Locustellidae – Grassbirds & Allies

Tawny Grassbird Megalurus timoriensis ©Ian Montgomery Website

The Locustellidae are a newly recognized family of small insectivorous warblers & others, formerly placed in the Old World warbler ‘wastebin’ family. It contains the grass warblers, grassbirds, and the Bradypterus ‘bush warblers’. These birds occur mainly in Eurasia, Africa, and the Australian region. The family name is sometimes given as Megaluridae, but Locustellidae has priority.

The species are smallish birds with tails that are usually long and pointed; the scientific name of the genus Megalurus in fact means ‘the large-tailed one’ in plain English. They are less wren-like than the typical shrub-warblers (Cettia) but like these drab brownish or buffy all over. They tend to be larger and slimmer than Cettia though, and many have bold dark streaks on wings and/or underside. Most live in scrubland and frequently hunt food by clambering through thick tangled growth or pursuing it on the ground; they are perhaps the most terrestrial of the warblers. Very unusual for Passeriformes, beginning evolution towards flightlessness is seen in some taxa.

Among the warbler and babbler superfamily Sylvioidea, the Locustellidae are closest to the Malagasy warblers, another newly recognised family and the Black-capped Donacobius (Donacobius atricapillus).

Species List

According to the IOC (2019) there are 62 extant species in this family. They are:

Cordillera Ground Warbler Robsonius rabori
Sierra Madre Ground Warbler Robsonius thompsoni
Bicol Ground Warbler Robsonius sorsogonensis

Russet Bush Warbler Locustella mandelli
Dalat Bush Warbler Locustella idonea
Javan Bush Warbler Locustella montis
Taiwan Bush Warbler Locustella alishanensis
Sichuan Bush Warbler Locustella chengi
West Himalayan Bush Warbler Locustella kashmirensis
Spotted Bush Warbler Locustella thoracica
Baikal Bush Warbler Locustella davidi
Chestnut-backed Bush Warbler Locustella castanea
Long-tailed Bush Warbler Locustella caudata
Common Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia
Long-billed Bush Warbler Locustella major
Chinese Bush Warbler Locustella tacsanowskia
Brown Bush Warbler Locustella luteoventris
River Warbler Locustella fluviatilis
Savi’s Warbler Locustella luscinioides
Lanceolated Warbler Locustella lanceolata
Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warbler Locustella ochotensis
Styan’s Grasshopper Warbler Locustella pleskei
Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler Locustella certhiola
Marsh Grassbird Locustella pryeri
Gray’s Grasshopper Warbler Locustella fasciolata
Sakhalin Grasshopper Warbler Locustella amnicola
Benguet Bush Warbler Locustella seebohmi
Friendly Bush Warbler Locustella accentor

Little Rush Warbler Bradypterus baboecala
Highland Rush Warbler Bradypterus centralis
White-winged Swamp Warbler Bradypterus carpalis
Grauer’s Swamp Warbler Bradypterus graueri
Brown Emutail Bradypterus brunneus
Knysna Warbler Bradypterus sylvaticus
Cinnamon Bracken Warbler Bradypterus cinnamomeus
Evergreen Forest Warbler Bradypterus lopezi
Bangwa Forest Warbler Bradypterus bangwaensis
Barratt’s Warbler Bradypterus barratti
Ja River Scrub Warbler Bradypterus grandis
Bamboo Warbler Bradypterus alfredi

Sri Lanka Bush Warbler Elaphrornis palliseri

Broad-tailed Grassbird Schoenicola platyurus
Fan-tailed Grassbird Schoenicola brevirostris

Striated Grassbird Megalurus palustris
Rufous Songlark Megalurus mathewsi
Brown Songlark Megalurus cruralis
Little Grassbird Megalurus gramineus
New Zealand Fernbird Megalurus punctatus
Chatham Fernbird Megalurus rufescens
Spinifexbird Megalurus carteri
Tawny Grassbird Megalurus timoriensis
Papuan Grassbird Megalurus macrurus
Fly River Grassbird Megalurus albolimbatus

Grey Emutail Amphilais seebohmi

New Caledonian Thicketbird Megalurulus mariei
New Britain Thicketbird Megalurulus grosvenori
Melanesian Thicketbird Megalurulus whitneyi
Bougainville Thicketbird Megalurulus llaneae
Rusty Thicketbird Megalurulus rubiginosus
Long-legged Thicketbird Megalurulus rufus

Buff-banded Thicketbird Buettikoferella bivittata

Bristled Grassbird Chaetornis striata

Species Links
  • Common Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia

    Species Account
    The common grasshopper warbler (Locustella naevia) is a species of Old World warbler in the grass warbler genus Locustella. It breeds across much of temperate Europe and western Asia.
  • Common Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia

