Nilgiri blue robin (Myiomela major)

Also known as: white-bellied shortwing
Synonyms: Brachypteryx major
GenusMyiomela (1)
SizeLength: 15 cm (2)

The Nilgiri blue robin is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The Nilgiri blue robin (Myiomela major) is an elusive member of the Muscicapidae family, or Old World flycatchers. It is a small, compact bird with a plump body, coloured with a dark bluish-grey head, breast and upperside, a white underside, with dark red sides and undertail feathers. Although generally a quiet species, an occasional high-pitched and pleasant song can be heard (2), mostly in the breeding season (3), and the call is either a chattering rattle or a thin whistle (2).

The Nilgiri blue robin is endemic to the most southerly part of the Western Ghats of India, where it is restricted to the Nilgiri hills and South Wayanad Hills, and to three peaks in southwest Karnataka (2).

The ground-foraging Nilgiri blue robin inhabits the montane forests, or ‘sky islands’ of the Western Ghats, where it is associated with streams and wet areas.  It shows a preference for forest above 1,500 metres but may occasionally also be seen in eucalyptus and acacia plantations and gardens close to primary forest (2) (4).

The Nilgiri blue robin may spend much of the year in pairs. Pairs breed between April and May, laying between two and three eggs (2). Nests are built in ravines and tree hollows, and sometimes on pathside and roadside banks. Each nest consists of a large, poorly constructed bundle of green moss formed loosely into a shallow cup that may be lined with rootlets (5).

The Nilgiri blue robin is an insect-eating ground-feeder, picking caterpillars and small flies from the forest floor, road-sides and stream sides (5).

Numbers of the Nilgiri blue robin have dwindled with the conversion of primary forest to plantations, crops and human settlements (5), while hydroelectric power development and road-building continue to cause the destruction of essential habitat throughout its range. As the Nilgiri blue robin is already living close to the maximum altitudes at which it is able to survive, climate change also has the potential to negatively impact populations of the Nilgiri blue robin (2).

The Nilgiri blue robin is found in Mukurthi National Park. Proposed conservation measures for this threatened bird include regular monitoring of remaining populations and campaigning for a moratorium on the conversion on natural forest to plantations in the Nilgiris (2), while efforts are also underway to restore forest in some areas of the Nilgiri blue robin’s range and to promote community-based conservation initiatives (2) (3). These efforts will not only benefit this vulnerable bird, but also many other inhabitants of the Western Ghats.  

For further information on the restoration of forests in India see:

For more information on this and other bird species please see:

Authenticated (19/05/08) by V.V. Robin, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore.

  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2010)
  2. BirdLife International (December, 2010)
  3. Robin, V.V. (2008) Pers. comm.
  4. Robin, V.V. and Sukumar, R. (2002) Status and habitat preference of white-bellied shortwing Brachypteryx major in the Western Ghats (Kerala and Tamilnadu), India. Bird Conservation International, 12: 335-351.
  5. BirdLife International. (2001) Threatened Birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.
  6. Robin, V.V., Sukumar, R. and Thiollay, J.M. (2006) Status and distribution of the white-bellied shortwing Brachypteryx major in the Western Ghats of Karnataka and Goa, India. Bird Conservation International, 16: 345-351.