Black-headed cuckooshrike

   ›      ›   Black-headed cuckooshrike - Lalage melanoptera

The black-headed cuckooshrike (Lalage melanoptera) belongs to the family of cuckooshrikes, the Campephagidae.

The black-headed cuckooshrike species is distributed in India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan. These cuckooshrike species are partially migratory birds. These cuckooshrikes are polytypic species.
Overview & Quick Facts Description & Identification
Pictures of Black-headed Cuckooshrike Distribution & Range
Ecosystem & Habitat Diet & Feeding Behavior
Breeding Habits Migration & Movement Patterns
Conservation & Survival IUCN Status
Taxonomy & Classification Bird World

Appearance, physical description and identification

The black-headed cuckooshrike (Lalage melanoptera) is a medium-sized cuckooshrike, measuring 18 to 20 cm in length and weighing 25 to 35 grams. These species have sexually dimorphic plumage.

The adult male black-headed cuckooshrike has a dark slaty-gray head. The neck, throat and the upper chest are slaty gray. The rest of the upperparts and underparts are pale gray. The plumage is whitish towards the tail.

The female black-headed cuckooshrike has pale gray upper parts and whitish underparts. There is dark gray streaking on breast and underparts giving a scaly appearance.

The bill is dark gray. The irises are dark brown. The feet are pale gray. The cuckooshrike call is a repeated "twet..twet" or "wee..wee" sound.
Indian birds - Image of Black-headed cuckooshrike - Lalage melanoptera
1.Birds of India - Image of Black-headed cuckooshrike - Lalage melanoptera by Dr. Raju Kasambe


Birds of India - Image of Black-headed cuckooshrike - Lalage melanoptera
2.Indian birds - Picture of Black-headed cuckooshrike - Lalage melanoptera by Sudhir Naik

Indian birds - Image of Black-headed cuckooshrike - Lalage melanoptera
3.Birds of India - Photo of Black-headed cuckooshrike - Lalage melanoptera by Pramuita

Origin, geographical range and distribution

The black-headed cuckooshrike species are distributed in India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan. The nominate subspecies L. m. melanoptera is distributed in northwest India (Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand).

The black-headed cuckooshrike subspecies L. m. sykesi is distributed in south Nepal, India (Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra), and Sri Lanka. Non-breeding populations are found in south Bangladesh and west and northwest Myanmar.

The Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) of the black-headed cuckooshrike species in Nepal are Bardia National Park, Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, Koshi Barrage, Barandabhar forests and wetlands, Dang Deukhuri foothill forests and west Rapti wetlands.

Ecosystem and habitat

These black-headed cuckooshrike species have moderate forest dependence. They normally occur in altitudes from 0 to 2000 meters. The artificial ecosystems and habitats of these cuckooshrike species include rural gardens, plantations, orchards and urban parks.

The natural ecosystems and habitats of these black-headed cuckooshrike species include, tropical and subtropical moist lowland forests, bamboo forests, tropical and subtropical moist montane forests, scrub jungles, moist shrublands and open forests.

Diet and feeding behavior

The diet of these black-headed cuckooshrikes consists mainly of insects. Caterpillars, insects, beetles, grasshoppers, cicadas, moths, butterflies and crickets are their primary food. They occasionally feed on fruits, berries and figs.

These black-headed cuckooshrike species hunt insect prey in the forests. They may form feeding flocks with other small birds. The cuckooshrikes hawk airborne insects and also glean their prey from the foliage and branches of trees.

Reproduction and breeding habits

The breeding season of the black-headed cuckooshrike species is from June to September in Nepal and north India. In central India the breeding season is from June to August. The laying season is during April-May in south India and from March and May in Sri Lanka.

The nest of the the black-headed cuckooshrike is a small cup-like structure, made of twigs, rootlets and plant fibers, and bound by cobwebs. The nest is constructed 3-8 meters above the ground. Both parents take part in building the nest on tree branches.

The clutch contains two or three eggs. The breeding pair take turns to incubate the eggs. The parents brood the chicks and keep feeding them till they fledge.

Migration and movement patterns

These black-headed cuckooshrike species are partially migratory birds. Breeding migratory populations are found in central India, north India, Nepal, northeast India and adjoining Myanmar. They migrate to coastal Bangladesh and north coastal Myanmar for wintering.

Resident non-migratory populations of black-headed cuckooshrike are distributed in Sri Lanka and the south Indian states of Telangana, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

Post breeding, the juvenile cuckooshrikes may disperse and establish in new locations within the range. They may make local movements for feeding and breeding within their range.

Black-headed cuckooshrike - Quick Facts

  • Scientific name: Lalage melanoptera
  • Species author: Schlegel, 1863
  • Synonyms/Protonym: Ceblepyris melanoptera Rüppell, 1839
  • Family: Campephagidae › Passeriformes › Aves › Chordata › Animalia
  • Vernacular names: English: Black-headed cuckooshrike, Chinese: 黑头鹃鵙, French: Échenilleur à tête noire, German: Schwarzkopf-Raupenfänger, Spanish: Oruguero cabecinegro, Russian: Черноголовый серый личинкоед, Japanese: ズグロアサクラサンショウクイ
  • Other names: Himalayan Cuckooshrike, Large Gray Cuckooshrike
  • Distribution: India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan
  • Diet and feeding habits: caterpillars, insects, insect larvae, beetles, ants, termites, fruits, berries, figs
  • IUCN status listing: Least Concern (LC)

Conservation and survival

The global population size of the black-headed cuckooshrike (Lalage melanoptera) has not been quantified. The overall population trend of the species is considered to be stable.

Throughout its range, this species is reported to be scarce to locally common. The generation length is 4.6 years. Its distribution size is about 4,230,000

Habitat alteration and destruction, excessive use of pesticides and decrease in insect populations are the main threats that are endangering the survival of this cuckooshrike species.

IUCN and CITES status

The black-headed cuckooshrike (Lalage melanoptera) does not approach the thresholds for being Vulnerable either under the range size criterion, or under the population trend criterion or under the population size criterion.

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) has categorized and evaluated the species and has listed it as of "Least Concern".

The CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) status is ‘Not Evaluated’ for black-headed cuckooshrike (Lalage melanoptera).
Taxonomy and scientific classification of Lalage melanoptera
Species:L. melanoptera
Binomial name:Lalage melanoptera
IUCN status listing:
Least Concern
The black-headed cuckooshrike (Lalage melanoptera) is closely related to black-winged cuckooshrike (Lalage melaschistos) and lesser cuckooshrike (Lalage fimbriata).

The two recognized subspecies of Lalage melanoptera are: Lalage melanoptera melanoptera (Rüppell, 1839) and Lalage melanoptera sykesi Strickland, 1844.
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1.Image source: (cropped)
Image author: Dr. Raju Kasambe | License: CC BY-SA 4.0
2.Image source:
Image author: Sudhir Naik | License: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 as on 11/2/17
3.Image source: (cropped)
Image author: Pramuita | License: CC BY-SA 4.0
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