Friday, 10 March 2017

Red-billed Blue Magpies in Hong Kong

Our Hong Kong correspondent sent us photographs this week of these birds visiting a tree growing close to his flat. They are Red-billed Blue Magpies, Urocissa erythroryncha*, a bird redolent of the hillsides of Hong Kong.

…and these blue magpies were doing things by the book:

Having arrived for the first time in the dark (20 hours by air from London in a Qantas Boeing 707 in 1965), the next morning I staggered onto the balcony of our flat in the University Compound as a party of about ten of these birds glides downhill through the trees that lined the nullah until they were over the small squatters’ huts that lay the just outside the university grounds. After a little flurry there, they turned round and went back the way they had come. Welcome to Hong Kong.

In the 1930s Herklots had his office near the nullah but further down the slope. In his Hong Kong Birds he wrote:

…In winter it collects to form small flocks and I have on occasion seen as many as eighteen birds together, a very beautiful sight. They love chasing each other in amongst the branches and down the slope of a wooded hillside and evidently take delight in their erratic swoops and turns as they glide from tree to tree with their long and beautiful tails fully displayed…

There are six species in the genus Urocissa. I—and I hope not sounding like a world list ticker from whom may the gods preserve us—have seen three including the Red-billed: U. ornata, the Sri Lanka Blue Magpie and U. flavirostris, the Yellow-billed Blue Magpie in Bhutan.

*often given as U. erythrorhynca which is apparently incorrect. I suspect Boddaert, who he named the bird in 1783, was perhaps not classicist of the first water and that later authors tried to correct his error.