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Waxwings and Silky Flycatchers: Bombycillidae

Gray Hypocolius (hypocolius Ampelinus): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: Also known as gray flycatchers, gray hypocoliuses are unique in the family. Adults are generally about 9 inches (23 centimeters) long and weigh about 1.3 to 2 ounces (28 to 55 grams). Gray hypocoliuses are long-tailed birds with a distinctive crest and white markings on their wings. Males are a uniform gray color with a black mask that goes around their heads and a bold black triangular band on their tails. Females are a sandy-brown color with a creamy throat and no mask. Their tail ends are dark. Juveniles are colored like the female.

Geographic range: Gray hypocoliuses are birds of the Middle East and Indian subcontinent, wintering in Saudi Arabia and breeding throughout Iran, Iraq, Turkmenistan, and Pakistan.

Habitat: This species occupies tropical and subtropical areas, especially areas with more dense vegetation and arid, dry, lowlands. They are most often found in river valleys near desert or semidesert, and forage through small tree groupings, irrigated and cultivated areas, palm groves, and broad-leaf scrub.

The gray hypocolius is difficult to study, partly because it is a skittish and shy bird, not easy to find, and flies immediately to dense vegetation when it's disturbed. (Illustration by Jacqueline Mahannah. Reproduced by permission.)

Diet: Gray hypocoliuses eat mostly fruit, but sometimes insects as well. They rarely go to the ground, instead looking through foliage, leaves, for food. They are known for their careful and deliberate feeding behavior, using their long tails as a lever to balance as they extend their bodies to reach fruit and berries. When eating fruit, the bird chews the pulp and spits out pits, larger seeds, and skin.

Behavior and reproduction: Skittish and shy birds unless accustomed to the presence of humans, gray hypocoliuses are not easy to find and fly immediately to dense vegetation when disturbed. This bird, like its cousins, is outgoing and social, and in winter forms flocks of up to twenty individuals that live in loose colonies. This species has a soft, gentle, cat-like call: "tre-tur-tur" or "whee-oo." Their flight pattern is strong and direct, with quick wing beats and occasional undulating, wave-like, glides.

Gray hypocoliuses breed from May to June, locating the nest within a dense bush or low tree up to 12 feet (4 meters) from the ground. The cup-shaped nest sits atop a base of twigs, and is made of grass and plant down and lined with wool, hair, and more down. The female lays three or four oval-shaped, smooth, glossy eggs that are white to pale gray. Both parents take turns incubating the clutch for fourteen to fifteen days.

Gray hypocoliuses and people: Many devoted birdwatchers wait a lifetime to add a sighting of this bird to their list. Their residence in the politically charged countries of the Middle East makes them particularly difficult to observe.

Conservation status: Gray hypocoliuses are not believed to be threatened, although biologists encounter many political difficulties when attempting to visit the bird's home countries to study it. ∎



Baicich, Paul. A Guide to the Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997.

Grimmet, Richard, Carol Inskipp, and Tim Inskipp. Birds of the Indian Subcontinent. London: Christopher Helm Ltd, 1998.

Sibley, C. G., and B. L. Monroe. Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991.

Zim, Herbert Spencer, Ira Noel Gabrielson, and James Gordon Irving. Birds: A Guide to Familiar Birds of North America. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2001.


Witmer, M. C. "Consequences of an Alien Shrub on the Plumage, Coloration, and Ecology of Cedar Waxwings." Auk 113 (1996): 735–743.

Web sites:

"Bombacilla cedrorum (Cedar Waxwing)." Animal Diversity Web. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Bombycilla_cedrorum.html (accessed on July 3, 2004).

"Grey Hypocolius." Stamps of Israeli Birds. http://my.ort.org.il/holon/birds/ba2.html (accessed on July 3, 2004).

"HYPOCOLIUS: Hypocoliidae." Bird Families of the World. http://www.montereybay.com/creagrus/hypocolius.html (accessed on July 3, 2004).

"WAXWINGS: Bombycillidae." Bird Families of the World. http://www.montereybay.com/creagrus/waxwings.html (accessed on July 3, 2004).

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceBirdsWaxwings and Silky Flycatchers: Bombycillidae - Physical Characteristics, Behavior And Reproduction, Cedar Waxwing (bombycilla Cedrorum): Species Accounts, Gray Hypocolius (hypocolius Ampelinus): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, SILKY F