PAINTED BERRYPECKERS Paramythiidae
The Paramythiidae is a very small family of just two species in two genera that are endemic to New Guinea. Rather little is known about these birds: Tit Berrypecker Oreocharis arfaki and Crested Berrypecker (left), shown here in a nice photo by Hideo Tani. Both are brightly colored berry-eating birds of the New Guinea highlands, mostly working the canopy in thick forests. The Crested Berrypecker is a medium-sized bird of striking color pattern (as shown in the photo) that has an erectible crest (not shown). It is found in high mountain forests only: from the upper montane zone (above 2500m = above 8000 ft.) to timberline in the Central Range of New Guinea and on the Huon Peninsula. My encounter with this elegant bird was high in the Snow Mountains above the Baliem Valley. Crested Berrypeckers forage in pairs or small parties for fruit, and sometimes come to ground after seeds or berries. Beehler et al. write that it "has a bizarre habit of plucking certain large ericaceous flowers and rubbing its plumage with the crushed corollas." It gives a faint kissing-like sound. Although it feeds mostly on fruit, swallowed whole, it also partakes of insects. Coates (1990) tells of one "observed ot pull open a spider cocoon and devour the contents." The nest is an untidy cup-shaped structure; only the female incubates. A fine photo of a nest is in Coates (1990). Both sexes look alike to us.

Tit Berrypecker is a gregarious, small, chunky bird of mountain forests. The sexes are quite different. The male is brightly patterned like a Day-Glo chickadee while the female is relatively obscure, but both sexes have diagnostic yellow-spotted tertials. These birds range in small parties in thick forests, mostly between 1400-3000m (4500 to 10,000 ft). They can be common within the preferred altitudinal zone. Although they, too, mostly feed on berries and fruits, they also probe flower blossoms. Rather little is known of breeding behavior, although they are said to have an open cup of moss (Coates 1990). The typical vocalization recalls Cedar Waxwing.

For a long time, the Painted Berrypeckers were included with typical berrypeckers among the Flowerpeckers [Dicaeidae; e.g., Beehler et al. 1986]. Sibley & Ahlquist (1990), and then Sibley & Monroe (1990), elevated these two species in two distinctive genera to their own family, the Paramythiidae. This was based on DNA-DNA hybridization studies that showed they were related to each other but rather far removed from flowerpeckers.

Recent research involving the sequencing of nuclear genes (Barker et al. 2004) appears to confirm that (a) the Painted Berrypeckers are far removed from flowerpeckers and appear most closely related to Old World orioles, and (b) Painted Berrypeckers are not closely related to typical Berrypeckers which are, instead, more closely related to the Satinbirds [Cnemophilidae]. However, this study appears to have sampled only Crested Berrypecker and not Tit Berrypecker (but they did sample all three genera in typical Berrypeckers [Melanocharitidae]). Given these findings, it is mysterious why Joel Cracraft, a co-author in Barker et al. (2004), places the Painted Berrypeckers within the Malanocharitidae in the Howard & Moore 3d ed. checklist (Dickinson 2003). Perhaps the answer is that the sequencing of Paramythia had not yet been done when he authored the family sections of Dickinson (2003)? Apparently the Handbook of the Birds of the World project will consider Painted Berrypeckers to be a separate family, just as I do here. The exact placement of the Paramythiidae with the passerine birds, however, will have to await further studies.


Photos: Many thanks to Hideo Tani who photographed the Crested Berrypecker  Paramythia montium near Ambua Lodge, Tari, Papua New Guinea, in January 2003. Without his permission, I had nothing to illustrate this family. All photos © 2004 Hideo Tani and used with permission; all rights reserved.

More photos by Hideo Tani can be seen on his web site.

Bibliographic notes

There is no "family book" covering the Paramythiidae, but good photographs and information about both species are in Coates (1990).

Literature cited:

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.

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

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.

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, Jr. 1990. Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World. Yale Univ. Press, New Haven, CT. .

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