32 BirdingASIA 22 (2014): 32–36
When Lekagul & Round (1991) was published,
Lesser Rufous-headed Parrotbill Paradoxornis
atrosuperciliaris was known from the far north of
Thailand but Greater Rufous-headed Parrotbill P.
ruficeps was listed only as a hypothetical species
which was thought likely to occur in Thailand
because it was found in both south and east
Myanmar, and in north Laos. Since that time, King
& Robson (2008) have examined the taxonomic
status of P. ruficeps and proposed that the three
subspecies be rearranged with P. r. ruficeps
(Bhutan) being separated from P. r. bakeri (north-
east India and Myanmar) and P. r. magnirostris
(Laos and Vietnam), with P. ruficeps taking the
new common name White-breasted Parrotbill and
P. bakeri becoming Rufous-headed Parrotbill with
magnirostris as a subspecies. In the same paper
they proposed P. atrosuperciliaris be renamed Pale-
We document the discovery of a population of
Rufous-headed Parrotbill P. bakeri in Mae Moei
National Park (NP), Tha Song Yang district, Tak
province, west Thailand. We also confirm a range
extension of the Pale-billed Parrotbill P.
atrosuperciliaris at the same site.
On 25 June 2000, KK encountered a group of
five parrotbills in bamboo near the headquarters
of the 185 km² Mae Moei NP. The birds were seen
well and were illustrated in KK’s field notes. They
were assumed at the time to be Pale-billed Parrotbill
P. atrosuperciliaris, a species with which he was
familiar from Doi Pha Hom Pok in the extreme
Rufous-headed Parrotbill Paradoxornis bakeri
and Pale-billed Parrotbill P. atrosuperciliaris
PHILIP D. ROUND, KAMOL KOMOLPHALIN, WICHYANAN LIMPARUNGPATTHANAKIJ & ANDREW J. PIERCE
north of Thailand, and he did not at the time
consider the possibility that another species might
be involved. There was no further investigation of
KK’s sighting until PDR visited Mae Moei NP on
6–7 June 2014 specifically to search for parrotbills.
The precise location of the original sighting was
not known—at the time of his visit PDR had not
seen KK’s notes and sketches. The song and calls
of P. bakeri, the taxon thought possibly to occur,
were downloaded from the xeno-canto website
(www.xeno-canto.org) for use in playback.
Working along the road leading from the park
headquarters (17.483°N 98.083°E) at about 520 m,
through the park, over Doi Mae Ramoeng (915 m),
to villages lying beyond the park boundary, these
calls were played opportunistically wherever better
quality habitat (evergreen forest and bamboo)
remained. At about 09h00 on 7 June at 768 m,
playback of the piercing three-note song of P. bakeri
magnirostris from Tam Dao, Vietnam (recorded by
Hans Matheve: cat. no. XC156797), elicited a
response from at least three Rufous-headed
Parrotbills. The birds approached, giving
outstanding views at a distance of a few m,
perching in the tops of bamboo and giving harsh
chattering calls and piu notes. The birds were not
heard to sing but their calls were recorded using a
Sony PCM D-50 linear recorder in combination with
a Sennheiser ME66 microphone. No photographs
Following his sighting, PDR consulted with KK,
who made his original field notes and sketches
Plate 1. Pale-billed Parrotbill Paradoxornis atrosuperciliaris and Rufous-headed Parrotbill P. bakeri, Mae Moei National Park, 20
Plate 2. Painting of Rufous-headed Parrotbill Paradoxornis bakeri and Black-browed (Pale-billed) Parrotbill P. atrosuperciliaris
based on field notes made in Mae Moei National Park on 25 June 2000 and field notes and photographs subsequently during
20–21 July 2014.
BirdingASIA 22 (2014) 33
available. Then, during 19–22 July 2014, all four
authors visited Mae Moei NP. Using the same road
as a transect, we stopped wherever the habitat
appeared suitable. At each point, we paused and
scanned for a few minutes before starting playback.
Playback was tried at eleven points during the visit.
The minimum distance between any two locations
was 300 m and the eleven sites were distributed
along about 6 km of road between 627 and 835 m.
Parrotbills were found at two new sites, at 811 and
783 m. In addition a weak response was obtained
at the location of PDR’s 7 June 2014 sighting, where
a single bird approached without calling, and was
seen very briefly by AJP.
On 20 July, playback at the 811 m site resulted
in the approach of two individuals which were
photographed by WL (Plate 1). While one could
be seen to be P. bakeri, the second individual was
clearly P. atrosuperciliaris on the basis of its black
brow, smaller body size and smaller pinkish bill.
This provided documentary evidence of the
presence of two parrotbill species at the site. The
single P. bakeri responded to the song of XC156797
with a variant song, which was in turn recorded,
but no vocalisations were heard with certainty from
the P. atrosuperciliaris. When we revisited this site
the following morning, playback caused a single
P. bakeri to approach, but the P. atrosuperciliaris
was not seen again.
