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File:Zoiseau la vierge1.JPG
Mascarene Paradise-flycatcher
Terpsiphone bourbonnensis
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Clade: Inopinaves
Order: Passeriformes
Suborder: Passeri
Infraorder: Corvida
Superfamily: Corvoidea
Family: Monarchidae
Bonaparte, 1854
3 subfamilies, 16 genera, 102 species


The Monarch Flycatchers (Monarchidae) comprise a family of passerine birds which includes boatbills, shrikebills, paradise-flycatchers, and magpie-larks.

Monarchids are small insectivorous songbirds with long tails. They inhabit forest or woodland across sub-Saharan Africa, south-east Asia, Australasia and a number of Pacific islands. Only a few species migrate. Many species decorate their cup-shaped nests with lichen.[1]

Morphology and description[]

The monarch flycatchers are a diverse family of passerine birds that are generally arboreal (with the exception of the magpie-larks). They are mostly slim birds and possess broad bills. The bills of some species are quite large; the boatbills of the genus Machaerirhynchus are very broad and flat, and the heavy-set bills of the shrikebills are used to probe dead wood and leaves.[2] The plumage of the family ranges from sombre, like the almost monochrome Black Monarch, to spectacular, like the Golden Monarch. The tails are generally long and spectacularly so in the paradise-flycatchers in the genus Terpsiphone. Sexual dimorphism in plumage can be subtle, as in the Paperbark Flycatcher, where the female is identical to the male except for a slight buff on the throat; striking, as in the Chuuk Monarch where the male almost entirely white and the female entirely black; or non-existent, as in the Tahiti Monarch. In some species, for example the Madagascar Paradise-flycatcher, the males have two or more colour morphs.[3]

Distribution, habitat and movements[]


The Satin Flycatcher is fully migratory, breeding in southern Australia and migrating to northern Australia and New Guinea.

The monarch flycatchers have a mostly Old World distribution. In the western end of their range they are distributed through sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar and the islands of the tropical Indian Ocean. They also occur in South and Southeastern Asia, north to Japan, down to New Guinea and most of Australia. The family has managed to reach many Pacific islands, and several endemic genera occur across Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia as far as Hawaii and the Marquesas.

The paradise-flycatchers of the genus Terpsiphone has the widest distribution of any of the monarch flycatchers, ranging almost all of sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar, the Mascarenes and Seychelles, South, East and Southeastern Asia as far as Korea, Afghanistan, the Philippines and the Lesser Sundas. The other paradise-flycatcher genus, Trochocercus is restricted to Africa. The other exclusively Asian genus is the Hypothymis monarchs. The remaining genera are predominately found in the Austro-Papuan and Oceania regions. A few monotypic genera are restricted to Pacific island; these include the Silktail (Lamprolia) in Fiji, the Chuuk Monarch (Metabolus) in the Micronesian island of Chuuk, the Hawaiian Elepaio (Chasiempis) and the Buff-bellied Monarch (Neolalage) which is restricted to the islands of Vanuatu. Other Pacific genera are the shrikebills (Clytorhynchus), the Mayrornis monarchs, both of which are found in Melanesia and west Polynesia, and the Pomarea monarchs which are exclusively Polynesian in origin.

The majority of the family is found in forest and woodland habitats. Species that live in more open woodlands tend to live in the higher levels of the trees but, in denser forest, live in the middle and lower levels. Other habitats used by monarch flycatchers include savannah and mangroves, and the terrestrial Magpie-lark occurs in most Australian habitats except the driest deserts.

While the majority of monarch-flycatchers are resident, a few species are partially migratory and one, the Satin Flycatcher, is fully migratory, although the Japanese Paradise-flycatcher is almost entirely migratory. The Asian Paradise-flycatcher is migratory over the northern parts of its range and sedentary in the tropics, and the African Paradise-flycatcher makes a series of poorly understood intra-African migratory movements.


File:Black-naped Monarch (Hypothymis puella puella) female on nest.jpg

Female Pale-blue Monarch on a nest constructed on a fork in a tree.

