ACCENTORS  Prunellidae
The Accentors are a fairly small family of Eurasian species, all with the single genus Prunella. Most of them are high elevation or high latitude species although the family does include the familiar backyard Dunnock P. modularis of Europe. One of those montane species is Robin Accentor (left) that occurs at high elevation from Pakistan to central China.

Accentors are mainly terrestrial birds, often feeding close to scrub or boulders. They move with a shuffling gait, but can run. They eat mostly insects in summer but often switch to seeds and fruit in winter. Their relationship to other families has been obscure. Some anatomical features are thrush-like but biochemical evidence places them most closely to wagtail and pipits (e.g., Sibley & Ahlquist 1990, Sibley & Monroe 1990) or weavers (e.g., Barker et al. 2004).

A few species are resident but most move altitudinally in winter. Those from high latitudes may migrate substantial distances, and chief among these is Siberian Accentor (right). It primarily migrates from northern Eurasia south to central and eastern Asia. This long migration route has spun off vagrants to the New World where vagrants have been recorded in Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, and Idaho (AOU 1998). My photo (right) is of one of those vagrants. Rita and I flew to Boise, Idaho, and drove to Hailey, a famed ski resort, to chase this one in winter 1997. The bird moved around quite a bit and it took a long, cold wait in the snow until it briefly appeared at the backyard feeder it had been frequenting. It was really fine to see an accentor in the New World as it was a bird oh so far from home.
Most accentors are 'stone-colored,' to use a phrase from Cramp (1988). They are mostly patterned in gray, brown, or rusty, often streaked above but buff or dull-colored below. Brown Accentor (left) is one of those that match this description. It is a bird of high mountains in central Asia and the Himalayas. There are accentors restricted to the Japanese and Kurile Islands (Japanese Accentor P. rubida), to arid mountains from Turkey to Iran (Spot-throated Accentor P. ocularis), and another a breeding endemic in high mountains of Yemen (Yemen Accentor P. fagani). A number of central Asia species move south and downslope to the Himalayan foothills in winter. My first accentor was that alpine specialist, Alpine Accentor P. collaris (at the edge of Grossglockner Glacier in Austria back in '69).

In most species, sexes appear alike or only slightly different. Nests tend to be compact cups placed in a thick shrub, close to the ground. In Dunnock, only the female incubates but both sexes feed the young. There is some really fascinating behavioral mechanisms in Dunnock that the male uses in an attempt to assure that the offspring are actually his; some remarkable footage is in David Attenborough's Life of Birds video series.

Photos: The Robin Accentor Prunella rebeculoides was photographed on ridge above Qinghai Lake, Qinghai, China, on 18 June 2004. The Siberian Accentor P. montanella  was a vagrant at Hailey, Idaho, USA, where it wintered; this photo was taken 1 Feb 1997. The Brown Accentor P. fulvescens was at Huzu Bei Shan National Park, Qinghai, China, on 22 June 2004. All photos © 2004 Don Roberson; all rights reserved.

Bibliographic notes

There is no recent "family book" covering the Accentors but good recent coverage is in Cramp (1988), with many Asian species in Grimmett et al. (1998).

Literature cited:

American Ornithologists' Union. 1998. A.O.U. Check-List of North American Birds. 7th ed. A.O.U., Washington, D.C.

Barker, F.K., A. Cibois, P. Schikler, J. Feinstein, and J. Cracraft. 2004. Phylogeny and diversification of the largest avian radiation. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 101: 11040-11045.

Cramp, S., ed. 1988. Handbook of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa: The Birds of the Western Palearctic. Vol. 5. Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford.

Grimmett, R., C. Inskipp, and T. Inskipp. 1998. Birds of the Indian Subcontinent. Christopher Helm, London.

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

Sibley, C. G., and B. L. Monroe. 1990. Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World. Yale Univ. Press, New Haven, CT.

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