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Malaysian Rail-babbler
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Suborder: Passeri
Family: Eupetidae
Bonaparte, 1850
Genus: Eupetes
Temminck 1831
Species: E. macrocerus
Binomial name
Eupetes macrocerus
Temminck, 1831

The Malaysian Rail-babbler or simply Rail-babbler (Eupetes macrocerus) is a strange, rail-like, brown and pied inhabitant of the floor of primary forest in the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra (the nominate subspecies macrocerus), as well as Borneo (ssp. borneensis), distantly related to African crow-like birds. Its population has greatly decreased because much of the lowland primary forest has been cut, and secondary forests usually have too dense a bottom vegetation or do not offer enough shade to be favourable for the species. However, it is locally still common in logged forest or on hill-forest on slopes, and probably not in immediate danger of extinction.



Opinions on the correct taxonomic placement for the rail-babbler have differed. At one time, it was placed in the Old World babbler family, Timaliidae. Until recently, it had been regarded as being related to a group which included the quail-thrushes and whipbirds, and placed in the family Cinclosomatidae (previously in Orthonychidae when the members of the Cinclosomatidae were regarded as belonging with the logrunners).

However, Serle (1952) had pointed out a number of similarities between this species and the two species of rockfowl (Picathartes): similar proportions, the position of the nostrils, the shape of the forehead, and that of the tail.[1] Based on molecular studies, Jønsson et al. (2007) [2] argues that this is closer to the correct position for this species; the rail-babbler is most closely related to the rockjumpers, another early branch of the oscine passerines. As such, it is more correctly placed in a monotypic family, Eupetidae.[3] This is one of only three bird families restricted to the Oriental zoogeographical region.


It is a medium sized, fairly slender songbird, about 29 cm in length.[4] It has a long thin neck, long black bill, long legs and a long tail. The plumage is mainly brown with a more reddish forehead, crown and throat. It has a long, black eyestripe extending from the bill to the side of the neck and a broad, white supercilium above it. There is a strip of bare, blue skin on the side of the neck which can be seen when the bird calls. Juvenile birds are similar to the adult but have duller head stripes, a whitish throat and greyer belly.[4][5]

It has a long, monotonous whistling call. When agitated, it gives a series of frog-like notes.[4][5]

Distribution and habitat

It is found on the Malay Peninsula in southern Thailand and Peninsular Malaysia and in the Greater Sundas on Sumatra, Borneo and the Natuna Islands.[4][5] It mainly occurs in tall, lowland forests and also in swamps and heath forest. It sometimes occurs in lower montane forests up to about 1060 m in Peninsular Malaysia and 900 m in Sumatra and Borneo. It is believed to be declining due to loss and degradation of the forest and is classed as Near-threatened.[6]


It is a shy and secretive bird which lives on the forest floor. It walks like a rail, jerking its head and runs when disturbed.[4][5] It feeds mainly on insects and worms.[4] Little is known about its breeding habits; it nests between January and July and lays two eggs.[4]


  1. ^ Serle, W. (1952) The affinities of the genus Picathartes Lesson. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club 72: 2-6
  2. ^ Jønsson, K.A., J. Fjeldså, P.G.P. Ericson, and M. Irestedt. 2007. Systematic placement of an enigmatic Southeast Asian taxon Eupetes macrocerus and implications for the biogeography of a main songbird radiation, the Passerida. Biology Letters 3(3):323-326
  3. ^ Note that, prior to the research by Jønsson et al., some literature has used the name Eupetidae as a name for a family containing the rail-babbler and the whipbirds and sometimes also the quail-thrushes; however this is now known to be an artificial grouping.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Robson, Craig (2002) A Field Guide to the Birds of South-east Asia, New Holland, London.
  5. ^ a b c d MacKinnon, John & Karen Phillipps (1993) A Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo, Sumatra, Java and Bali, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  6. ^ BirdLife International (2009) Species factsheet: Eupetes macrocerus. Downloaded from on 5 January 2010.


  • Del Hoyo, J.; Elliot, A. & Christie D. (editors). (2007). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 12: Picathartes to Tits and Chickadees. Lynx Edicions. ISBN 9788496553422

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