Melanocharitidae – Berrypeckers & Longbills

Slaty-headed Longbill Toxorhamphus poliopterus ©Adam Riley Website

The Melanocharitidae, the berrypeckers and longbills, are a small bird family restricted to the forests of New Guinea. The family contains ten species in four (sometimes three) genera. They are small songbirds with generally dull plumage but a range of body shapes.

The berrypeckers are generally montane species, with only one, the black berrypecker, being found in lowland forest. In contrast the longbills live in lowland forests and low montane forests as well as on small islands around New Guinea. Amongst the berrypeckers there is a succession of species at different altitudes, with the Black Berrypecker being found in the lowlands, the Mid-mountain Berrypecker being found at lower altitudes (mid-montane) and the fan-tailed berrypecker being found near the treeline.

Melanocharitidae species are usually seen alone or in pairs. They may associate with mixed-species feeding flocks, but are loose members and not core species. The diet of the family is dominated by berries and small fruits. Arthropods are also gleaned from foliage, and more rarely by hovering and snatching. They are highly active feeders, seldom pausing except when at berries. Most species feed in the lower and middle levels of the forest, although records suggest that the Obscure Berrypecker will enter the canopy to forage. The male Black Berrypecker will also enter the canopy, while the female will remain lower down in the forest, suggesting some level of sexual segregation of feeding niches.

The breeding of some species is entirely undescribed, and little is known about the breeding in most species. Records of nests have been made in both wet and dry seasons. They build a cup nest, usually on a forked branch near the edge of a tree, out of fern scales and plant fibres bound neatly with insect or spider silk and ornamented with lichens. Little is known about the division of labour in the family, although the pattern exhibited by the Black Berrypecker, where the female construct the nest alone but both sexes feed the young, may be typical of the family. They lay one or two eggs.

The berrypeckers and longbills are not considered to be threatened by human activities. No species is listed as threatened by the IUCN, although one species, the Obscure Berrypecker, is listed as data deficient. That species is known officially from two collected specimens, but unconfirmed reports suggest that it is not uncommon in remote parts of New Guinea.

The 10 species of Longbills and Berrypeckers in this family, Melanocharitidae; are:

Obscure Berrypecker Melanocharis arfakiana
Black Berrypecker Melanocharis nigra
Lemon-breasted (Mid-mountain) Berrypecker Melanocharis longicauda
Fan-tailed Berrypecker Melanocharis versteri
Streaked Berrypecker Melanocharis striativentris

Spotted Berrypecker Rhamphocharis crassirostris

Plumed (Dwarf) Longbill Oedistoma iliolophum
Pygmy Longbill Oedistoma pygmaeum

Green-crowned (Yellow-bellied) Longbill Toxorhamphus novaeguineae
Slaty-headed (Grey-winged) Longbill Toxorhamphus poliopterus

Species Links
  • Slaty-headed Longbill Toxorhamphus poliopterus

    BirdLife Species Account
    The population size has not been quantified, but it is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
  • Slaty-headed Longbill Toxorhamphus poliopterus

    HBW Species Account
    axonomy: Melilestes poliopterus Sharpe, 1882, Astrolabe Mountains, south-east New Guinea. Genus was in the past usually included within the honeyeater family (Meliphagidae), but DNA studies indicate that it belongs with present family. This species and T. novaeguineae form a species pair, the two replacing each other altitudinally, with only marginal overlap. Proposed race septentrionalis (described from Huon Peninsula) included within nominate. Two subspecies currently recognized.
  • Slaty-headed Longbill Toxorhamphus poliopterus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map
  • Slaty-headed Longbill Toxorhamphus poliopterus

    Species Account
    The slaty-headed longbill or grey-winged longbill (Toxorhamphus poliopterus) is a species of bird in the Melanocharitidae family. It is found in New Guinea. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests and subtropical or tropical moist montane forests.
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 10

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