White-tailed Iora Aegithina nigrolutea

Prasad Ganpule
Version: 2.0 — Published October 22, 2020


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Systematics History

Iora nigrolutea (Marshall, 1876) [type locality=Meerut, Uttar Pradesh]

Initially treated as Iora nigrolutea, this treatment was continued by A. O. Hume in his overview of the Iora group (4). The use of Aegithina in preference over Iora was adopted by R. B. Sharpe in the catalogue of the birds in the British Museum (5). This was more or less widely accepted thereafter (6). Ioras are placed in the monophyletic family Aegithinidae, where they appear to be part of an old lineage of Corvoid birds, including bushshrikes from Africa (Malaconotidae), woodswallows (Artamidae), and the Bornean Bristlehead (Pityriasidae; 7, 8, 9).

The White-tailed Iora was treated as a distinct species by A. O. Hume, E. C. S. Baker, and D. Marien (2, 4, 10, 11). In the subsequent years, doubts were raised regarding its true species status based on specimens said to be intermediate between White-tailed Iora and Common Iora (Aegithina tiphia), and species status for White-tailed Iora was accepted only with reservations (12). Based on variability of Common Iora from the Eastern Ghats (southeast India), Hall (12) and others speculated that Common and White-tailed Iora intergraded in eastern India (13).

Subsequent literature also doubted species rank for the White-tailed Iora (3, 14). However, specific status for the White-tailed Iora was upheld based on consistent morphological differences, broad overlap in range with Common Iora, and distinct vocal differences from the Common Iora (6, 15); White-tailed Iora was treated as a separate species in the recent reference texts for the Indian Subcontinent (16, 17). In a recent study in western India, White-tailed Iora was found to be breeding sympatrically with Common Iora, further confirming its status as a distinct species (18).

Geographic Variation

Birds from northwestern India (Gujarat) have been described as subspecies sulphurea (or sulfurea; 19). These birds are said to be paler and more yellow in color above and smaller in size; birds from Kachchh were considered to be outstandingly different from others by being paler, with more yellow contra green color above and smaller size (20). However, birds from western India (Gujarat) are now considered indistinguishable from adjacent populations in northern India. Elsewhere in its range, some of the size and tonal variation apparent in the birds over their entire range may eventually be recognized taxonomically (6, 21). For example, in India, the mantle color in the non-breeding plumage of females apparently darkens from north to south. Birds from Sri Lanka exhibit vocal and plumage differences from birds in northern and western India. Based on present evidence, birds from Sri Lanka and southern India are also smaller when compared with populations from northern and north-western India. Some individuals recorded from southern India and Sri Lanka are also greener-backed and show reduced black cap on head [ ] (1). If consistent vocal and plumage differences are found, then there is potential for subspecific differentiation but further study is needed.

There is no information regarding transitional plumage and non breeding plumage in males in Sri Lanka. As per available evidence (photographs of males taken year round in Sri Lanka), males with black caps (or with black on crown) are seen throughout the year, even in the winter months (November-February). This would suggest that either the breeding season lasts all year (with males acquiring breeding plumage at different times), or that the males of the Sri Lankan population retain the black on head even in non-breeding plumage, which seems to be more likely. But, further study is required for confirming this feature in males in the Sri Lankan populations.


Currently treated as monotypic.

Related Species

White-tailed Iora is related to other ioras (Aegithina species), which collectively belong to the family Aegithinidae. There has been no comprehensive study investigating the relationships among the four species of iora, so relationships among the species are not fully resolved. Morphologically and vocally, it is superficially similar to the Common Iora of the subspecies humei, especially for males in breeding plumage (1). Specimens collected from Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu were considered to be intermediate (or hybrids) between Common Iora and White-tailed Iora, however subsequent re-examination of the specimens confirmed them to be typical White-tailed Iora (6). White-tailed Iora breeds sympatrically with Common Iora in western India (Gujarat) and hybridization is not known to occur between these two species in Gujarat (18). White-tailed Iora and Common Iora are seen in the same area quite frequently in Saurashtra in Gujarat, with both species sharing the same habitat without any apparent interaction (PG).


Two common English names: White-tailed Iora and Marshall’s Iora. Both names are widely used.

Historically, it was called Marshall’s Dwarf Bulbul by James Murry (22), as Western Iora by A. O. Hume (4) and as Golden-backed Iora by E. C. S. Baker (11).

Its common Hindi name is Shaubeegi or Shaubeega. In Gujarati too it is called Shaubeegi. However, these names are also used for Common Iora, and White-tailed Iora does not have a separate name in regional languages. The White-tailed Iora is now referred to as Soneri Shaubeegi in Gujarati, which is a separate name for the species. While the name Shaubeegi is onomatopoeic for the Common Iora, the same can apply for the White-tailed Iora as its common call does somewhat rhyme with the word Shaubeegi.

Fossil History

No information.

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