a web page by Don Roberson
BERRYHUNTER Rhagologidae
  • 1 species in montane New Guinea
  • DR personal total: 0 species (0%), 0 photo'd

The lone member of the Rhagologidae is Mottled Berryhunter, an obscure and unobtrusive passerine of montane forests of New Guinea (left, in a very nice photo by Lars Petersson). It has traditionally been aligned with whistlers, and until very recently was knows as "Mottled Whistler." Pratt & Beehler (2015) coined the new name Berryhunter for this enigma. I very much like this photo because the Berryhunter has located some fruit in the foreground. Coates (1990) explains that this bird is "mostly seen feeding on berries in fruiting shrubs. ... Feeds mainly on fruit up to 9mm diameter; a favorite is Homalanthus novaguineensis, a capsular [plant] also favoured by some birds of paradise."

Mottled Berryhunter frequents mainly the lower and middle levels of the forest interior, usually from 1500m to 2500m (about 5000-8000'), in the central ranges of New Guinea, and the mountains of the Vogelkop (far west) and Huon Peninsula (far east). Here it is "usually uncommon but is inconspicuous and easily missed;" Coates (1990). It has a "beautiful and memorable song of slurred, musical notes;" Pratt & Beehler (2015).

Mottled Berryhunter is sexually dimorphic, and it is the females that are brighter. Females have rusty-colored faces in all populations, and are streaked below. Males in western New Guinea have duller orangeish faces but are all dingy gray-olive in the east. Males are mottled below, rather than streaked. Despite sexual dimorphism that was unlike other whistlers it had long been thought to be a whistler in family Pachycephalidae. Even the early DNA evidence suggested that relationship (Sibley & Ahlquist 1990). In this century, all multi-locus DNA sequence studies (e.g., Norman et al. 2009, Jønsson et al. 2011, Aggerbeck et al. 2014) place it elsewhere among the corvoid assemblage, but its nearest relatives as still not certain.

Schodde & Christidis (2014) proposed full Family status for this unique species. The proposal was supported by further molecular evidence, using 8 nuclear and 4 mitochondrial loci, in Jønsson et al. (2016), who placed this family in a broader clade that includes vangas and bushshrikes, but nearer to the Artamidae/Cracticidae set, and right next to the New Guinea endemic family Machaerirhynchidae (Boatbills). The data in Jønsson et al. (2016) suggest that Rhagologus diverged from the Boatbills about 22 million years ago. With these new publications, it seems likely that most world checklists will adopt the Rhagologidae as a single-species family.


Photos: Lars Petersson photographed the Mottled Berryhunter Rhagologus leucostigma in the Arfak Mts., West Papua, Indonesia, on 5 Aug 2013.

      Credited photos © Lars Petersson, as credited, and used with permission; all rights reserved.

Bibliographic note: There is no "family book" but this species is covered in the Handbook of the Birds of World set in Boles (2007).

Literature cited:

Aggerbeck, M., J. Fjeldså, L. Christidis, P-H. Fabre, and K.A. Jønsson. 2014. Resolving deep lineage divergences in core corvoid passerine birds supports a proto-Papuan island origin. Molec. Phylog. Evol. 70: 272-285.

Beehler, B.M., T.K. Pratt, and D.A. Zimmerman. 1986. Bird of New Guinea. Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, N.J.

Boles, W.E. 2007. Family Pachycephalidae (Whistlers), pp. 374 –437 in Handbook of the Birds of the World (del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott & D.A. Christie, eds). Vol. 12. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Coates, B.J. 1990. The Birds of Papua New Guinea. Part II. Dove Publ., Ltd., Alderley, Australia.

Dickinson, E.C., ed. 2003. The Howard & Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World. 3d ed. Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, N.J.

Jønsson, K.A., P-H. Fabre, R.E. Ricklefs, and J. Fjeldså. 2011. Major global radiation of corvoid birds originated in the proto-Papuan archipelago. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 108: 2328-2333.

Jønsson, K.A., P-H. Fabre, J.D. Kennedy, B.G. Holt, M.K. Borregaard, C. Rahbek, and J. Fjeldså. 2016. A supermatrix phylogeny of corvoid passerine birds (Aves: Corvides). Molec. Phylog. Evol. 94: 87-94.

Norman, J.A., P.G.P. Ericson, K.A. Jønsson, J. Fjeldså, and L. Christidis. 2009. A multi-gene phylogeny reveals novel relationships for aberrant genera of Australo-Papuan core Corvoidea and polyphyly of the Pachycephalidae and Psophodidae (Aves: Passeriformes). Molec. Phylog. Evol. 52: 488-497.

Pratt, T.K., and B.M. Beehler. 2015. Birds of New Guinea. 2d ed. Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, N.J.

Schodde, R., and L. Christidis. 2014. Relicts from Tertiary Australasia: undescribed families and subfamilies of songbirds (Passeriformes) and their zoogeographic signal. Zootaxa 3786: 501-522.

Sibley, C.G., and J.E. Ahlquist. 1990. Phylogeny and Classification of Birds: a Study of Molecular Evolution. Yale Univ. Press, New Haven, CT.




  page created 8 Jan 2016  
all text & photos © Don Roberson, except as otherwise indicated; all rights reserved