that Brisson based his description on the examination of a specimen.
  6. ^ a b Allen, J.A. (1910). "Collation of Brisson's genera of birds with those of Linnaeus". Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History. 28: 317–335. hdl:2246/678.
  7. ^ Linnaeus, Carl (1766). Systema naturae : per regna tria natura, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis (in Latin). Vol. 1, Part 1 (12th ed.). Holmiae (Stockholm): Laurentii Salvii. p. 336.
  8. ^ Mayr, Ernst; Paynter, Raymond A. Jr, eds. (1964). Check-list of Birds of the World. Vol. 10. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Museum of Comparative Zoology. pp. 133–134.
  9. ^ Jobling, J.A. (2018). del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J.; Christie, D.A.; de Juana, E. (eds.). "Key to Scientific Names in Ornithology". Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions. Retrieved 10 May 2018.
  10. ^ Sangster, G.; Alström, P.; Forsmark, E.; Olsson, U. (2010). "Multi-locus phylogenetic analysis of Old World chats and flycatchers reveals extensive paraphyly at family, subfamily and genus level (Aves: Muscicapidae)". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 57 (1): 380–392. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2010.07.008. PMID 20656044.
  11. ^ Zuccon, D.; Ericson, P.G.P. (2010). "A multi-gene phylogeny disentangles the chat-flycatcher complex (Aves: Muscicapidae)". Zoologica Scripta. 39 (3): 213–224. doi:10.1111/j.1463-6409.2010.00423.x. S2CID 85963319.
  12. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David (eds.). "Chats, Old World flycatchers". World Bird List Version 6.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 20 May 2016.
  13. ^ Voelker, Gary; Peñalba, Joshua V.; Huntley, Jerry W.; Bowie, Rauri C. K. (2014-04-01). "Diversification in an Afro-Asian songbird clade (Erythropygia–Copsychus) reveals founder-event speciation via trans-oceanic dispersals and a southern to northern colonization pattern in Africa". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 73: 97–105. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2014.01.024. PMID 24508703.
  14. ^ a b c d Rasmussen PC; Anderton, JC (2005). Birds of South Asia: The Ripley Guide. Volume 2. Smithsonian Institution and Lynx Edicions. p. 396.
  15. ^ Majumdar, N (1980). "Occurrence of the Bengal Black Robin, Saxicoloides fulicata erythrura (Lesson) [Muscicapidae: Turdinae], and the Assam Purple Sunbird, Nectarinia asiatica intermedia (Hume) [Nectariniidae] in Orissa State". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 77 (2): 334.
  16. ^ Van Tyne, J.; W. Koelz (1936). "Seven new birds from the Punjab". Occ. Pap. Mus. Zool. Univ. Michigan. 334: 5.
  17. ^ a b c Hugh Whistler (1941). Popular Handbook of Indian Birds (3rd ed.). Gurney and Jackson. pp. 104–106.
  18. ^ Ripley, SD (1952). "The Thrushes" (PDF). Postilla. 13: 1–48. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-06-27.
  19. ^ Jerdon, T. C. (1863). The Birds of India. Volume 2 (part 1). Military Orphan Press, Calcutta. pp. 121.
  20. ^ USFWS (2005-03-15). "Notices - Federal Register - March 15, 2005 Vol. 70, No. 49" (PDF). US Fish and Wildlife Service. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-09-24. Retrieved 2008-09-30.
  21. ^ Bull, J. (1974). Birds of New York state. American Museum of Natural History, New York.
  22. ^ Rajasekhar, B (1993). "Use of line transects to estimate Indian Robin (Saxicoloides fulicata) population at Pondicherry University Campus". In Verghese, A; Sridhar, S; Chakravarthy, AK (eds.). Bird Conservation: Strategies for the Nineties and Beyond. Ornithological Society of India, Bangalore. p. 191..
  23. ^ Wikramanayake, EB (1952). "Blackbacked Robin attacking car". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 50 (3): 656.
  24. ^ Kumar, Raman; Shahabuddin, Ghazala (2006). "Consequences of Rural Biomass Extraction for Bird Communities in an Indian Tropical Dry Forest and the Role of Vegetation Structure" (PDF). Conservation and Society. 4 (4): 562–591. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-08-21.
  25. ^ Sivasubramanian, C (1991). "Frog and lizard in the dietary of the Indian Robin Saxicoloides fulicata (Linn.)". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 88 (3): 458.
  26. ^ Bharos, A. M. K. (1997). "Indian Robin Saxicola fulicata foraging in the light of fluorescent lamps". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 94: 571.
  27. ^ a b c Betts, F N (1951). "The birds of Coorg. Part 1". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 50 (1): 20–63.
  28. ^ a b Oates, E W (1905). Catalogue of the collection of birds' eggs in the British Museum. Vol. 4. pp. 151–153.
  29. ^ Thyagaraju, A. S. (1955). "The courtship (?) display of the Blackbacked Indian Robin [Saxicoloides fulicata (Linn.)]". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 53 (1): 129–130.
  30. ^ Kumar, A (2012). "Breeding biology of Indian Robin Saxicoloides fulicata in northern India" (PDF). J. Exp. Zool. India. 15 (1): 57–61.
  31. ^ Wikramanayake, E.B. (1952). "Blackbacked robin [Saxicoloides f. fulicata (Linn.)] attacking car". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 50 (3): 656.
  32. ^ a b c d e Ali, S; S Dillon Ripley (1998). Handbook of the birds of India and Pakistan. Vol. 9 (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. pp. 61–67.
  33. ^ Shanbhag, AB; Gramopadhye, A (1996). "Peculiar nesting site and some observations on the breeding behaviour of Indian Robin Saxicoloides fulicata Linn". Newsletter for Birdwatchers. 36 (1): 3–5.
  34. ^ Strecker, John K (1926). "On the use, by birds, of snakes' sloughs as nesting material" (PDF). The Auk. 43 (4): 501–507. doi:10.2307/4075138. JSTOR 4075138.
  35. ^ Beavan, RC (1867). "Notes on various Indian birds". Ibis. 3 (12): 430–455. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919X.1867.tb06443.x.
  36. ^ Oates, E. W. 1890 (1889–98). The Fauna of British India, Including Ceylon and Burma. Birds. Volume 2. Taylor and Francis London. pp. 115.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  37. ^ Javed, Salim (1990). "Abnormal clutch in Indian Brownbacked Robin Saxicoloides fulicata cambaiensis (Latham)". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 89 (2): 258.
  38. ^ Ali, S (1997). The Book of Indian Birds (12th ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-563731-1. OCLC 214935260.
  39. ^ George, JC (1961). "Parental cooperation in the feeding of nestlings in the Indian Robin". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 58 (1): 267–268.
  40. ^ Begbie, A (1905). "Nest of the Brown-backed Indian Robin Thamnobia cambaiensis". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 16 (3): 513.
  41. ^ Naik, RM (1963). "On the nesting habits of the Indian Robin, Saxicoloides fulicata (Linnaeus)". Newsletter for Birdwatchers. 3 (9): 7.
  42. ^ Field, F (1902). "Robin laying in babbler's nest". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 14 (3): 610–611.
  43. ^ Agrawal SC, Bansal G (1983). "Instance of melanosis in the gonads of male Indian Robin, Saxicoloides fulicata (Lin)". Poult. Sci. 62 (2): 385–388. doi:10.3382/ps.0620385. PMID 6835913.
  44. ^ Shinde GB, Gharge MD, Gavhane AB, Jadhav BV (1990). "A new avian cestode from Saxicoloides fulicata at Aurangabad (M.S.) India". Rivista di Parassitologia. 51 (3): 255–257.
  45. ^ Harry Hoogstraal; Harold Trapido (1 June 1963). "Haemaphysalis kutchensis sp. n., a Common Larval and Nymphal Parasite of Birds in Northwestern India (Ixodoidea, Ixodidae)". The Journal of Parasitology. 49 (3): 489–497. doi:10.2307/3275824. ISSN 0022-3395. JSTOR 3275824.

