Rufous treepie

The rufous treepie (Dendrocitta vagabunda) is a treepie, native to the Indian Subcontinent and adjoining parts of Southeast Asia. It is a member of the crow family, Corvidae. It is long tailed and has loud musical calls making it very conspicuous. It is found commonly in open scrub, agricultural areas, forests as well as urban gardens. Like other corvids it is very adaptable, omnivorous and opportunistic in feeding.

Rufous treepie
Pair in Udaipur, India
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Corvidae
Genus: Dendrocitta
D. vagabunda
Binomial name
Dendrocitta vagabunda
(Latham, 1790)

Dendrocitta rufa


The sexes are alike and the main colour of the body is cinnamon with a black head and the long graduated tail is bluish grey and is tipped in black. The wing has a white patch. The only confusable species is the grey treepie which however lacks the bright rufous mantle. The bill is stout with a hooked tip. The underparts and lower back are a warm tawny-brown to orange-brown in colour with white wing coverts and black primaries. The bill, legs and feet are black.[2]

The widespread populations show variations and several subspecies are recognized. The nominate subspecies is found in the northeastern part of peninsular India south to Hyderabad. The desert form is paler and called pallida, vernayi of the Eastern Ghats is brighter while parvula of the Western Ghats is smaller in size.[2] The form in Afghanistan and Pakistan is bristoli while the form in southern Thailand is saturatior. E C Stuart Baker describes sclateri from the upper Chindwin to the Chin Hills and kinneari from southern Myanmar and northwest Thailand.[3] The population in eastern Thailand an Indochina is sakeratensis.[4]


The range of this species is quite large, covering all of mainland India up to the Himalayas, Pakistan and southeasterly in a broad band into Bangladesh, Burma (Myanmar), Laos, and Thailand in open forest consisting of scrub, plantations and gardens. In the Himalayas, they make seasonal altitudinal movements.[5]

Behaviour and ecology

The rufous treepie is primarily an arboreal omnivore feeding on fruits, nectar (of Bombax ceiba[6]) seeds,[7] invertebrates, small reptiles and the eggs and young of birds;[8] it has also been known to take flesh from recently killed carcasses. It is an agile forager, clinging and clambering through the branches and sometimes joining mixed hunting parties along with species such as drongos and babblers. They are known to be a cleaning symbiont of deer, feeding on ectoparasites of sambar which permit them to perch and position themselves to invite the birds to examine specific parts.[9][10] Like many other corvids they are known to cache food.[11] They have been considered to be beneficial to palm cultivation in southern India due to their foraging on the grubs of the destructive weevil Rhynchophorus ferrugineus.[12] They are known to feed on the fruits of Trichosanthes tricuspidata which are toxic to mammals.[13]

The breeding season in India is April to June. In Bengal, the peak is in April and May with heightened levels of pineal gland activity and serotonin production.[14] The nest is built in trees and bushes and is usually a shallow platform. There are usually 3-5 eggs laid.[15][16]

This species has a wide repertoire of calls, but a bob-o-link or ko-tree call is most common.[2] A local name for this bird kotri is derived from the typical call while other names include Handi Chancha and taka chor (="coin thief").[13][17]

A blood parasitic protozoan Trypanosoma corvi[18] and Babesia has been reported from this species.[19] Trematode parasites, Haplorchis vagabundi, have been found in their intestines.[20] An acanthocephalan parasite Centrorhynchus lancea is also known.[21] A species of quill mite Syringophiloidus dendrocittae is known to live in the feathers of rufous treepies.[22]


