Jerdon's babbler (Chrysomma altirostre)

Synonyms: Moupinia altirostris
GenusChrysomma (1)
SizeLength: 17 cm (2)

Jerdon's babbler is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Due to its unremarkable appearance, Jerdon’s babbler (Chrysomma altirostre) may be tough to spot amongst the tall grasses of its habitat. Jerdon’s babbler has rich brown upperparts and a long brownish-red tail. The underparts are brownish-buff except for the ashy grey chin and throat (2) (3) (4), and the short bill is also greyish (5).

Male and female Jerdon’s babblers are very similar in appearance, but the juveniles have a darker bill, slightly paler upperparts and the underparts are more tinged with red (2).

Jerdon’s babbler can be heard early in the mornings as it sings from the tops of reeds, the most common call being a rather weak repeated ‘chi-chi-chi-chew-chew-chew’(2).

Jerdon’s babbler is found in three widely separated populations: along the River Indus in Pakistan, in the terai of Nepal, and in north-east India (4). It was once also found in Myanmar and possibly Bangladesh, but there are no recent records of Jerdon’s babbler from either country (4).

Tall grasslands on river floodplains are the preferred habitat of Jerdon’s babbler (2). It favours dense, undisturbed stands of grass, which grow to two to four metres high (4).

Insects, such as grasshoppers, ants and beetles, are the favoured food of Jerdon’s babbler, but it also feeds on small seeds (2). It may perch perpendicularly on vertical stems, and then grasp the base of a leaf and rip downwards forcefully to expose invertebrate prey (2). Remarkably, the sound of the leaf tearing can be heard up to thirty metres away (2). Jerdon’s babbler is usually encountered in pairs or small groups but may form groups of up to 12 in the non-breeding season (2).

Jerdon’s babbler breeds in September in Pakistan and in April and July in India (2). The nest, which is built by both the male and the female, is a deep, cup-shaped structure made from grass, woven around vertical stems in a clump of vegetation (2). Two or three eggs are typically laid at a time, with both the male and female providing food for the young (2).

The already relatively small Jerdon’s babbler population is believed to be rapidly declining because of the huge reduction in the area and quality of wet grasslands (4). This is the result of numerous human activities including conversion to farmland and forestry plantations, to make way for settlements, and excessive harvesting (2) (6). The tall grasses are cut to provide fodder for livestock and materials for buildings, woven baskets and papermaking (6).

Excessive burning of the grasslands also poses a threat to Jerdon’s babbler. Occasional burning, which is done to stimulate fresh growth upon which cattle feed, can be beneficial for the habitat, but frequent burning may alter the species composition of the grassland, making it unsuitable for Jerdon’s babbler (6).

The burgeoning human population in the region means that pressure on areas for cultivation or settlement is likely to increase (6).

Jerdon’s babbler occurs in several protected areas, including Kaziranga National Park in India and Chitwan National Park in Nepal, but even within some of these areas the grassland habitat continues to be threatened by human activities (6).

Across South Asia, grasslands are declining in area and quality and are currently poorly represented in protected area systems. Education programmes to promote grassland conservation and regeneration, and campaigns to increase the number of protected grasslands, are urgently required to conserve Jerdon’s babbler and the numerous other species dependent on grassland habitats (6).

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  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2010)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliot, A. and Christie, D. (2007) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 12: Picathartes to Tits and Chickadees. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Shrestha, T.K. (2001) Birds of Nepal: Field Ecology, Natural History and Conservation. Bimala Shrestha, Kathmandu, Nepal.
  4. BirdLife International (November, 2010)
  5. Baral, H.S. and Eames, J.C. (1991) Jerdon's babbler Moupinia altirostris: a new species for Nepal. Forktail, 6: 85-87.
  6. BirdLife International (2001) Threatened Birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.