The third site, at 783 m, where P.bakeri was
found on 21 July, was somewhat more open forest
with shorter bamboo. Playback caused three
individuals to appear and they were seen well and
photographed, albeit in persistent heavy drizzle
(Plate 3). The birds responded with a similar harsh
chatter to that given by the birds on 7 June. A
subdued form of the song recorded by Hans
Matheve at Tam Dao was also heard briefly, but
we did not succeed in recording it.
Rufous-headed Parrotbill Paradoxornis bakeri: a
medium-sized parrotbill with a heavy bill, longish
graduated tail—heavily worn in at least one case—
and plain underparts. The feathering on both the
crown and nape appeared shaggy, the nape in
particular having a notably ragged appearance. The
upperparts were mid-brown with slightly richer
brown wings and tail. Crown, nape and cheeks
rufous-orange, brighter on the crown, less intense
on the cheeks. Underparts mostly off-white with a
buffy suffusion across the upper breast. Additionally,
a spot of deeper, more intense rufous-buff between
the legs was evident (Plate 4) but it was not clear
whether all individuals had this last feature. The
bill appeared conical in side view, but was laterally
flattened, rather heavy, and bi-coloured, with dark
brownish base and culmen sharply demarcated
diagonally from the yellow-horn cutting edge and
distal portion of the upper mandible, which was
almost imperceptibly hook-tipped. Lower mandible
yellowish-horn, darker basally. The eye appeared
dark. A broad area of pale grey-blue skin surrounded
the eye and extended onto the lores. Stout legs and
feet, mid-grey in colour.
Pale-billed Parrotbill P. atrosuperciliaris: the
crown appeared smoother and flatter than Rufous-
headed, with shaggy feathering restricted to the
nape. Apart from the obvious black brow of the
taxon P. a. atrosuperciliaris (lacking in P. a. oatesi
of north-east India and Bhutan), and a smaller,
pinkish bill, the pale area around the eye was
whitish-grey and feathered.
Plate 3. Rufous-headed Parrotbill, Mae Moei National Park,
21 July 2014.
Plate 4. Rufous-headed Parrotbil, Mae Moei National Park,
21 July 2014, showing the rufous-buff spot between the legs.
WICHYANAN LIMPARUNGPATTHANAKIJWICHYANAN LIMPARUNGPATTHANAKIJ
34 Rufous-headed Parrotbill Paradoxornis bakeri and Pale-billed Parrotbill P. atrosuperciliaris in Thailand
Vocalisations of Rufous-headed Parrotbills
at Mae Moei, recorded on 7 June and 20 July,
were deposited with the Avian Vocalizations
Center, Michigan State University (http://
Some authors (e.g. Dickinson & Christidis 2014)
continue to treat White-breasted Parrotbill P.
ruficeps, which has a limited range in Bhutan and
north-east India, and Rufous-headed Parrotbill P.
bakeri, which ranges from north-east India (south
and east of P. ruficeps) eastwards to Tonkin,
Vietnam, as conspecific. However, in addition to
the less brightly white, buffy suffused underparts
of P. bakeri, the song-types of the two appear
different—comparing XC79935 for P. ruficeps
recorded by F. Lambert, which apparently
incorporates a few song strophes, as described in
Rasmussen & Anderton (2012), with XC156797 for
P. bakeri. The vocal and morphological differences
between P. ruficeps and P. bakeri were described in
detail by King & Robson (2008).
The occurrence of both P. bakeri and P.
atrosuperciliaris in the same habitat was surprising
in the Thai context, since P. atrosuperciliaris was
hitherto only known above 1,200 m in the high
mountains of the far north—Doi Pha Hom Phok,
including its north-east ridge Doi Lang, and Doi Ang
Khang (Lekagul & Round 1991). However, over
much of their ranges, both species share similar
habitat: Robson (2007) reports that P.
atrosuperciliaris frequently associates with the larger
P. bakeri and that both associate with Collared
Babbler Gampsorhynchus torquatus. The altitudinal
ranges are given as 550–2,100 m (locally as low as
215 m in Myanmar) for P. atrosuperciliaris and 530–
1,900 m for P. ruficeps and P. bakeri combined
(Robson 2007) or (specifically with reference to
north-east India) 200–1,950 m for P. ruficeps and
200–1,750 m for P. bakeri (Rasmussen & Anderton
2012). Both P. atrosuperciliaris and P. bakeri are
shown occurring in Myanmar close to the border
with Thailand at roughly 18.5°N (BirdLife
International 2014 a,b). Additionally, and possibly
in error, P. atrosuperciliaris is also shown by the
same source (BirdLife International 2014b), without
attribution, as occurring inside Thailand at about
KK’s original field notes from 25 June 2000
showed one illustration of a ‘rufous-headed
parrotbill’ with a black brow, as well as two others
that lacked black brows, suggesting that his original
identification may have been based on a sighting
of a mixed flock of about five birds, associating
with Collared Babbler. Collared Babbler was both
heard and seen during the 2014 observations—with
a single fledged young at the 768 m site on 20 July
2014—but at that time no association with Rufous-
headed Parrotbill was evident.