  1. BirdLife International (2012). "Dendrocitta vagabunda". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  2. Rasmussen, PC & JC Anderton (2005). Birds of South Asia: The Ripley guide. Volume 2. Smithsonian Institution & Lynx Edicions. p. 595.
  3. Baker, EC Stuart (1922). The Fauna of British India, Including Ceylon and Burma. Birds. Volume 1. Taylor and Francis, London. pp. 48–52.
  4. Dickinson, E.C.; R.W.R.J. Dekker; S. Eck & S. Somadikarta (2004). "Systematic notes on Asian birds. 45. Types of the Corvidae". Zool. Verh. Leiden. 350: 111–148.
  5. Naithani, Archana; Bhatt, Dinesh (2012-01-01). "Bird community structure in natural and urbanized habitats along an altitudinal gradient in Pauri district (Garhwal Himalaya) of Uttarakhand state, India". Biologia. 67 (4). doi:10.2478/s11756-012-0068-z. ISSN 1336-9563.
  6. Raju, Aluri J. S.; Rao, Srungavarapu P.; Rangaiah. K. (2005). "Pollination by bats and birds in the obligate outcrosser Bombax ceiba L. (Bombacaceae), a tropical dry season flowering tree species in the Eastern Ghats forests of India". Ornithol. Sci. 4: 81–87.
  7. Sharma, Satish Kumar (1992). "Tree Pie Dendrocitta vagabunda (Latham) feeding on aril of seeds of Pithecellobium dulce". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 89 (3): 374.
  8. Begbie, A (1905). "Curious ferocity of the Indian Tree-pie Dendrocitta rufa". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 16 (3): 502–503.
  9. Bharucha, EK (1987). "An observation on the relationship between a Sambar and a Tree-Pie". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 84 (3): 675.
  10. Sazima, Ivan (2011). "Cleaner birds: a worldwide overview" (PDF). Revista Brasileira de Ornitologia. 19 (1): 32–47.
  11. de Kort, Selvino R & Nicola S. Clayton (2006). "An evolutionary perspective on caching by corvids". Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 273 (1585): 417–423. doi:10.1098/rspb.2005.3350. PMC 1560201. PMID 16615207.
  12. Krishnakumar R.; Sudha G. (2002). "Indian tree pie Dendrocitta vagabunda parvula (Whistler and Kinnear) (Corvidae). A predatory bird of red palm weevil Rhynchophorus ferrugineus (Oliv.)". Insect Environment. 8: 133.
  13. Ali, S & SD Ripley (1986). Handbook of the birds of India and Pakistan. Volume 5 (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. pp. 216–221.
  14. Chaudhuri, Santasri; Maiti, B.R. (1989). "Pineal activity during the seasonal gonadal cycle in a wild avian species, the tree pie (Dendrocitta vagabunda)". General and Comparative Endocrinology. 76 (3): 346–349. doi:10.1016/0016-6480(89)90128-7.
  15. Whistler, Hugh (1949). Popular Handbook of Indian Birds (4th ed.). Gurney and Jackson. pp. 12–14.
  16. Hume, AO (1889). The nests and eggs of Indian birds. Volume 1. R H Porter, London. pp. 19–22.
  17. Finn, Frank (1904). The Birds of Calcutta. Thacker, Spink & co. pp. 10–13.
  18. Nandi N. C.; Bennett G. F. (1994). "Re-description of Trypanosoma corvi Stephens and Christophers, 1908 emend Baker, 1976 and remarks on the trypanosomes of the avian family Corvidae". Mem. Inst. Oswaldo Cruz. 89 (2): 145–151. doi:10.1590/S0074-02761994000200005.
  19. Peirce MA (2000). "A taxonomic review of avian piroplasms of the genus Babesia Starcovici, 1893 (Apicomplexa: Piroplasmorida: Babesiidae)". J. Nat. Hist. 34 (3): 317–32. doi:10.1080/002229300299507.
  20. Baugh, S.C. (1963). "Contributions to our knowledge of digenetic trematodes VI". Parasitology Research. 22 (4): 303–315. doi:10.1007/BF00260191. PMID 13966962.
  21. Duggal, C. L.; Solomon, S.; Ambardar, S. (1986). "On some acanthocephalans parasitizing birds of Punjab". Research Bulletin of the Panjab University (Science). 37 (3–4): 25–31.
  22. Fain A; Bochkov, A.; Mironov, S. (2000). "New genera and species of quill mites of the family Syringophilidae (Acari, Prostigmata)". Bulletin van Het Koninlijk Belgisch Instituut voor Natuurwetenschappen - Entomologie. 70: 33–70.
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