Or are they the same thing? It’s easy to be confused by these birds, but let’s examine the evidence.
The White-rumped Shama (Copsychus malabaricus) is a melodious bird—in fact, shama means songbird in Hindi, and one of the first recordings of birdsong, using an Edison wax cylinder in 1889, was of this bird. The Magpie Robin (Copsychus saularis) was also highly prized for its birdsong, and is also honoured as the national bird of Bangladesh.
White-rumped Shama in Rimba Ilmu.
Hang on… same genus name! Doesn’t that make them very similar?
Yes and no. Because of their inventively varied song, both birds have been poached for the caged-bird trade. At one point, the Magpie Robin almost went extinct in Singapore, and its conservation status remains Vulnerable.
Nevertheless, the two birds are quite distinct. The White-rumped Shama prefers more forested habitats, which you can easily recall with its Malay name, Murai Hutan (forest thrush). The Magpie Robin is more at home in open or cultivated areas, such as mangroves or gardens—hence the name Murai Kampung (village thrush)!
Oriental Magpie Robin in Rimba Ilmu.
So how do I tell the two apart when I’m out in the field?
Both birds have black and white colouring, but the White-rumped Shama is easily differentiated by its white rump and orange-reddish underparts. The Magpie Robin has a shorter tail compared to the White-rumped Shama, which it cocks sharply when perched. Its broad wing-stripe and outer-tail-feathers contrast whitely against its glossy blue-black feathers when in flight.
The Magpie Robin can be found all over campus, and if you can try looking for the White-rumped Shama in forested areas such as Rimba Ilmu and the forest patch in the Fourth Residential College.
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