The Wilson Journal of Ornithology 122(2):388–391, 2010
Breeding of the Giant Laughingthrush (Garrulax maximus) at Lianhuashan,
Southern Gansu, China
and Yue-Hua Sun
ABSTRACT.—We describe the nest sites, nests,
eggs, and incubation and provisioning behavior of the
endemic Giant Laughingthrush (Garrulax maximus)in
a coniferous forest (2,850–2,950 m asl) at Lianhua-
shan, southern Gansu, central China. We found seven
shallow bowl-shaped nests in Picea-Abies trees, 4.0 6
1.5 m (x6SD, n57) above the ground during May
and June 2003, 2007, and 2008. Clutch size was 2.2 6
0.4 unspotted blue eggs (2–3, n56) of which 1.4 6
0.5 nestlings hatched (1–2, n57), and 1.0 61.0
young fledged (0–2, n57). Three nests failed,
possibly due to predation or abandonment during
prolonged rainfall. Both males and females incubated
clutches; nest attentiveness during the day decreased
from 92.6 60.9%before hatching to 59.4 61.5%
during days 3–7 of the nestling period. Both parents
fed the nestlings (1.0 61.0 times/hr) and consumed the
feces (0.3 60.5 times/hr) during the 7–15 days after
hatching Received 28 March 2009. Accepted 26
The endemic Giant Laughingthrush (Garrulax
maximus) is distributed from southern Gansu and
southeastern Qinghai to southern and southeastern
Tibet and northern Yunnan in southern and central
China (Zheng 2005, Thompson 2007). Habitats
occupied include open broadleaf and mixed
broadleaf-coniferous forests, bamboo (Phyllosta-
chys spp.) scrub in broadleaf evergreen forest, oak
(Quercus spp.) forest with scattered conifers, and
relatively open broadleaf evergreen forest with
shrub understory at 2,135–4,115 m elevation
The Giant Laughingthrush is the largest laugh-
ingthrush (Cheng et al. 1987, Rasmussen and
Anderton 2005) and was previously treated as a
subspecies of Spotted Laughingthrush (G. ocella-
tus) (Ali and Ripley 1996). Little is known about
its natural history and breeding except one
description based on a single nest in a bamboo
clump, which contained two eggs (Ludlow and
Kinnear 1944). We describe the nests, eggs,
nestlings, and nesting behavior of this species in
an alpine conifer-dominated forest in southern
Study Area.—Our study area was in the
Lianhuashan Nature Reserve (34u579N, 103u
469E) in southern Gansu Province, China. The
forested area occurs on north, northeast, and
northwest-facing slopes; only shrubs and grasses
grow on south-facing slopes. Coniferous forest is
the most prevalent cover type and is dominated by
Dragon spruce (Picea asperata) and Farges fir
(Abies fargesii). The other cover types are: (1)
coniferous-deciduous forest, including spruce, fir,
Himalayan birch (Betula utilis), and willow (Salix
spp.); and (2) shrublands including willow, sea
buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides), and barberry
(Berberis spp.). The study area has been described
by Sun et al. (2003). The mean annual tempera-
ture is 5.1–6.0uC, with a maximum of 34.0uC
and minimum of 227.1uC. The climate is
semiarid, and the annual precipitation is about
Field Procedures.—We located seven nests (6
during incubation and 1 during the nestling stage)
by following nesting-related activities of adults or
by systematically checking individual trees in the
conifer-dominated forest between 2,850 and
3,100 m elevation during three breeding seasons
(Apr–Jul in 2003, 2007, and 2008). We inspected
nests every 3–5 days to identify hatching and
fledging dates and, if possible, cause of nest
Incubation or brood care was documented using
data loggers (Tinytag Plus 2 Gemini Data
Loggers, West Sussex, UK) at two nests, one of
which was monitored for 194 hrs during 11 days.
