A superbly camouflaged dark brown bird, from a distance the Arabian babbler (Turdoides squamiceps) appears rather plain, but upon closer inspection the fluffy plumage is in fact quite attractive. The feathers covering the head have dark centres with white edges, giving an appealing mottled effect. The dark centres of the feathers on the underparts become lighter and the white turns a tan colour. The Arabian babbler has short, curved wings, an elongated tail that balances the bird as it weaves through dense or thorny vegetation, and a long, thin, slightly downward-pointing bill (2).
Remaining close to cover, the Arabian babbler feeds mainly on insects, but during the winter when insects are scarce, it feeds largely on fruit, as well as small lizards and snakes (2)(5). The Arabian babbler reproductive cycle is the most studied of the babbler species (6). Generally, two to three eggs are laid in an open-cup nest in a small tree (6), but in areas of reproductive conflict, multiple females will lay eggs in a single nest (2). The eggs are then incubated for some 14 or 15 days. Fledglings continue to receive food from adults up to two months after fledging (6). Babblers are cooperative breeders, meaning small, compact family groups cooperate to defend a territory and raise offspring. By defending an area with family members and helping to raise siblings, juvenile babblers build strong bonds within the group, which may help gain territories in later years, when they in turn breed (2)(4).
The Arabian babbler is found in a variety of different habitats, ranging from arable land and plantations, to grassland, saltmarshes, shrubland and true desert, up to altitudes of 2,800 metres (3). In the Negev desert of Israel, the Arabian babbler uses Acacia bushes for cover and nest sites (2)(4).
With a population that is thought to be increasing, there appear to be no major threats to the Arabian babbler. However, there are some local scale threats, including the unsustainable pumping of groundwater, which causes widespread tree mortality, resulting in uninhabitable areas (6). Furthermore, it is considered the most common resident bird in the Negev desert in Israel (2).
Zahavi, A. (1990) Arabian babblers: the quest for social status in a cooperative breeder. In: Stacey, P.B. and Koenig, W.D. (Eds.) Cooperative Breeding in Birds: Long-term Studies of Ecology and Behaviour. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
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