Both visits were made in the wet season and
low cloud, drizzle and intermittent heavy rain
impeded observations to some extent throughout
the day. The habitat where the species were found
was very patchy, as the hills were covered with a
mosaic of farmland planted principally with hill
rice, old clearings and secondary growth resulting
from the cultivation activities of tribal Karen
farmers and apparently a few lowland Thais.
Nevertheless, the suitable habitat was very
extensive and the country extremely steep and
rugged, so that potentially both Rufous-headed
Parrotbill and Pale-billed Parrotbill could be
widespread in this area. In fact, the entire area
extending northwards to the borders of Mae Hong
Son and Chiang Mai provinces is ornithologically
speaking little-visited and indeed, successional,
middle-elevation hill-slope habitats in north
Thailand are probably not much explored by
The vegetation in Mae Moei NP appeared to have
a stronger evergreen component than areas of similar
altitude further north or east, presumably due to
locally higher rainfall along the border with
Myanmar—there is a 2,080 m peak in Myanmar at
17.217°N 98.083°E, only 30 km due south of the
Mae Moei park headquarters, and no more than 15
km west-south-west of the town of Tha Song Yang.
A sighting of Orange-bellied Flowerpecker Dicaeum
trigonostigma inside the park on 22 July was a major
northward range extension in Thailand of a species
which extends from the Greater Sundas and the
Philippines discontinuously to north-east India
(Dickinson 2003) and may be indicative of a
previously unsuspected high avian diversity locally.
Hunting pressure was evidently heavy as we saw
no squirrels or treeshrews, no hornbills and very
few larger birds—only three Ducula sp., presumably
Mountain Imperial Pigeons D. badia, a few Spotted
Doves Streptopelia chinensis, Bay Woodpecker
Blythipicus pyrrhotis and Eastern Jungle Crows
Corvus levaillantii—during four full days in the park
over two visits.
Although most of the >100 species added to
the Thai avifauna since the publication of Lekagul
& Round (1991) are migrants, or result from
taxonomic revision (BCST 2012), the present findings
serve as a reminder that there are probably still
undiscovered resident species to add, not necessarily
only in the most remote or inaccessible areas.
We are grateful to the superintendent and assistant
superintendent of Mae Moei NP and their staff,
BirdingASIA 22 (2014) 35
Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plants
Conservation, for accommodation and access.
Philip Round is supported by The Wetland Trust.
Bird Conservation Society of Thailand (2012) Thailand Bird Listing.
Downloaded from http://www.bcst.or.th/?page_id=33&lang=en on 13/
BirdLife International (2014a) Species factsheet: Paradoxornis ruficeps.
Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 13/08/2014
BirdLife International (2014b) Species factsheet: Paradoxornis
atrosuperciliaris. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 13/08/
Dickinson, E. C., ed. (2003) The Howard and Moore complete checklist of the
birds of the world. Third edition. London: Christopher Helm.
Dickinson, E. C. & Christidis, L., eds. (2014) The Howard & Moore complete
checklist of the birds of the world, 2. Fourth edition. Eastbourne: Aves Press.
King, B. & Robson, C. (2008) The taxonomic status of the three subspecies of
Greater Rufous-headed Parrotbill Paradoxornis ruficeps. Forktail 24: 120–
Lekagul, B. & Round, P. D. (1991) A guide to the birds of Thailand. Bangkok:
Saha Karn Bhaet.
Rasmussen, P. C. & Anderton, J. C. (2012) Birds of South Asia: the Ripley guide.
Second edition. Washington DC, Michigan & Barcelona: Smithsonian
Institution, Michigan State University & Lynx Edicions.
Robson, C. (2008). A field guide to the birds of Thailand and South-East Asia.
London: New Holland.
Philip D. ROUND
Department of Biology, Faculty of Science
Rama 6 Road, Bangkok 10400, Thailand
Nature Trails Co. Ltd., 49 Ramkamhaeng 64, Huamark
Bangkapi, Bangkok 10240, Thailand
233/529 Nantawan Village, Srinagarindra Road
Bangmuang Muang, Samut Prakan 10270, Thailand
Andrew J. PIERCE
Conservation Ecology Program
School of Bioresources and Technology
King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi
Bangkhunthien, Bangkok 10150, Thailand
36 Rufous-headed Parrotbill Paradoxornis bakeri and Pale-billed Parrotbill P. atrosuperciliaris in Thailand