The monarch-flycatchers are generally monogamous, with the pair bonds ranging from just a single season (as in the African Paradise-flycatcher) to life (the Elepaio). Only three species are known to engage in cooperative breeding; but many species are as yet unstudied. They are generally territorial, defending territories that are around 2 ha in size, but a few species may cluster their nesting sites closely together. Nesting sites may also be chosen close to aggressive species, for example Leaden Flycatchers nests may be located near the nests of the aggressive Noisy Friarbird.[4] The nests are in turn often aggressively defended by monarch flycatchers. In all species the nest is an open cup on a branch, fork or twig. In some species the nests can be highly conspicuous.


Many of the approximately 140 species making up the family were previously assigned to other groups, largely on the basis of general morphology or behaviour. The Magpie-lark, for example, was assigned to the same family as the White-winged Chough, since both build unusual nests from mud rather than vegetable matter. The Australasian fantails were thought to be allied with the fantails of the northern hemisphere (they have a similar diet and behaviour), and so on.

With the new insights generated by the DNA-DNA hybridisation studies of Sibley and his co-workers toward the end of the 20th century, however, it became clear that these apparently unrelated birds were all descended from a common ancestor: the same crow-like ancestor that gave rise to the drongos.[5] On that basis they have been included as a subfamily of the Dicruridae, along with the fantails,[6] although Christidis and Boles have more recently treated it at familial rank as Monarchidae.[7]

More recently, the grouping has been refined somewhat as the original concept of Corvida has proven paraphyletic. The narrower 'Core corvine' group now comprises the crows and ravens, shrikes, birds of paradise, fantails, monarch flycatchers, drongos and mudnest builders.[8]

The Monarchs are small to medium-sized insectivorous passerines, many of which hunt by flycatching.

Taxonomic list of Monarchidae[]

Based on del Hoyo et al. (2006)

File:Asian Paradise Flycatcher (Terpsiphone paradisi)- male W IMG 9283.jpg

Asian Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone paradisi male at Ananthagiri Hills, in Rangareddy district of Andhra Pradesh, India.


  1. ^ Garnett, Stephen (1991). Forshaw, Joseph, ed. Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds. London: Merehurst Press. pp. 200–201. ISBN 1-85391-186-0. 
  2. ^ Duston, Guy (2006). "The Pacific shrikebills (Clytorhynchus) and the case for species status for the form sanctaecrucis" (PDF). Bulletin of the British Ornithological Club. 126 (4): 299–308. 
  3. ^ Mulder, Raoul; Robert Ramiarison and Rayonné E. Emahalala (2003). "Ontogeny of male plumage dichromatism in Madagascar paradise flycatchers Terpsiphone mutata". Journal of Avian Biology. 33 (4): 342–348. doi:10.1034/j.1600-048X.2002.02888.x.  Cite uses deprecated parameter |coauthors= (help)
  4. ^ Marchant, S (1983). "Suggested nesting association between Leaden Flycatchers and Noisy Friarbirds". Emu. 83 (2): 119–122. doi:10.1071/MU9830119. 
  5. ^ Sibley, Charles Gald & Ahlquist, Jon Edward (1990): Phylogeny and classification of birds. Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn.
  6. ^ Christidis, L.; Boles, W. E. (1994). The Taxonomy and Species of Birds of Australia and its Territories. Melbourne: RAOU. 
  7. ^ Christidis, L.; Boles, W. E. (2008). Systematics and Taxonomy of Australian Birds. Canberra: CSIRO Publishing. p. 174. ISBN 9780643065116. 
  8. ^ Cracraft J, Barker FK, Braun M, Harshman J, Dyke GJ, Feinstein J, Stanley S, Cibois A, Schikler P, Beresford P, García-Moreno J, Sorenson MD, Yuri T, Mindell DP (2004). "Phylogenetic relationships among modern birds (Neornithes): toward an avian tree of life". In Cracraft J, Donoghue MJ. Assembling the tree of life. New York: Oxford Univ. Press. pp. 468–89. ISBN 0195172345. 

External links[]

Sterna diversity This article is part of Project Bird Families, a All Birds project that aims to write comprehensive articles on each bird family, including made-up families.
Hemipus picatus This article is part of Project Bird Taxonomy, a All Birds project that aims to write comprehensive articles on every order, family and other taxonomic rank related to birds.
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