- 4 species in tropical Asia
- DR personal total: 2 species (50%), 0 photo
et al (2009) undertook to determine the evolutionary relationships of
many babblers by sequencing mitochondrial and nuclear DNA of 59 babbler
species in 46 genera; their work did sort out the major lineages. But
there was a big surprise. Genetic analysis of the "wren-babblers" in
genus Pnoepyga showed that these did not belong within the
babbler assemblage. The researchers did not know exactly where to
place this "long-branch" lineage, but it is clearly not within the two
main babbler families, Timaliidae and Sylviidae. So Gelang et al. (2009) proposed these were a new family, the Pnoepygidae. One of those is Pygmy Cupwing of the mountains of south Asia (left, in a fine shot by Suppalak Klabdee).
Gelang et al. (2009) did not propose an English name of the birds
within this new family. I had initially used the name "Pygmy
Wren-babblers" because it is
the name of the most widespread species, and because these are very
"wren-babblers," but that was clearly inadequate. The 2011 update of
the Clements world checklist calls them "cupwings," and I follow (see
cupwings are very small, short-tailed, semi-terrestrial birds with
slender bills and diminutive front claws. Their tails consist of six
extremely short rectrices, often concealed by long rump feathers. Three
of the four species come in two color morphs; the one shown above is
the pale, or "white-scaled" morph of Pygmy Cupwing. This species
ranges from the Himalayas of Nepal and India through montane southeast
Asia to the Indonesian islands of Java and Timor (Collar & Robson
2007). There are three other species of Pnoepyga in this new family:
- Scaly-breasted Cupwing P. albiventer in the Himalayas from northern India and Nepal to southern China, northern Burma, and northern Vietnam;
- Taiwan Cupwing P. formosana in montane Taiwan — this species does not appear to have two morphs; and
- Nepal Cupwing P. immaculata in the central Himalayas of northern India and Nepal.
these tiny birds live in tangled undergrowth, singing distinctive
warbler-like songs, and move by hopping. It has been quite some time
since I saw one, but reading of them now suggests to me that they may
compared to the small, semi-terrestrial tapaculos of the Andes.
|There are about a half-dozen other genera that are called wren-babblers (e.g., Rimator, Ptiolcichla, Kenopia, Napothera, Spelaeornis, Elachura),
and the DNA evidence does suggest that most of them are, indeed,
babblers with the family Timaliidae. It is obviously best to call this
family something other than "wren-babbler." Inskipp et al. (2010) noted
the conundrum and had several suggestions, the best of the which was
"cupwing," in part because the Latin name Pnoepyga
means "cupped wing." The name is short and punchy, and the birds do
have very short 'cup-shaped' wings in addition to very short tails.
Photos: Suppalak Klabdee photographed the Pygmy Cupwing Pnoepyga pusilla in Doi Inthanon NP, Thailand, in Feb 2002. Photo © Suppalak Klabdee, used with permission; all rights reserved.
There is no "family book" on this just-proposed new family, but a good
introduction to the genus, with photos, is in Collar & Robson
Collar, N.J., and C. Robson. 2007. Family Timaliidae (Babblers), pp. 70–291 in
Handbook of the Birds of the World (del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott & D.A.
Christie, eds). Vol. 12. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.
M., A. Cibois, E. Pasquet, U. Olsson, P. Alström, and P.G.P.
Ericson. 2009. Phylogeny of babblers (Aves, Passeriformes): major
lineages, family limits and classification. Zoologica Scripta 38:
Inskipp, Collar & Pilgram. 2010. Species-level and other changes suggested for Asian birds, 2009. Birding Asia 14: 59-67.