Vangidae – Vangas

Rufous Vanga Schetba rufa ©Keith Valentine Website

The Vangidae or vangas are a group of little-known small to medium-sized passerines restricted to Madagascar and the Comoros. There are about 21 species, depending on taxonomy. Most species are shrike-like, arboreal forest birds, feeding on reptiles, frogs and insects. Several other Madagascan birds more similar to Old World warblers, Old World babblers or Old World flycatchers are now often placed in this family. Vangas differ greatly in bill shape and have a variety of foraging methods. Their stick nests are built in trees. They do not migrate.

The vangas are an example of adaptive radiation, having evolved from a single founding population into a variety of forms adapted to various niches occupied by other bird families in other parts of the world. They differ in size, colour and bill shape but are similar in skull shape and bony palate structure.[9] They are small to medium-sized birds, varying from 12cm to 32cm in length. Many have strong, hooked bills similar to those of shrikes. The Helmet Vanga has a particularly large bill with a casque on top. Other species, such as the newtonias, have a small, thin bill. The Sickle-billed Vanga is notable for its long, curved bill used to probe into holes and cracks.

Most vangas are largely black, brown or grey above and white below. Exceptions include the blue and white Blue Vanga and the blue-grey Nuthatch Vanga. The Helmet Vanga is mostly black with a rufous back. Male Bernier’s Vangas are entirely black while the females are brown. It is one of several species with distinct male and female plumage while in other species the sexes are identical. Most vangas have whistling calls.

All vangas are endemic to Madagascar apart from the Blue Vanga, which also occurs in the Comoros on Mohéli island and, at least formerly, on Grande Comore. They are found throughout Madagascar, in a variety of forest and scrub habitats. Several species including Van Dam’s Vanga and Sickle-billed Vanga can be found in the dry deciduous forests in the west of the island. Some such as Crossley’s Babbler, Helmet Vanga and Bernier’s Vanga are restricted to rainforest in the east of the island. Lafresnaye’s Vanga and the recently discovered Red-shouldered Vanga occur in subarid thorn scrub in the south-west.

Their diet can include insects, earthworms, millipedes, lizards and amphibians. TheBlue Vanga and Chabert Vanga occasionally eat fruit.Many species feed in small groups, often in mixed-species foraging flocks. The Hook-billed Vanga and Lafresnaye’s Vanga tend to forage alone. Vangas have a variety of different foraging strategies. Many species glean food as they move through the branches. The nuthatch vanga climbs up trunks and branches like a nuthatch but does not climb downwards as nuthatches do. Crossley’s Babbler forages by walking along the forest floor amongst the leaf litter.[10] The Chabert Vanga and the Tylas Vanga often fly into the air to catch prey. The three Xenopirostris vangas use their laterally flattened bills to strip bark off trees to search for food underneath.

Most species nest in pairs, building cup-shaped nests using twigs, bark, roots and leaves. The Sickle-billed Vanga nests in groups and builds a large nest of sticks.

Following DNA sequencing there are now thought to be 21 species in the family Vangidae, or Vangas. They are all confined to Madagascar and neighbouring islands. They are:

Red-tailed Vanga Calicalicus madagascariensis
Red-shouldered Vanga Calicalicus rufocarpalis

Hook-billed Vanga Vanga curvirostris

Lafresnaye’s Vanga Xenopirostris xenopirostris
Van Dam’s Vanga Xenopirostris damii
Pollen’s Vanga Xenopirostris polleni

Sickle-billed Vanga Falculea palliata

White-headed Vanga Artamella viridis

Chabert Vanga Leptopterus chabert

Blue Vanga Cyanolanius madagascarinus

Rufous Vanga Schetba rufa

Bernier’s Vanga Oriolia bernieri

Helmet Vanga Euryceros prevostii

Tylas Vanga Tylas eduardi

Nuthatch Vanga Hypositta corallirostris

Dark Newtonia Newtonia amphichroa
Common Newtonia Newtonia brunneicauda
Archbold’s Newtonia Newtonia archboldi
Red-tailed Newtonia Newtonia fanovanae

Ward’s Flycatcher Pseudobias wardi

Crossley’s Babbler Mystacornis crossleyi

Species Links
  • Blue Vanga Cyanolanius madagascarinus

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Loxia madagascarina Linnaeus, 1766, Fort Dauphin (Tôlanaro), south-east Madagascar. Genus sometimes subsumed in Leptopterus. Recent molecular-genetic analysis indicates that genus may be closest to Calicalicus, Vanga, Schetba and Euryceros. Comoro races bensoni and comorensis possibly represent a separate species, differing from nominate in plumage and voice; validity of bensoni requires confirmation. Three subspecies currently recognized.
  • Blue Vanga Cyanolanius madagascarinus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Blue Vanga Cyanolanius madagascarinus

    Species Account
    The blue vanga (Cyanolanius madagascarinus) is a bird species in the family Vangidae.
  • Chabert's Vanga Leptopterus chabert

    Species Account
    The chabert vanga (Leptopterus chabert), also erroneously called "Chabert's vanga", is a species of bird in the family Vangidae. It is monotypic within the genus Leptopterus.
  • Chabert's Vanga Leptopterus chabert

    Species Account
    The spiny forest of southwestern Madagascar is one of the world's strangest habitats, dominated by tall, spiky Alluaudia procera trees.
  • Chabert's Vanga Leptopterus chabert

    BirdLife Species Account
  • Chabert's Vanga Leptopterus chabert

    IUCN Species Status
  • Chabert's Vanga Leptopterus chabert

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Roufous Vanga Schetba rufa

    BirdLife Species Account
  • Roufous Vanga Schetba rufa

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Lanius rufus Linnaeus, 1766, Fort Dauphin (Tôlanaro), south-east Madagascar. Recent molecular-genetic analysis indicates that genus may be closest to Calicalicus, Vanga, Cyanolanius and Euryceros. Two subspecies recognized.
  • Roufous Vanga Schetba rufa

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Roufous Vanga Schetba rufa

    Species Account
    The rufous vanga (Schetba rufa) is a species of bird in the Vangidae family. It is monotypic within the genus Schetba.
  • Sickle-billed Vanga Falculea palliata

    BirdLife Species Account
  • Sickle-billed Vanga Falculea palliata

    HBW Species Account
    Falculea palliata I. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 1836, Madagascar.Recent molecular-genetic analysis indicates that genus may be closest to Oriolia, Xenopirostris and Artamella. Monotypic.
  • Sickle-billed Vanga Falculea palliata

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Sickle-billed Vanga Falculea palliata

    Species Account
    The sickle-billed vanga (Falculea palliata) is a species of bird in the vanga family Vangidae. It is monotypic within the genus Falculea. It is endemic to Madagascar. Its natural habitats are tropical dry forests and tropical dry shrubland.
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 21

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