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A photo of a Slaty-backed Forktail (Enicurus schistaceus)
Slaty-backed Forktail

Slaty-backed Forktail

Enicurus schistaceus

The Slaty-backed Forktail, Enicurus schistaceus, presents a striking figure with its slate grey forehead, crown, and mantle. This slim, medium-sized bird, ranging from 22 to 25 centimeters in length, is adorned with a long, deeply forked tail characterized by black and white bands, a white rump, and a distinctive white bar across its primary feathers. The rest of its plumage is predominantly white, and both sexes are similar in appearance.

Identification Tips

To identify the Slaty-backed Forktail, look for its black throat and the narrow white stripe, sometimes described as a mask, extending across its face just behind the eyes. The bird's bill is black, and its feet are pale pinkish or greyish. The iris is typically dark brown. The juvenile is distinguishable by its lack of a white forehead, brown upperparts, and dark-scaled breast. Unlike the similar Black-backed Forktail, the Slaty-backed Forktail can be recognized by its slate-grey mantle and crown and slightly larger bill.

Habitat

This bird is often found along the edges of fast-flowing streams and rivers, preferring habitats with dense, complex vegetation and stable earth banks. It may also venture to forested areas, roadsides, and trails near water bodies.

Distribution

The Slaty-backed Forktail inhabits the central and eastern Himalayas, the Indian Subcontinent, southern China, and continental Southeast Asia. Its range extends from Uttarakhand in India to Myanmar, including Nepal, Bhutan, and parts of China such as Tibet, Sichuan, and Yunnan. It is also present in Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Malaysia.

Behaviour

Typically solitary, this bird may be seen in pairs or family groups during the breeding season. It is known for its restless movement while foraging among rocks at water's edge and occasionally making brief flights over water to catch prey. The species is sedentary in Southeast Asia but may move along elevational gradients in the Himalayas.

Song & Calls

The Slaty-backed Forktail's call is a high, thin, sharp, metallic screech, reminiscent of a small kingfisher's call, and has been mistaken for that of the Blyth's Kingfisher. It also emits a mellow "cheet" and a harsh screeching when alarmed.

Breeding

Breeding occurs from February to July, with the bird constructing nests of bryophytes, leaves, and grass, sometimes with an outer layer of mud. The nests can be found in various locations, including tree hollows and rock crevices. The species lays 3-4 eggs that range in color from pure white to pinkish or bluish white, often with spots.

Diet and Feeding

The Slaty-backed Forktail feeds on small invertebrates such as larvae and crustaceans found in or near water. It forages by hopping among rocks and occasionally entering the water.

Conservation status

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies the Slaty-backed Forktail as a species of Least Concern, with a stable population that is thought to exceed 10,000 individuals. It is common in parts of its range, including China, Nepal, and Southeast Asia.

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