White-tailed Iora Aegithina nigrolutea

Prasad Ganpule
Version: 2.0 — Published October 22, 2020

Sounds and Vocal Behavior

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Sounds and Vocal Behavior

White-tailed Iora is well known for being highly vocal and having a wide vocal repertoire. It is quite vocal in breeding as well as non-breeding season. It utters a series of calls and songs while feeding as well as while displaying during the breeding season. Its presence in any area is usually ascertained by its harsh calls or songs. In western India (Gujarat), the calls/songs are rather loud and audible from more than 100 m in thorn scrub jungles.


Vocal Array

White-tailed Iora gives prolonged low songs together with different types of shorter songs, whistles, and harsh rattles. It is very vocal during its courtship display, when long, drawn out songs are frequent. Many of the songs and calls are countersung by other males nearby in the breeding season. Both male and female are vocal during feeding and in the breeding season but the male is more vocal.

Songs. In northwestern India (Kachchh and Morbi district of Gujarat), song coincides with southwest monsoon rainy season. Two different types of songs are uttered by the males; a long, drawn out and difficult to describe “chtee-chtee-chtee” and a second that is a harsher, faster “chtree-tree-tree,” with the first two or three notes sounding harsher than the rest and sometimes preceded by a loud “chiu” [ ]. These longer songs are repeated after an interval of about three or four seconds, and given for twenty seconds or up to five minutes. There are some variations in these songs; for examples of songs from three different males recorded during the breeding season, see eBird Checklist S71658821. These songs are very different from the long, drawn out songs of Common Iora.

Other songs, ranging from two to seven or eight notes, which rise and fall in pitch, are also uttered. These are a “tchoo-tchoo” disyllable followed by loud, metallic “chee-tchoo-tchoo-tchee” or “chee-chó-chi-choo.”

Calls. Calls are of 2–4 syllables, commonly rendered as “wheeti wheeti” or “twsee-ku-kee” or “tswee-twsee-tee-dik.” Rarer variations can be described as “ee-teh-wee-hu” and “chef-worrilee,” or an accelerating “jééz-whééz-zee-zee…” (“jeez” note single or doubled) like that of a tit (Paridae); a harsh buzzing nasal rattle “churrrrr” is sometimes heard.

More than 15 different songs and calls from western India (Gujarat) are given in eBird Checklist S71417144 and S71417162.

In most of its range where it overlaps with Common Iora, the White-tailed Iora is immediately separable by consistent vocal differences from Common Iora (3). Both species are very vocal and hence separation by call is easier when the bird is not seen well or only heard. The commonly rendered four-noted “wheeti wheeti” call of the White-tailed Iora is unique and different from the "wheet whee wee?" and "twee twee tiu" calls of the Common Iora.

Geographic variation

Songs and calls of birds from Sri Lanka are somewhat different from birds in northern and western India (1). The common calls in Sri Lanka are described as a chirrup and a whistle rendered as “chooteey” (26). Compare ML172096 (Sri Lanka) with ML250482891 (western India); as can be seen from the sonograms of both these calls, there are some differences between these calls. There are three notes within a strophe in the “chooteey” call from Sri Lanka while there are two notes in this call from western India. The second note is longer in the call in Gujarat, while there is no third note. The pitch (or frequency) of this call from Sri Lanka is slightly higher than the call from western India.

There are also differences in the pitch and notes of many other calls of White-tailed Iora from Sri Lanka when compared with other calls from western India. For example, the nasal, buzzing call of birds from Sri Lanka is harsher when compared with similar calls of birds from western India (Gujarat). Compare [ML249163561 , eBird Checklist S71417162] with https://avocet.integrativebiology.natsci.msu.edu/recordings/6555. It can be noted that the nasal buzzing is of higher frequency in the call from Sri Lanka. The strophe duration is different and the individual notes also differ.

While several differences across its range have been noted, the entire range of songs and calls needs further study in southern India and Sri Lanka. It is only in western India (Gujarat) that the calls and songs of White-tailed Iora are well studied, with more than 15 different songs and calls recorded and analyzed.


White-tailed Iora is most vocal at the start of the breeding season, during courtship. This corresponds to the southwest monsoon rainy season when the frequency of songs is the highest. The long drawn out call is heard only in the monsoon (breeding season). After the nest is made and incubation starts, they no longer give the long, drawn out calls. Generally, birds vocalize less during nesting, with the frequency and variety of calls decreasing, with only the alarm calls and the 2-3 noted calls uttered. In the non-breeding season, vocalized frequently with the nasal rattle and short two or three note calls, which are more common in this season (PG).

Daily Pattern of Vocalization

More vocal early in the morning and in the evening in the non-breeding season. In the breeding season, calls and songs heard throughout the day, before nesting starts. These vocalizations in the afternoons are usually not given in the non-breeding season. Does not vocalize at night (PG).

Places of Vocalizations

In the breeding season, vocalizes from tree tops or from top of bushes. Calls are uttered frequently in the breeding season from inside trees and bushes and the harsh nasal rattle is often uttered. In non-breeding season, similarly calls while feeding and foraging from inside the tree or shrub (PG).

Gender Differences

Both the male and the female are very vocal. Both utter the nasal rattle frequently. In the breeding season, the long and drawn out songs are given only by the male. The female was not observed to give this song (PG). However, other songs and calls of the female are similar to the male. Besides the long and drawn out song, it is not known if there are any other songs or calls which are unique and only uttered by the male or female (PG).

Social Context and Presumed Functions of Vocalizations

In the breeding season, the vocalizations of the male White-tailed Iora are uttered in the vicinity of the female. Frequently, more than one male is observed around a female and the males are very vocal; many of the songs are countersung by different males, and it is presumed that the songs are uttered for attracting the female (PG). It is also possible that countersinging could serve as a territorial defense. Further study required.

The presumed functions of calls and short songs in the non-breeding season are not known. These calls and songs are given when the bird (male or female) is alone and in pairs. These are presumed to be alarm calls (uttered on the approach of humans or due to other perceived threats) or contact calls.

Nonvocal Sounds

When flying short distances, the wings of the White-tailed Iora produce a “brrrrr” sound (PG). This sound is heard when the bird moves from one tree to another.

Recommended Citation

Ganpule, P. (2020). White-tailed Iora (Aegithina nigrolutea), version 2.0. In Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman and B. K. Keeney, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.whtior1.02