Sri Lanka magpie (Urocissa ornata)

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Sri Lanka magpie
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Sri Lanka magpie fact file

Sri Lanka magpie description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyCorvidae
GenusUrocissa (1)

This boldly patterned, blue and chestnut magpie can be easily distinguished from other Sri Lankan species by its distinctive, vivid colouring (2) (3). The chestnut head, breast and lower wings contrast starkly with the dazzling blue body and long, white-tipped blue tail. This vibrant plumage is coupled with bright red legs, feet, bill and eye-rings. Juveniles have a duller plumage, the blue parts being washed with grey, and the eye-ring is brown (2).

Also known as
Sri Lanka blue magpie.
Size
Size: 42 – 47 cm (2)
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Sri Lanka magpie biology

The Sri Lanka magpie usually associates in flocks of about six or seven birds, but pairs and solitary individuals can also been seen (3) (4). Breeding takes place from January to the end of March, and a clutch of three to five eggs is laid into a nest usually built at the top of small, slender trees (3) (4).

The Sri Lanka magpie mainly feeds on small animals, including hairy caterpillars, green tree-crickets, various chafers, tree-frogs and lizards, but it has also been observed taking fruits. Three individuals seen in a commotion close to the nest of a spot-winged thrush (Zoothera spiloptera) are thought to have been attempting to predate the nest (4).

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Sri Lanka magpie range

As its common name suggests, this bird is endemic to Sri Lanka, where it has a fragmented distribution confined to the wet zone in the centre and south-west of the country (2) (4) (5).

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Sri Lanka magpie habitat

Found in tall, undisturbed, primary forest in the hills and lowlands of Sri Lanka’s wet zone, from 2,135 metres above sea level to below 150 metres. The Sri Lanka magpie has also occasionally been recorded from disturbed areas (2).

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Sri Lanka magpie status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable

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Sri Lanka magpie threats

The main threat facing the Sri Lanka magpie is the extensive clearance and degradation of forests within its range through logging, fuelwood collection, conversion to agriculture and tree plantations, gem mining, encroaching human settlements and fire (2). As a result, this vibrant bird’s range has markedly contracted and fragmented (5), and even some protected forests continue to be degraded and cleared (2). Several forests in the mountain region also appear to be dying, possibly as a result of air pollution and acid rain, which poses a potential threat (2) (4). While hunting in the past probably played a part in the species’ historical decline, it is unlikely to pose any significant threat today because of the high cost of ammunition, the strict control of guns due to the security situation in the country, and cultural and religious taboos (4). In addition, the magpie is thought to be prevented from colonising disturbed forests by high rates of brood-parasitism by the Asian koel (Eudynamys scolopacea), which is common wherever there is human habitation (2) (4). It has also been suggested that biocides may be playing a role in the decline of this species (2) (4).

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Sri Lanka magpie conservation

The Sri Lanka magpie is a legally protected species in Sri Lanka, and a moratorium was passed in 1990 to protect wet zone forests from logging (2). The colourful bird also occurs in several national parks and forest reserves, most notably Sinharaja National Heritage Wilderness Area, Horton Plains National Park, Peak Wilderness Sanctuary, Morapitiya Forest Reserve and Tangmalai Sanctuary (2) (4).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

For more information on the Sri Lanka magpie see:

  • BirdLife International. (2001) Threatened Birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk
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Glossary

Biocides
Chemicals used to kill living organisms (such as pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides).
Brood parasite
Animals that lay their eggs in the nests of members of their own or other species; the host then raises the young as their own.
Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Primary forest
Forest that has remained undisturbed for a long time and has reached a mature condition.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2008)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. BirdLife International (October, 2006)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=5727&m=0
  3. IUCN Sri Lanka Country Office: Spotlight on Species Archive (October, 2006)
    http://www.iucn.org/places/srilanka/iucnnew/soptlight23.htm
  4. BirdLife International. (2001) Threatened Birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.
  5. Zoological Museum of the University of Amsterdam (ZMA) (October, 2006)
    http://ip30.eti.uva.nl/zma3d/detail.php?id=451&sort=taxon&type=family
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Image credit

Sri Lanka magpie  
Sri Lanka magpie

© Dr. Madhava Meegaskumbura

Madhava Meegaskumbura
Department of Zoology,
Faculty of Science,
University of Peradeniya,
Sri Lanka
Tel: +94 (81) 2394474
madhava_m@mac.com
http://web.mac.com/madhavameegaskumbura

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