The probe was placed among the eggs to take a
temperature reading every 15 sec. Length of on-
and off-nest bouts, and behaviors of provisioning
Key Laboratory of Animal Ecology and Conservation
Biology, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of
Sciences, Beijing 100101, China.
Graduate School of Chinese Academy of Sciences,
Beijing 100049, China.
Corresponding author; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
THE WILSON JOURNAL OF ORNITHOLOGY NVol. 122, No. 2, June 2010
young and removing feces were recorded at one
nest by observation (33.7 hrs during days 6–10,
12–13, and 15 of the nestling period) and at
another nest by video recorder (1.9 hrs on the 15th
day of the nestling period). All observers and
equipment were camouflaged using branches and
Nest characteristics were measured after termi-
nation of nesting and included height of the nest,
distance of the nest to trunk, and height and
diameter at breast height (DBH) of the nest tree.
All data are expressed as x6SD.
Nests were placed in Dragon spruce or Farges
fir with three in branches of large conifers (DBH
534 610 cm) at a height of 2.4–3.8 m above
ground and 2.0–2.2 m from the trunk. Four nests
were in small spruce (DBH 512 62 cm) nearly
touching the trunk at a height of 3.0–7.0 m
TABLE 1. Giant Laughingthrush nests observed in the Lianhuashan Nature Reserve, southern Gansu, central China
during May and June 2003, 2007, and 2008. DBH 5diameter at breast height.
Nest # Date found Stage
Nest tree Nest Clutch size
the trunk (m) Eggs Nestlings Fledglings
1 25 May 2003 Incubation Spruce 12 7.0 0.40 3 2 2 Successful
2 27 May 2003 Incubation Spruce 10 3.0 0.04 2 2 2 Successful
3 9 June 2003 Nestling Spruce 14 4.5 0.10 2 2 Successful
4 24 May 2007 Incubation Fir 32 3.8 2.00 2 1 1 Successful
5 9 June 2007 Incubation Spruce 13 4.0 0.05 2 1 0 Abandoned
6 26 May 2008 Incubation Fir 45 2.4 2.10 2 1 0 Depredated
7 3 June 2008 Incubation Spruce 26 3.5 2.20 2 1 0 Depredated
FIG. 1. Nest with two eggs of the Giant Laughingthrush in a Dragon spruce (Picea asperata) at Lianhuashan, southern
Gansu, central China. Photograph by Chenxi Jia.
(Table 1). Nests were shallow and bowl-shaped
(Fig. 1) with an inside diameter of 11.6 60.7 cm
(10.8–12.2 cm, n54), outside diameter of 19.3 6
0.9 cm (18.5–20.0 cm), inside depth of 5.1 6
1.3 cm (4.0–6.5 cm), and outside height of 9.4 6
1.1 cm (8.0–10.5 cm). Two nests were 78 and 80 g
in wet weight, respectively. The inside bowl of the
nest was lined with thin strands of bamboo,
madder (Rubia spp.), and spiraea (Spiraea spp.)
stems, whereas the outer bowl and foundation
were mainly of twigs, 25 cm (10–38 cm) in
length, mostly of honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.)
with a few from spruce, fir, and birch.
Clutch size was 2.2 60.4 eggs (2–3, n56)
with 1.4 60.5 nestlings hatched (n57) and 1.0
61.0 young fledged (n57). Ten unspotted blue
eggs were 33.5 61.5 mm (31.6–36.2 mm) in
length, 22.9 60.7 mm (21.6–24.4 mm) in
diameter, and 8.8 60.8 g (7.8–10.0 g) in weight.
One nest was abandoned in the nestling stage,
possibly due to prolonged rainfall (15–22 Jun
2007). One nest was possibly predated as one egg
had a small hole in the eggshell during the
incubation stage. The other nest was predated at
2344 hrs (Beijing Time, revealed by data logger)
during the nestling stage with the nest overturned
and feathers of the adult scattered on the ground.
