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Black flycatchers - ornithology articles

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The Russian transcription does not carry a single mistake: the bird is indeed called Pitohui, or Blackbird Flycatcher. This handsome man is found only on the islands of New Guinea, where the locals do not really like him - who will like the neighborhood with a poisonous bird?


Unexpected discovery
Snakes, some insects and frogs have long adopted poison as a kind of attack and defense. However, scientists did not believe that birds could have the same strange trait. So Dumbaker's discovery was a real surprise for the entire scientific community.


Chicago experiment
The study of the flora and fauna of New Guinea was carried out by a group of Chicago scientists, headed by Professor John Dumbaker. He quite accidentally licked his hand after holding the little bird and felt a burning sensation. In 1992, Dumbaker published travel data describing three species of Pitohui: crested, volatile, and rusty. All three species produced the poisonous substance batrachotoxin.


Warning coloring
In fact, bird watchers quickly recovered from the shock and built several theories at once explaining the possible poisonousness of other bird species. In particular, the bright color of the plumage was associated with a warning factor - this is how birds could fight predators, warning them of danger.


Extraordinary protection
The blackbird flycatcher is a tiny bird. The length from the tip of the tail to the tip of the beak is only 30 centimeters, and the weight does not exceed 400 grams. The body of the pitohui is colored bright orange, the head and wings are brutally black. The insides and feathers of a bird contain the strongest poison batrachotoxin, which can kill not only animals, but also humans.


Where does the poison come from
Pitokhui feeds on insects, and prefers special nanisani beetles (Choresine pulchra), found only in local forests. It is the nanisani that produce the very poison, which then enters the body of the pitohui. Batrachotoxin is gradually excreted from the bird's body through pores in the skin, and the blackbird flycatcher itself has developed immunity against the poison.


The danger
A high concentration of batrachotoxin can kill a medium-sized animal in just a few minutes. This amount of poison (about 20 mg) is contained in one pitohui. For a person, the dose will not be fatal, but it can cause a number of unpleasant consequences, from numbness of the limbs to complete paralysis.

Poisonous friends
In fact, poisonous birds have already been encountered by bird watchers in the past. For example, the forest shrike flycatcher and blue-headed ifrit Kovaldi are protected from danger by the same poison, batrachotoxin. Only after the discovery of pitohui did scientists begin to associate the diet of birds with their unusual properties.

Black flycatchers

  • Melaenornis microrhynchus Reichenow, 1887
  • Shrike flycatcher Melaenornis silens Shaw, 1809
  • White-eyed black flycatcher Melaenornis fischeri Reichenow, 1884
  • Marikian black flycatcher Melaenornis mariquensis A. Smith, 1847
  • Liberian black flycatcher Melaenornis annamarulae Forbes-Watson, 1970
  • Yellow-eyed black flycatcher Melaenornis ardesiacus Berlioz, 1936
  • Northern black flycatcher Melaenornis edolioides Swainson, 1837
  • Southern black flycatcher Melaenornis pammelaina Stanley, 1814
  • Abyssinian black flycatcher Melaenornis chocolatinus Ruppell, 1840
  • Melaenornis infuscatus A. Smith, 1839
  • Pale flycatcher Melaenornis pallidus J.W. von Muller, 1851
  • Angolan black flycatcher Melaenornis brunneus Cabanis, 1886

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