Pityriaseidae – Bristlehead

Bornean Bristlehead Pityriasis gymnocephala ©Jordan Sitorus Website

The Bornean Bristlehead also variously known as the Bristled Shrike, Bald-Headed Crow or the Bald-headed Wood-shrike, is the only member of the passerine family Pityriaseidae and genus Pityriasis. It is an enigmatic and uncommon species of the rainforest canopy of the island of Borneo, to which it is endemic.

The relationships of this species have been controversial. At times it has been placed in the Prionopidae, the Cracticidae, the Artamidae or the Corvidae. A more recent suggestion has been to include it in the Tephrodornithidae, a new family that includes Hemipus and Tephrodornis.

It is a medium-sized (25 centimetres in length) black or dark grey bird, with red thighs and a red head, throat and neck, with grey ear-coverts and a featherless yellow crown. There is a white wing-patch, visible in flight, and females also have red spots on the flanks. It has a massive heavy black hooked bill and a short tail, giving it a chunky appearance. The crown is covered by short (3–4 mm) yellow or straw-coloured skin projections like bare feather shafts, hence the name ‘bristlehead’. Juveniles have black thighs, red ear-coverts, a red eye-ring, just a few red feathers on the head and undeveloped ‘bristles’.

It is a noisy species making a variety of unmusical calls, including distinctive high-pitched nasal whining notes interspersed with harsher notes, chattering noises, whistles, honks and chortles.

Endemic to the island of Borneo, throughout the lowlands of which it has been recorded up to 1200m, though its distribution is sparse, patchy and unpredictable. It may be found in both primary and secondary lowland forests, including peat swamp forests, mixed dipterocarp forests and mangroves

It is a sociable species which often moves steadily in small garrulous flocks of 6–10 birds in the mid and upper canopy of the forest, sometimes accompanied by other large forest birds such as malkohas, babblers, drongos, trogons, woodpeckers and hornbills in mixed-species feeding flocks. Its movements in the canopy are slow and heavy and it flies with a fast, shallow wing-beat. They feed on small plants, fruits and vegetable.

Bornean Bristlehead Pityriasis gymnocephala

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 1

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