Mean length of on-nest bouts decreased from
59.4 639.1 min (1.5–136.0 min) before hatching
to 27.6 618.0 min (3.0–72.5 min) during the
nestling period, whereas mean off-nest bouts
increased from 4.6 62.8 min (0.5–10.5 min) to
15.6 610.1 min (2.5–45.0 min) (Fig. 2). Nest
attentiveness during the day decreased from 92.6
60.9%before hatching to 59.4 61.5%during
days 3–7 of the nestling period. The female began
diurnal activities at 0613 hrs (628 min, n59)
and began nocturnal brooding at 1931 hrs
(628 min, n59).
Both parents provisioned nestlings and re-
moved (or consumed) feces at a frequency of
1.2 61.5 (0–6) and 0.5 60.9 (0–3) times/hr,
respectively, based on observation (32 hrs) and
video recording (1.9 hrs) during days 7–15 of the
nestling period. The nestling period appeared to
be 17–18 days (2 nests).
FIG. 2. Length of on- and off-nest bouts and nest attentiveness of the Giant Laughingthrush at one nest (found in 2007)
during the incubation and nestling periods. Day 0 5hatching day. The numbers on the asterisks are the time (hrs)
monitored by data loggers whereas the numbers on/under the bars are the sample sizes of on/off-nest bouts.
THE WILSON JOURNAL OF ORNITHOLOGY NVol. 122, No. 2, June 2010
Nests in conifers were higher than the nest in
the bamboo clump (1.2 m) reported by Ludlow
and Kinnear (1994) and the nest of the Spotted
Laughingthrush (,2 m) (Ali and Ripley 1996).
Nest materials used by the Giant Laughingthrush
were similar to those used by the closely related
Snowy-cheeked Laughingthrush (G. sukatschewi)
(Bi et al. 2003) and the Spotted Laughingthrush
(Ali and Ripley 1996), but did not include moss,
birch leaves, or strips of honeysuckle bark, which
are frequently used by the Elliot’s Laughingthrush
(G. elliotii) (Jiang et al. 2007). We did not find
nests in bamboo clumps, which were quite short
(,1.8 m) and scattered under the conifer trees or
in small patches within the forest. The bamboo in
this area had been nearly clear-cut by the local
people 5 years earlier.
The unspotted blue color of the eggs was
similar to the Snowy-cheeked Laughingthrush (Bi
et al. 2003) but possibly differed from the Spotted
Laughingthrush, which has eggs that are spotless
or with a few chocolate-brown specks near the
broad end (Ali and Ripley 1996). Mean clutch
size was similar to that of the Spotted Laugh-
ingthrush (normal 52 eggs, Ali and Ripley
1996), but less than the high-altitude Brown-
cheeked Laughingthrush (G. henrici) (2.6 eggs,
Lu et al. 2008), Snowy-cheeked Laughingthrush
(3.5 eggs; Jie Wang, unpubl. data), and Elliot’s
Laughingthrush (3.4 eggs, Jiang et al. 2007).
Both parents incubated eggs and brooded
nestlings, similar to most other laughingthrushes
(Thompson 2007). Frequency of provisioning
nestlings was lower than for the Snowy-cheeked
Laughingthrush (1.2 vs. 7.9 times/hr; Bi et al.
2003). One reason may be that adult Giant
Laughingthrushes seemed to be vigilant and prone
to decrease their activities during the nestling
stage, as the frequency of provisioning young
estimated from video recordings (7 times in
1.9 hrs) was higher than from observation (31
times in 32 hrs).
We are grateful to Dan Strickland for help with English
and J.-L. Li, Y.-X. Jiang, Sh. -Q. Zhao, and the staff of
Lianhuashan Nature Reserve for field assistance. We
appreciate the constructive comments of K. E. Miller, C.
E. Braun, and one anonymous reviewer on earlier drafts of
the manuscript. The work was supported by National
Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant 30620130110).
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