Spiny Babbler Turdoides nipalensis Scientific name definitions

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


Systematics History

The Spiny Babbler is a monotypic species belonging to the family Leiothrichidae (laughingthrushes and allies) in the genus Turdoides. It was first described to science from Nepal by Brian Houghton Hodgson in 1836, without details of date or locality (1). The specimen was collected for Hodgson by Nepali trappers and he named it Timalia nipalensis.

The species was not collected again until 25 December 1948 (5). Ripley placed it in the genus Acanthoptila, and noted, "I feel it serves as a valid link between Turdoides and Garrulax. Its generic features may be listed as the distinctive strong spinous shafts on the head, mantle, throat and upper breast and reduced rictal bristles, though these are more prominent than in Turdoides. In bill shape, nostrils, under-wing coverts and legs it is like a typical Garrulax. In plumage pattern, tail, wing-shape and size it is like Turdoides. Its voice seems to be more like Garrulax than Turdoides, its habits similar to species of both. I feel it serves as a valid link between Garrulax and Turdoides" (5).

Earlier, Delacour merged the genus Acanthoptila with Turdoides with little comment (10). Rand and Fleming had a different opinion to Ripley, stating that, "in the shape of bill, nostrils, under-wing coverts and legs it seems to agree well also with more or less streaked Turdoides species such as caudata, earlei, malcolmi and squameiceps with which Delacour associated it. The increased prominence of the rictal bristles is not very great. We are left with the single character of spiny plumage. This has evidently appeared more than once in this group – incipient on the head of earlei and somewhat developed in the head of the African rubiginosa, for example. The African jardinei has a still more specialized plumage with scale-like tips of the breast and neck feathers. It seems inadvisable to use this as a generic character. Ripley’s argument that Acanthoptila should be recognized as a link between Garrulax and Turdoides loses much of its force when taken with his earlier statement that Turdoides is a rather poorly defined group, transitional in some ways between the laughingthrushes to which they are closely allied, and the smaller scimitar-babblers. In general appearance the short, curved wings are rather striking, but it seems advisable to treat this bird as Delacour has, as one of the primitive streaked Turdoides" (9).

Proud (2, 3) followed Ripley (5) in maintaining Spiny Babbler’s genus as Acanthoptila, while Biswas (11) placed it in Turdoides. Later authors have also placed the species in Turdoides, including Clements et al. (12), which is followed here. Other authors who place it in Turdoides include: Ali and Ripley (8), Grimmett et al. (13), Inskipp et al. (14), Inskipp et al. (15), and Rasmussen and Anderton (16). However, BirdLife International (6) maintain the genus Acanthoptila.

Geographic Variation




Related Species

Within Turdoides, Spiny Babbler appears to be sister to a small clade made up of Capuchin Babbler (Turdoides atripennis), White-throated Mountain-Babbler (Turdoides gilberti), Chapin's Mountain-Babbler (Turdoides chapini), and Red-collared Mountain-Babbler (Turdoides rufocinctus). Together, this small clade appears to be sister to the rest of the Turdoides babblers (17).

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