SPECIES

Spiny Babbler Turdoides nipalensis Scientific name definitions

Carol Inskipp and Hem S. Baral
Version: 2.0 — Published May 7, 2022

Sounds and Vocal Behavior

Introduction

The Spiny Babbler's song is complex, varied, rich, and full of mimicry, consisting of a series of alternating quickly-repeated notes. Some songs are like those of thrushes (Turdus sp.), while others are scratchy and rather slurred – unlike the songs of congeners (16). The song is distinctive, with a great variety of notes, but the tone, a peculiarly harsh yet ringing whistle, is always the same (3).

Vocalizations

Vocal Array

Song. The most frequently heard song starts with a few fine whistles and then continues up the scale, tee ter ter tee ter ter, etc. In the breeding season only, it has a very distinctive and peculiar call down the scale tee tee ker chee ker chee ker chee. This is sometimes preceded by a running trill. There are many other combinations of whistled notes (3). Other renditions of the song are given as: a descending poo-kil poo-kil poo-kil augmented with a chupu chupu and then fresh introductory gurgles, the tee-ter refrain concluding with more gurgles and trills (33).

Calls. A clear el-el-el-el-ele is uttered while hopping about on the ground (8).

The female utters churring cries and a loud call: wick-er wick-er wick-er (3).

A pair will sometimes burst out in a wild crescendo of screaming calls, sounding very like the Jungle Babbler (Argya striata) of the plains (3).

The alarm is described as a chur-r-r (33, 34).

Species it mimics include a bulbul, Streaked Laughingthrush (Trochalopteron lineatum), and Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus); notes from these particular species were all given in the first half of one bird’s song (33). Black-throated Thrush (Turdus atrogularis) has also been recorded as being mimicked (33).

Phenology

During March and April, a singing male is usually accompanied by a female low down in the scrub. She spends a good deal of time preening herself and uttering low churring cries, though she is usually very well concealed and difficult to see. If she leaves the bush where the male is singing, he will stop and follow her. At the end of April and May, only singing males were seen, with females likely incubating (3).

In June, July, and August, the male continues to sing, but now from deep within a bush. It sings in short bursts, and if approached, becomes instantly silent, although it will remain in the same area and will resume singing after an observer has passed. The call that proceeds down the scale is not often heard from June–August. An individual is also often silent for long periods, but when one sings, it still stimulates others to reply, sometimes from a considerable distance (3).

In September, birds are still in full song, especially during intervals in the monsoon showers. In October, it is occasionally heard; from November to February, it is silent (3). Fleming described the species as largely silent in winter (21).

Daily Pattern of Vocalizing

Proud (3) noted that it is particularly noisy after rain and in the middle of the day. When the dawn chorus is in full swing, dominated by birds like Orange-headed Thrush (Geokichla citrina) and Blue-capped Rock-Thrush (Monticola cinclorhyncha), Spiny Babbler sings less (3). However, it has also been found that the species does sing early in the morning, especially when the sun hits the slope it inhabits (HSB, personal observation).

Places of Vocalizing

Early in the breeding season, males sing from a prominent bush, though not from the top, but on one side, usually in full view. Later in the breeding season, from June–August, males sing from deep within a bush (3).

Repertoire and Delivery of Songs

Proud described the singing as follows: "As soon as one bird starts to call, it is answered in succession by multiple individuals, with each about 200 m apart. They can be heard answering each other for long distances; day after day I would find a pair in the same place, often in the same bush" (3). Fleming described similar behavior: "In the late afternoon, a single bird will begin to sing, and others in the immediate vicinity will begin to respond. Each seems to have his own area, and the areas are several hundred meters apart" (34).

The male’s behavior while singing has been described as follows: "He would tilt his head back, hold his tail fairly still and warble for several seconds. He would bend forward, flicking his head and tail slowly from side to side, then straighten up and sing again" (35).

Recommended Citation

Inskipp, C. and H. S. Baral (2022). Spiny Babbler (Turdoides nipalensis), version 2.0. In Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.spibab1.02