Spot-throated Babbler

Spot-throated Babbler (Pellorneum albiventre) is a small brown babbler that has a distribution ranging from eastern Himalayas, through southern China, northern Thailand, and all the way to southern Vietnam. It appears to be quite uncommon throughout its range though. In Thailand, I’ve only seen it at few locations including Doi Ang Khang, Doi Lang (west) and Doi Inthanon. Apart from these locations, a stakeout in Baihualing (Yunnan, China), Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary (Arunachal Pradesh, India) and Da Lat Plateau (Vietnam) are some other places where it can be seen regularly.

Typical view of this highly skulking species that often forages close to the ground (Doi Ang Khang, Chiang Mai)
When shown fully, it has the combination of longish tail, plain brown plumage with grey face and white throat. (Doi Ang Khang, Chiang Mai)
I find the throat spots to be quite variable. Most birds only show faint brownish spots on the white puffy throat like in this individual. (Doi Ang Khang, Chiang Mai)
While in some birds, the spots are darker and denser and sometimes forming dark stripes. (Baihualing, Yunnan)

Despite its wide distribution range, there are not that many photos of this species online. It is one of the most skulking babblers in Thailand. It likes to forage quietly alone or in pair, in thick bushes near the ground or hopping on the densely covered ground similar to a mouse. It’s very unusual to see one foraging in the open, and even when it does, it would normally flee to the thickest cover immediately once disturbed. It gets a bit easier during the breeding season, when the males would sing their ridiculously long, varied and melodic songs.

Despite its boring look, the Spot-throated Babbler is one of the best songsters in Asia. (Doi Ang Khang, Chiang Mai)
Once the male finds a suitable perch, it can continue to sing from that same perch for several minutes. (Doi Ang Khang, Chiang Mai)
They rarely come out to sing in the completely open perch though. Most of the time, you’d have to sneak into the bush to find a clear view. (Doi Ang Khang, Chiang Mai)
Once the bird finds its favourite spot to sing, it can be surprisingly still and approachable. (Doi Ang Khang, Chiang Mai)

I find early wet season (April-May) to be the best time to look for this skulking species. On my recent visits to Doi Ang Khang, I came across several singing birds just by walking along the road. They were all picked up first by the songs. Getting to see one requires some effort. Getting a good photograph requires even more work, experience and luck. I find that most birds don’t really like to move much while singing. Once the male finds a suitable perch, it can sit on that same perch and sing for minutes without moving. It’s a matter of sneaking into the bush and finding the right angle to obtain a clear view of the bird. Watching and listening to a singing Spot-throated Babbler is always a personal birding highlight. The songs can go on for 10, 20 or 30 minutes straight. It’s not surprising that this little drab bird is now being threatened by the illegal song bird trade. It is known to be sold to markets in Hong Kong, Singapore and Vietnam. I even found a silent and frightened bird in a cage once in a restaurant in Da Lat. It’s really sad how such beautiful and complex songs can become its downfall like too many species. To hear how cool the song is, here’s a short recording of one of the birds that I recently found https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/344570061.

(Baihualing, Yunnan)
This is my first ever photo of a Spot-throated Babbler taken at Doi Ang Khang on 15 May 2005 by digiscoping!

One thought on “Spot-throated Babbler

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  1. Wonderful to hear the melodious call. Can’t wait to get back to Doi Ang Khang and look for one. I think I might have seen it in Eagle’s Nest with a tour group, calling it out, but it’s not the same as finding one by yourself. Even though I am a very poor birder and keep looking down searching for insects!šŸ¤£

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