a web page by Don Roberson
SILKTAILS Lamproliidae
  • 2 species in Fiji and in montane New Guinea
  • DR personal total: 1 species (50%), 0 photo'd

The Lamproliidae is a newly-elevated family with two unique passerines, one in Fiji and the other in montane New Guinea. Both are glossy-black birds of the understory. The former is the famed Fiji Silktail (left, in a very nice photo by Tom Tarrant). This rain-forest specialty is found on just two islands in Fiji: widespread on Taveuni but localized to the Natewa Peninsula on Vanua Levu.

The rather rare New Guinea species has gone by many names. Traditionally it was called "Pygmy Drongo" or "Mountain Drongo." Irestedt et al. (2008) showed it was not a drongo but more closely related to Fantails [Rhipiduridae]. The Clements checklist coined the name Pygmy Drongo-Fantail in 2012 when moving both the Silktail and this species to the Fantails. Now in a newly-elevated family, the enigmatic Pygmy Drongo-Fantail (below, an astonishing shot by David Bishop) may become the Papuan Silktail soon!

The New Guinea species was initially assigned to the Drongo [Dicruridae] as it looked rather like a small drongo, but it had only 12 rectrices in the square-tipped tail, rather than 14 like other drongos. In the times before direct molecular evidence, it is was considered "ancestral" in the drongo lineage (e.g., Sibley & Monroe 1990). Thus during the Handbook of the Birds of the World project, what was then called "Pygmy Drongo" was covered with the Drongos {Dicruridae; Rocamora & Yeatman-Berthelot 2009], while the Silktail was illustrated and discussed within the Monarch-Flycatchers [Monarchidae; Coates et al. 2006).

Sometime after the turn of the 21st century a series of studies found that Chaetorhynchus was not a drongo. Instead, the DNA evidence showed that the Silktail and the Drongo-Fantail were both closely related to each other, and that together they were sister to the Fantails, family Rhipiduridae (Irestedt et al. 2008, Norman et al. 2009, Jønsson et al. 2011, Andersen et al. 2015). By about 2012, most world checklists moved them to the Fantails. In 2014, Schodde & Christidis (2014) formally proposed a subfamily name for them within the Rhipiduridae, although they noted some had advocated full Family status. Jønsson et al. (2016), using a wide range of both DNA and fossil evidence, dated their divergence from the rest of the Fantails about 22 million years ago, and proposed that this lineage was ancient enough for Family status.

Schodde & Christidis's (2014) diagnosis of this lineage reads, in part: "Medium-small, rather slender black songbirds with glossed or spangled plumage over the head, and patches of silky white exposed over rump and central tail feathers (Lamprolia) or hidden in base of inner wing coverts (Chaetorhynchus)." Of course the Fiji Silktail is well-known for its "silky white rump," whereas the concealed white patch at the bend of the wing in Pygmy Drongo-Fantail is rarely seen. Perhaps it will be looked for more often once Chaetorhynchus is more widely known as Papuan Silktail?

The Fiji Silktail inhabits wet, mature rainforest, forest pockets, and sometimes logged forest. It feeds low in the understory, including on the ground, where it flicks its tail prominently (Clunie 1984, Pratt et al. 1987). On Vanua Levu, it occupies similar feeding zones to those of Fiji Shrikebill Clytorhynchus vitiensis (an endemic member of the Monarch family). This overlap results in the larger Shrikebill displacing the smaller Silktail and perhaps contributing to its rarity. On Taveuni, where it is more common, the Fiji Silktail occurs mainly in the undergrowth, thus reducing competition with Fiji Shrikebill (Heather 1977).

The Pygmy Drongo-Fantail (Papuan Silktail) is found in singles or pairs in the interior of hill or mid-mountain forests. Its song is a loud jumble of musical chips, squeaks, whistles and warbles (Coates 1990). Pratt & Beehler (2015) describe it as "a noisy bird of the forest midstory; perches on horizontal branches and sallies for insects. The foraging behavior and posture is reminiscent of Northern Fantail. It frequently joins mixed foraging flocks, stationing itself in open spaces beneath the canopy where it can pursue insects disturbed by other birds foraging above." In the first avifaunal survey of the Kumawa Mountains of western New Guinea, Diamond & Bishop (2015) found it to be a member of mixed species flocks at higher elevations in that range.


Photos: Tom Tarrant of photographed the Fiji Silktail Lamprolia victoriae near Vidawa, Taveuni, Fiji, in June 2008. David Bishop photographed the Pygmy Drongo-Fantail (or Papuan Silktail) Chaetorhynchus papuensis in the Kumawa Mts., Papua, Indonesia, in March 2013. This photo was obtained during the first ever expedition to explore the high elevations of the Kumawa range. Bishop and co-workers reached this remote forests by helicopter. The Drongo-Fantail that David Bishop photographed could represent an undescribed subspecies.

      Credited photos © Tom Tarrant and © David Bishop, as credited, and used with permission; all rights reserved. More photos and

Bibliographic note: There is no "family book" on this new family — in fact, they have rarely been placed near each other in publications. During the Handbook of the Birds of the World project, Fiji Silktail was covered in Monarch-Flycatcher [Monarchidae; Coates et al. 2006) while Pygmy Drongo-Fantail was covered with the Drongos {Dicruridae; Rocamora & Yeatman-Berthelot 2009]. By the time of that latter book (Vol. 14 in 2009) there was an indication in the text that Chaetorhynchus was likely alligned with Fantails.

Literature cited:

Andersen, M.J., P.A. Hosner, C.E. Filardi, and R.G. Moyle. 2015. Phylogeny of the monarch flycatchers reveals extensive paraphyly and novel relationships within a major Australo-Pacific radiation. Molec. Phylog. Evol. 83: 118-136.

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

Coates, B.J., G.C.L. Dutson, and C.E. Filardi. 2006. Family Monarchidae (Monarch-Flycatchers), pp. 244–329 in Handbook of the Birds of the World (del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott & D.A. Christie, eds). Vol. 11. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Clunie, F. 1984. Birds of the Fiji bush. Fiji Museum, Suva.

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

Diamond, J., and K.D. Bishop. 2015. Avifaunas of the Kumawa and Fakfak Mountains, Indonesian New Guinea. Bull. B.O.C. 135: 292–336.

Heather, B. D. 1977. The Vanua Levu Silktail (Lamprolia victoriae kleinschmidti): a preliminary look at its status and habits. Notornis 24: 94-128.

Irestedt, M., J. Fuchs, K.A. Jønsson, J.I. Ohlson, E. Pasquet, and P.G.P. Ericson. 2008. The systematic affinity of the enigmatic Lamprolia victoriae (Aves: Passeriformes)—An example of avian dispersal between New Guinea and Fiji over Miocene intermittent land bridges? Molec. Phylog. Evol. 48: 1218–1222.

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, H. D., P. L. Bruner, and D. G. Berrett. 1987. A Field Guide to the Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific. Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, N. J.

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

Rocamora, G.J., and D. Yeatman-Berthelot. 2009. Family Dicruridae (Drongos), pp. 172–227 in Handbook of the Birds of the World (del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott & D.A. Christie, eds). Vol. 14. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

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




  page created 3-10 Jan 2016  
all text & photos © Don Roberson, except as otherwise indicated; all rights reserved