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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 behavior 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 Forktail would fly away and then within a short time, return to the same spot. I also noticed that the Slaty-backed Forktail tolerate a closer separating distances with me when compared with the Chestnut-naped 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.

Bluethroat Luscinia svecica
Siberian Rubythroat Luscinia calliope
Rufous-headed Robin Luscinia ruficeps
Siberian Blue Robin Luscinia cyane
Orange-flanked Bush Robin Luscinia cyanura
Oriental Magpie-Robin Copsychus saularis
White-rumped Shama Copsychus malabaricus
Rufous-tailed Shama Trichixos pyrropygus
White-tailed Robin Myiomela leucura
Chestnut-naped Forktail Enicurus ruficapillus
Slaty-backed Forktail Enicurus schistaceus
White-crowned Forktail Enicurus leschenaulti

There are 3 species of Forktails in South-east Asia and all of them could be found in Malaysia.



Slaty-backed Forktail  Enicurus schistaceus


 Size & diagnostic markings:- 24 Cm. The presence of a Forktail in the area is very much prompted by its call. So this Forktail moves along the bank of the river. Rather common in certain stretches and once used to the location always forages along that stretch. Intelligence needed as to where that location is important. At times on dry land very near to the river. With the long tail the bird appeared large. Upper part is dark steely blue with a broad stripe across the front of the wing. Almost having that pied colors of black and white. A narrow white band runs across the forehead. The under part is pure white.

 Distribution :-  The bird is resident in the north and north-eastern part of the Indian Sub-continent, then west and southern China.
 Habitats & preferences:- This is a sub-montane bird in Malaysia and stays along the streams of the mountains.
 In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:-Among the hills with swift running streams. Wait for that Forktail call. It may not be possible to sight the bird. But after repeated promptings and focusing on possible spots, sighting would dependence on waiting. Then verifying that there would be a bird in the area. Both Frasers Hills and Cameron Highlands are excellent locations and chances of meeting up with the bird is more than good.
Record of bird's call :-    and Videos

Slaty-backed Forktail # 1

Slaty-backed Forktail   # 2

Slaty-backed Forktail  # 3

Slaty-backed Forktail   # 4

Slaty-backed Forktail  # 5

Slaty-backed Forktail   # 6

Slaty-backed Forktail   # 7

Slaty-backed Forktail  # 8

Slaty-backed Forktail  # 9

Slaty-backed Forktail   # 10

Slaty-backed Forktail   # 11

Slaty-backed Forktail   # 12

 My personal jottings on the Slaty-backed Forktail :-

 I am quite happy that at least 2 spots in Frasers Hills and Cameron Highlands that the bird would appear without fail In both locations, the birds that appeared were fairly tame. Could be sighted with ease and the birds made no haste to leave. That habit itself allowed fairly closer proximity for photography.

In Frasers Hills, the bird would forage on the paved road in the early morning when there would be no passing vehicle. Also allow fairly close approach to be made. Lighting before 7.30 am of course is poor for good photography. In a couple of other spots in Frasers Hill, the bird would adopt its usual style of moving along the banks during daylight hours.


Chestnut-naped Forktail  Enicurus ruficapillus


 Size & diagnostic markings:- 21 Cm. Same as the Slaty-backed Forktail, the signs to tell the bird's presence in the area is also prompted by its call. The Chestnut-naped Forktail is even smaller at only 21 cm.  This bird however spends equal amount of time foraging inside the river, along its bank plus the area next to the river. Sometimes i get the impression that the bird is seen more often away from the River. This bird is almost black on the upper part. Prominent is the Chestnut crown and all the way down to the mantle. A white stripe across both wings. The under part with white background and there are dark scales scattered on the white breast.

 Distribution :-  This bird is resident to the islands of Borneo and Sumatra.
 Habitats & preferences:- This is a lowland Forktails preferring places with running waters nearby.
 In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:-Meeting up with the bird is really by chance as the bird covers a large area and may not be visiting the same spots, where it was last spotted. So I can mention many places where the birds were seen but names of these places are meaningless. It is best to wait for your opportunity to cross path with them. These encounters with the birds are fairly common along jungle path with a stream nearby. Better results to do an exploratory run with a moving vehicle, tracking through the forest path on foot yield less result as the sensitive bird could detect human approaches faster than its presence seen. After confirming the birds presence plan your move to get the bird.
Record of bird's call :-    and Video:-

Slaty-backed Forktail # 1

Slaty-backed Forktail   # 2

Slaty-backed Forktail  # 3

Slaty-backed Forktail # 4

Slaty-backed Forktail   # 5

Slaty-backed Forktail  # 6

Slaty-backed Forktail # 7

Slaty-backed Forktail   # 8

Slaty-backed Forktail  # 9

Slaty-backed Forktail # 10

Slaty-backed Forktail   # 11

Slaty-backed Forktail  # 12

 My personal jottings on the Chesnut-naped Forktail :-

The same advice, it is best to ascertain the birds presence in the area and then stay out of sight to allow the bird returning to its routine without being disrupted by uncomfortable feeling of danger. Most times, I found that chance encounters with the bird while on dry land were not that pleasing. Most birds, would take flight upon sighting my presence. On the contrary, while the bird was foraging along the river bank, it would be more confident and would not make any hasty vanishing act. It is best to find a convenient spot along the river bank and wait for its appearance. In this mode, the bird coming into view would be hardly spooked. They would continue its routine in normal pace.



White-crowned Forktail  Enicurus leschenaulti frontalis



 Size & diagnostic markings:- 28 Cm. Again, the bird's presence in the area is denoted by its calls in passing through. It is not easy to catch it unless and until it stops at its favorite spot. Furthermore, the birds prefer rivers with a deep gorge. I was not there in Borneo long enough to detect other habits of the bird. The White-crowned Forktail is the largest and also a large bird at 28 cm long. It has all the looks of the Slaty-backed with exception like a prominent patch of white at the front of the forehead. The upper part is black instead of grey. The under part is a black breast and white belly.

 Distribution :-  The bird is resident in Bhutan, North Eastern India, West, Central and south China and the Greater Sundas.
 Habitats & preferences:- This is a montane Forktail and again in the deep gully of fast flowing streams
 In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:-In Malaysia, not having spent that much of time in Borneo, I am assuming that the bird is best found in the streams at Mount Kinabalu Park. It's being mentioned that the bird was also spotted in peninsula Malaysia but I have not come across any reports of sightings,
 My personal jottings on the White-crowned Forktail :-

With steep mountain slopes and the bird moving along the gully, it was difficult to get a vantage point to wait for the bird. With short trips to the area and without the assistance from experienced guide, getting good pictures of the bird is still remote.



 The photographs and its questionable quality of the bird particularly the Chestnut-naped Forktail seen on this page give hints and how it would be like to get pictures of the birds. The Slaty-backed Forktails were closer and taking time to wonder around a confined area. Whereas the Chestnut-naped Forktail were far away and yet moving very rapidly.