Melanocharitidae (Sibley & Ahlquist, 1985)
The Melanocharitidae, the berrypeckers and longbills, is a small bird family restricted to the forests of New Guinea. The family was once placed inside the Flowerpecker family Dicaeidae, and the longbills were once considered to be honeyeaters (which they closely resemble). It comprises ten species in three genera, the Melanocharis berrypeckers and the longbills in the genera Toxorhamphus and Oedistoma. There is some confusion with the common names, as there are two other berrypecker species in the tiny family Paramythiidae, once considered to be close to the flowerpeckers as well; and several Old World warbler genera in Africa also known as longbills. The Spotted Berrypecker was once attributed its own genus Rhamphocharis.
These are medium-sized birds, rangng in length from 7.5 to 15cm. The berrypeckers (Melanocharis are usually bigger than the Toxorhamphus and Oedistoma lonbills.) which feed on fruit and on insects and other invertebrates. They have drab-coloured plumage in greys, browns or black and white. The berrypeckers exhibit some sexual dimorphism in their plumage. In addition the Fan-tailed and Streaked Berrypeckers are unusual amongst passerine birds in showing sexual dimorphism in size were the female is longer and heavier than the male. The berrypeckers resemble stout short-billed honeyeaters, and the longbills are like drab sunbirds or short-tailed honeyeaters. The calls of the berrypeckers have been described as high pitched and faint, and the song rapid.
Distribution and habitat
The berrypeckers are generally montane species, with only one, the Black Berrypecker, being found in lowland forest. In contrast the longbills live in lowland forests and low montane forests as well as on small islands around New Guinea. Amongst the berrypeckers there is a succession of species at different altitudes, with the Black Berrypecker being found in the lowlands, the Mid-mountain Berrypecker being found at lower altitudes (mid-montane) and the Fan-tailed Berrypecker being found near the treeline.
Melanocharitidae species are usually seen alone or in pairs. They may associate with mixed-species feeding flocks, but are loose members and not core species. The diet of the family is dominated by berries and small fruits. Arthropods are also gleaned from foliage, and more rarely by hovering and snatching. They are highly active feeders, seldom pausing except when at berries. Most species feed in the lower and middle levels of the forest, although records suggest that the Obscure Berrypecker will enter the canopy to forage. The male Black Berrypecker will also enter the canopy, while the female will remain lower down in the forest, suggesting some level of sexual segregation of feeding niches.
The breeding of some species is entirely undescribed, and little is known about the breeding in most species. Records of nests have been made in both wet and dry seasons. They build a cup nest, usually on a forked branch near the edge of a tree, out of fern scales and plant fibres bound neatly with insect or spider silk and ornamented with lichens. Little is known about the division of labour in the family, although the pattern exhibited by the Black Berrypecker, where the female construct the nest alone but both sexes feed the young, may be typical of the family. They lay one or two eggs.
The berrypeckers and longbills are not considered to be threatened by human activities. No species is listed as threatened by the IUCN, although one species, the Obscure Berrypecker, is listed as data deficient. That species is known officially from two collected specimens, but unconfirmed reports suggest that it is not uncommon in remote parts of New Guinea.
The Pygmy Longbill is sometimes included in the genus Toxorhamphus.
1. ^ Salomonsen, F (1960) "Notes on flowerpeckers (Aves, Dicaeidae). 1, The genera Melanocharis, Rhamphocharis, and Prionochilus" (PDF) American Museum novitates 1990 P. 28
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