Other sources[edit]

  • George, JC (1963) Some observations on the breeding behaviour of the Indian Robin, Saxicoloides fulicata (Linnaeus). Pavo 1(2):71-78.
  • Magon, VK (1979) Distribution of acid phosphatase in the digestive system of two Indian birds, Uroloncha malabarica and Saxicoloides fulicata. Pavo 17(1&2):27-32.
  • Rajvanshi, G; Gupta, MM; Yeshowardhana; Singh, VS. (1985) Histochemical localization of calcium and iron in the gonad of male Indian Robin (Saxicoloides fulicata). Pavo 23(1&2):31-36.
  • Rajvanshi, G; Gupta, MM; Bhatnagar, VK; Bhatnagar, Sumar (1985) Cyclic changes in Carbohydrate localization in gonad of male Indian Robin Saxicoloides fulicata (Linn.). Pavo 23(1&2):41-46.
  • Gupta, MM; Rajvanshi, G; Singh, VS. (1986) Histochemical localization of proteins and Tryptophane aminoacid in testis of Indian Robin Saxicoloides fulicata (Linn.). Pavo 24(1&2):69-76.
  • Culshaw, JC (1948). "Some observations on the territories of Blackbacked Indian Robins Saxicoloides fulicata fulicata, Linn". J. Bengal Nat. Hist. Soc. 22 (3): 92.
  • Stonor, CR (1944). "On the display of the Indian Robin, Saxicoloides fulicata (Linnaeus)". Ibis. 86 (1): 91–93. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919X.1944.tb07534.x.

External links[edit]