Blue-crowned laughingthrush (Garrulax courtoisi)

Also known as: Courtois’s laughingthrush
Synonyms: Dryonastes courtoisi, Garrulax galbanus courtoisi
GenusGarrulax (1)
SizeLength: 23 cm (2)
Weightc. 50 g (3)
Top facts

The blue-crowned laughingthrush is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).

A rare bird now found only in a small part of China, the blue-crowned laughingthrush (Garrulax courtoisi) is named for the rich blue colour on its crown and the back of its neck (2) (4). The rest of its back is olive-brown, and the primary feathers of the wings are shaded blue. The blue-crowned laughingthrush has a black ‘mask’ across its face, and a contrasting yellow throat and belly, marked by a faint yellowish-grey band across the breast. Its vent is white, while the base of the tail is greyish and the tail tip is white (2) (3).

Like other members of the Timaliidae family, the blue-crowned laughingthrush has relatively short, rounded wings and a long tail, but quite robust legs and feet (5). This small laughingthrush was previously considered to be the same species as the yellow-throated laughingthrush (Garrulax galbanus), but was recognised as a separate species in 2006 (2) (4). It differs from the yellow-throated laughingthrush mainly in its blue rather than greyish-green crown and in the blue-grey rather than grey edges to its primary feathers (6) (7) (8).

The blue-crowned laughingthrush is endemic to China, where it occupies a very small breeding range in Jiangxi Province (2) (4). This species’ wintering grounds are not known for certain, but they are thought to be near the breeding areas (2).

Although the blue-crowned laughingthrush was recently considered by some authorities to be monotypic (9), a small number of blue-crowned laughingthrushes collected from Simao in Yunnan may potentially belong to a separate subspecies, Garrulax courtoisi simaoensis. However, this population has not been seen in the wild for over ten years, and a number of searches have failed to find it (2).

The blue-crowned laughingthrush inhabits forest in lowlands and hills, often near rivers and streams (3). It has been recorded breeding in trees and shrubs next to villages, and occurs in woodland that includes camphor and maple trees (2) (6).

Relatively little information is currently available on the biology of the blue-crowned laughingthrush. However, this species is reported to have a varied diet that includes fruit, insects and other invertebrates (2) (3) (6). The blue-crowned laughingthrush forages in noisy groups, searching for food in the trees and on the ground (2) (6).

The blue-crowned laughingthrush arrives at its breeding grounds in April (6), and its chicks are thought to hatch in May and early June (2). A sociable species, the blue-crowned laughingthrush forms close family groups, and young from previous broods help to rear the chicks from later broods (3) (6). This species typically breeds in colonies, with a number of nests being built within a small area (6).

The blue-crowned laughingthrush constructs open, cup-shaped nests from twigs and grasses, and lines them with dry grass. In captivity, the chicks leave the nest approximately 16 days after hatching, and the adults may go on to rear a second brood (6).

The blue-crowned laughingthrush has an extremely small and fragmented range, and its tiny wild population is thought to number only around 200 to 250 individuals. The potential subspecies G. c. simaoensis has not been seen in the wild for some time, despite a number of searches, although it is thought that individuals of this subspecies may exist in captivity (2) (7) (8).

One of the major causes of the decline in the blue-crowned laughingthrush has been  trapping for the bird trade (2) (3), although this was reduced by a bird export ban in 1998 (2). This species’ habitat has also been destroyed by road building, urban development, and logging for timber and agriculture (2) (3), while human disturbance has caused the birds to abandon some of their breeding sites (2). The blue-crowned laughingthrush is not legally protected against building developments (2), and its wintering range is probably mostly unprotected (2) (6) (8).

Although the blue-crowned laughingthrush is considered to be at high risk of extinction, it is still very poorly known, and it is possible that further studies may reveal it to be more common than currently thought (2).

A number of conservation efforts are now underway to protect this rare Chinese bird. Several small protected areas have been established by the local government of Wuyuan County in Jiangxi Province, supported by various organisations such as Chester Zoo and WWF-China (2) (8). Education and awareness work has also been conducted in local schools (2) (10). Chester Zoo runs a China Conservation Programme which supports the conservation of this and other threatened species in China, and coordinates field research and protection for the blue-crowned laughingthrush in the wild (11)

The blue-crowned laughingthrush is also being bred in captivity in a number of zoos and private collections, as a safeguard against its extinction in the wild (2) (3) (6) (8). An International Studbook and Global Species Management Plan have recently been approved for the known captive birds (12). Further research into the taxonomy of this species should help determine which subspecies these captive birds belong to. There is also a Conservation Action Plan in place for the blue-crowned laughingthrush, which is reviewed annually (2).

Other recommended conservation measures for the blue-crowned laughingthrush include further surveys of its wild population, and establishing legal protection for this species against building developments (2).

Find out more about the blue-crowned laughingthrush and its conservation:

More information on Chester Zoo’s China Conservation Programme:

Authenticated (18/06/13) by Dr Roger Wilkinson, Head of Field Conservation and Research, Chester Zoo.

  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2013)
  2. BirdLife International - Blue-crowned laughingthrush (June, 2013)
  3. Chester Zoo - Blue-crowned laughingthrush (June, 2013)
  4. Collar, N.J. (2006) A partial revision of the Asian babblers (Timaliidae). Forktail, 22: 85-112.
  5. Brazil, M. (2010) Birds of East Asia. Christopher Helm Publishers, London.
  6. Wilkinson, R., He Fen-qi, Gardner, L. and Wirth, R. (2004) A highly threatened bird - Chinese yellow-throated laughing thrushes in China and in zoos. International Zoo News, 51(8): 456-469.
  7. Wilkinson, R. and He Fen-qi (2010) Yellow-throated laughingthrush Garrulax galbanus and blue-crowned laughingthrush G. courtoisi - new observations and interpretations on their taxonomy. BirdingASIA, 14: 73-82.
  8. Wilkinson, R. and He Fen-qi (2010) Conservation of blue-crowned laughingthrush Garrulax courtoisi in Wuyuan, Jiangxi, and the search for ‘lost’ populations in Yunnan and Guangxi, China. BirdingASIA, 13: 100-105.
  9. Collar, N.J. and Robson, C. (2007) Family Timaliidae (babblers). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Christie, D. (Eds.) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 12: Picathartes to Tits and Chickadees. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  10. BirdLife International (2011) The Hong Kong Birdwatching Society is helping local groups raise conservation awareness in schools. State of the World’s Birds website, BirdLife International. Available at:
  11. Chester Zoo - China Conservation Programme (June, 2013)
  12. Wilkinson, R. (June, 2013) Pers. comm.