    Species Account
    Taxonomy: Motacilla naevia Boddaert, 1783, Bologna, Italy. Races appear to form two pairs, with nominate and obscurior in W (larger, browner), and straminea and mongolica in E (marginally smaller, paler); vocal analysis suggests that E birds have a slightly slower pace of song delivery
  • Common Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia

    Species Account
    The grasshopper warbler is found scattered across the UK in summer, although less common in Scotland. Likes areas of scrub, thick grassland, the edges of reedbeds, new forestry plantations and gravel pits with plenty of scattered bushes. Read more at https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/grasshopper-warbler/#oYwWiTZke0fKkAbS.99
  • Common Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map
  • Lanceolated Warbler Locustella lanceolata

    Species Account
    The lanceolated warbler (Locustella lanceolata) is an Old World warbler in the grass warbler genus Locustella. It breeds from northeast European Russia across northern Asia to northern Hokkaidō, Japan.
  • Lanceolated Warbler Locustella lanceolata

    Species Account
    Taxonomy: Sylvia lanceolata Temminck, 1840, Mainz, Germany, error = Russia.
  • Lanceolated Warbler Locustella lanceolata

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map
  • New Zealand Fernbird Megalurus punctatus

    Species Account
    The New Zealand Fernbird is a very secretive species living in thick vegetation and moving mainly on foot or in short flights. Short wings and long tail are two typical morphological features.
  • New Zealand Fernbird Megalurus punctatus

    Species Account
    The New Zealand fernbird or simply fernbird (Poodytes punctatus) is an insectivorous bird endemic to New Zealand.
  • New Zealand Fernbird Megalurus punctatus

    Species Account
    Images, sonograms etc.
  • River Warbler Locustella fluviatilis

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map
  • River Warbler Locustella fluviatilis

    Species Account
    Sylvia fluviatilis Wolf, 1810, River Danube, Austria. Sister to L. luscinioides; see also L. lanceolata. Monotypic.
  • River Warbler Locustella fluviatilis

    Species Account
    The river warbler (Locustella fluviatilis) is an Old World warbler in the grass warbler genus Locustella. It breeds in east and central Europe into western Asia.
  • Savi's Warbler Locustella luscinioides

    Species Account
    The Savi's warbler (Locustella luscinioides) is a species of Old World warbler in the grass warbler genus Locustella. It breeds in southern Europe and temperate western Asia.
  • Savi's Warbler Locustella luscinioides

    Species Account
    Taxonomy: Sylvia Luscinioides Savi, 1824, Pisa, Italy. Sister to L. fluviatilis; see also L. lanceolata. Three subspecies recognized.
  • Savi's Warbler Locustella luscinioides

    Species Account
    Savi's warbler is right on the edge of its range here, and its numbers have always been very low and difficult to see in the UK. Like most of this family it is heard before it is seen, with a similar song to the grasshopper warbler but less persistent. Patiently watching where the sound is coming from will eventually result in the sight of a warm brown warbler, clinging to a reed.
  • Savi's Warbler Locustella luscinioides

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map
  • Tawny Grassbird Megalurus timoriensis

    Species Account
    ...the species is evaluated as Least Concern
  • Tawny Grassbird Megalurus timoriensis

    Species Account
    The Tawny Grassbird - Megalurus timoriensis - has a rich red-brown crown with rufous nape, pale buff eyebrow and white throat. The bill is pink-brown above, paler below. Eye is yellow-brown. Underside is plain grey-white. Back, wings and tail are rufous-brown heavily streaked with black and dark brown; flight feathers are dark brown, edged rufous. The tail is long, broad, wedge-shaped and dark brown. 19 centimetres long.
  • Tawny Grassbird Megalurus timoriensis

    Species Account
    Tawny Grassbirds have light pink legs and feet whereas these were dark,almost black and it was in a large bush beside a lake. Also it seems to have a darker brow than a Tawny Grassbird?
  • Tawny Grassbird Megalurus timoriensis

    Species Account
    The tawny grassbird (Megalurus timoriensis) is a songbird species of the grass- and bush-warbler family (Locustellidae)
  • Tawny Grassbird Megalurus timoriensis

    Species Account
    Megalurus timoriensis Wallace, 1864, Timor, Lesser Sundas. Previously placed in Megalurus. Traditionally treated as conspecific with C. macrurus, but no apparent mixed pairings where they meet in SC New Guinea.
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 62

Useful Reading
  • Reed and Bush Warblers

    | By Peter Kennerley & David Pearson | Christopher Helm | 2010 | Hardback | 712 pages, 48 colour plates, illustrations | ISBN: 9780713660227 Buy this book from NHBS.com

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