Malaysian Birds - Forktails

From the family of Muscicapidae

The size of the Forktails made to appear large by its long tail and ground feeding habits were formerly classified together with the larger Thrushes under the family Turdidae. But then the physical features of the birds themselves are closer to that of other smaller birds like the Flycatchers. The bird now is treated as part of the Old World Flycatcher family Muscicapidae.

Beside the physical properties mentioned, there are few other very obvious characteristic shown by all Forktails. They are extremely shy birds and they scour for their meals along swift flowing stream with well shaded embankments.

Forktails are insectivorous birds and their first choice of food are insects hiding under stones or pebbles at the banks or river beds. But as the circumstances dictate, with little choice Forktails have to be varied their taste to include fruits and larger items like small snakes.

There are 2 noticeable methods how the birds do their foraging. The first and most preferred way is to comb the river bed as mentioned above. Moving up and down the river turning up rocks and pebbles to weed out their meals.

The second way is to leave the river or stream and scour for insects and more likely seeds on the dry ground. Where ever the Forktails venture out to for food, the vicinity would not be far away from the home ground of the stream which the bird would make a dash when startled.

Forktails are known to be extremely shy. Upon the sight of approaching human or moving vehicles, the bird would abort its feeding and take off for a better spot some distances away. The display of this nerve wrecking behaviour is almost true every time I accidentally met up with the bird while driving a car or walking along a deserted track.

Then there were exceptions too! There were the few times when I sat down and the birds flew back and resumed its activities with the knowledge that I was nearby. Some of these meetings up done with the bird fairly near while other times, the bird remained some distances like 100 meters away. I analyzed that in all these occasions, the Forktails were in familiar feeding grounds. Their presence in that place was already part of its established daily routine. Perhaps another factor could be these places had frequent human movements. It could be a matter that some Forktails could be conditioned to discard or curtailed their hereditary fear of human. As expected the Forktails would fly away and then within a short time, return to the same spot. I also noticed that the Slaty-backed Forktails tolerate a closer separating distances with me when compared with the Chestnut-napped Forktail.

For serious photographers, it is best to get prior knowledge of the habits of the bird that you intended to stalk. Have a hide ready to ensure that at the time the bird appears, it would not be spooked. It is unlikely that casual encounter with the bird would yield any good shot. Assuming that the bird do not take flight, with the sense of human presence, the birds movement are particularly rapid and never pausing for a moment to ponder or work on its meals.



1. Chestnut-naped Forktail


2. Slaty-backed Forktail



3. White-crowned Forktail



 Actually, these few birds are not easy to find as they prefers deep gullies with waterways. The Stay-backed I find are more friendly. Swift as usual but they do stay away. As for the other 2 quite easy to detect their presence in the area and could see them from afar. But the birds prefer to keep their distances and in most occasions, they left the area to another feeding ground for a while

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