Gould's Shortwing

~ presented by Birds of India

~by Shashank Dalvi

'Bird of the Month'

? Sachin Rai
Image: Sachin Rai


Gould's Shortwing Brachypteryx stellata (Heteroxenicus stellatus - per Rasmussen in BSA) is also known as Chestnut Shortwing and has a "Nearly Mythical" status in our birding world as it is so rarely observed.

Details: 13cms. Sexes alike.

Distribution: Gould's Shortwing is one of the most widely distributed species of shortwings in the world. The range of this species starts from Western Himalaya and stretches all the way to Yunnnan in China. It has also been recorded from Indochina, Mynamar and Vietnam. In India it known from Kedarnath and high altitude places in Sikkim, Bhutan, Darjeeling, Eaglenest and Mishmi hills.
It is an altitudinal migrant.

? Sachin Rai
Image: Sachin Rai

Habitat in Breeding ground: Just below treeline (mossy branches with fallen trees) to above treeline (Screes, Boulders)

Habitat in Wintering ground: Subtropical/tropical montane moist forest and Gullies and high altitude shrubland marked by ravines with boulders and fallen trees.

Best place to see this species in India: Gould's Shortwing was sighted frequently in western Arunachal Pradesh between 3800-4350 m in the month of June 2009. It was sighted by Per Alstrom and myself and we were able to see as many as 9 individuals. One bird was seen collecting nesting material at an elevation of 4300 m. We believe that the species not be as uncommon as it is thought to be. We also believe birding at the high elevations (3500-4300 m) in the right habitat in breeding season will yield more sightings of this species.

Taxonomy: The species was first described by John Gould in 1868 from Nepal.
There are 2 known subspecies which are supposed to have different distributions.
The known subspecies are Brachypteryx stellata stellata (Heteroxenicus stellatus stellatus) which is known to occur in C & E Himalayas, further east to NE Myanmar and S China (SE Xizang, Yunnan) while Brachypteryx stellata fuscus (Heteroxenicus stellatus fuscus) is known to occur in in the mountains of north Vietnam (north-western Tonkin).

This species is recently placed back to its old monotypic genus.
Behaviour of this species is also unlike the other species of shortwings from the Himalaya. Its is bold and very tame, prefers completely different habitat from other shortwings. Also the song of this species is quite different from other species along with distinctive plumage.

Conservation Status: Least concern due to extremely large range and stable population trends.


© Shashank Dalvi and Sachin Rai 2009

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