The black-naped monarch or black-naped blue flycatcher (Hypothymis azurea) is a small & agile passerine bird in the family of monarch flycatchers located in southern & southeastern Asia. They are sexually distinguished by colours and other features.
This allows bird watchers & bird lovers to easily distinguish them from male or female, with the male possessing a distinctive black spot on the back of the head & a fine black half collar (“necklace”).
In contrast, the female is duller with olive-brown wings & does not have the black markings on the head.
Black Naped Monarch Call & Birdsong
They have a call or bird song that is similar to that of the Asian paradise flycatcher.
In tropical rain forest habitats, partners may join in mixed-species foraging flocks. Populations differ somewhat in plumage colour & sizes.
Black Naped Monarch Classification
The black-naped monarch was recorded by the French polymath Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon in the year 1779 in his Histoire Naturelle des Oiseaux.
The bird was also illustrated in a hand-coloured silverware engraved by François-Nicolas Martinet in the Planches Enluminées D’Histoire Naturelle that was created under the supervision of Edme-Louis Daubenton to go with Buffon’s text.
Neither the plate caption nor Buffon’s account included a scientific name yet in the year 1783 the Dutch naturalist Pieter Boddaert coined the binomial term Muscicapa azurea in his catalogue of the Planches Enluminées.
Buffon stipulated that his specimen had been obtained in the Philippines. Still, in the year 1939, the American ornithologist James L. Peters limited the type locality to Manila on the island of Luzon.
How Did the Black Naped Monarch Get Its Name?
The beautiful bird got its name from the Ancient Greek hupothumis, the name of an unknown bird mentioned by the playwright Aristophanes.
The specific name azurea is from the Medieval Latin azureus indicating “azure-coloured” or “azure-blue”.
Alternate names for the black-naped monarch incorporate black-naped blue monarch & black-naped monarch flycatcher. Some biologists separate two former subspecies, H. a. blasii (Banggai Island) and H. a. puella (Sulawesi), & add them as subspecies of the pale-blue monarch (Hypothymis puella).
Black Naped Monarch Subspecies
23 subspecies are recognised as :
- H. a. styani – (Hartlaub, 1899): First described as a separate species in the species Ficedula, located from India & Nepal to southeast China & Vietnam. The abdomen is whitish in males.
- H. a. oberholseri – Stresemann, 1913: Located in Taiwan
- H. a. ceylonensis – Sharpe, 1879: Originally defined as a separate species, located in Sri Lanka. The males don’t have the black necklace.
- H. a. tytleri – (Beavan, 1867): Originally recorded as a separate species in the family Myiagra. Located in the Andaman Islands. The abdomen of the males is blue.
- H. a. idiochroa – Oberholser, 1911: Located on Car Nicobar (north Nicobar Islands). The abdomen of males is white tinged with blue.
- H. a. nicobarica – Bianchi, 1907: Located on the south Nicobar Islands. The abdomen of males is white tinged by blue.
- H. a. montana – Riley, 1929: Located in north & middle Thailand
- H. a. galerita – (Deignan, 1956), 1929: Found in the southwest & southeastern Thailand
- H. a. forrestia – Oberholser, 1911: Located in Mergui Archipelago (off western Myanmar)
- H. a. prophata – Oberholser, 1911: Located on Malay Peninsula, Sumatra & Borneo
- H. a. javana – Chasen & Kloss, 1929: Located on Java & Bali (Indonesia)
- H. a. penidae – Meise, 1942: Located on Nusa Penida (near Bali in the Lesser Sundas)
- H. a. karimatensis – Chasen & Kloss, 1932: Located on Karimata Island (off western Borneo)
- H. a. opisthocyanea – Oberholser, 1911: Located on Anambas Islands (in the South China Sea)
- H. a. gigantoptera – Oberholser, 1911: Located on Natuna Besar (Natuna Islands, South China Sea)
- H. a. consobrina – Richmond, 1902: First reported as a separate species, located on Simeulue (off north-western Sumatra)
- H. a. leucophila – Oberholser, 1911: Located on Siberut (off western Sumatra)
- H. a. richmondi – Oberholser, 1911: Located on Enggano Island (off south-western Sumatra)
- H. a. abbotti – Richmond, 1902: First reported as a separate species, located on Reusam & Babi Islands (off north-western Sumatra)
- H. a. symmixta – Stresemann, 1913: Located on western & middle Lesser Sundas
Philippine black-naped monarch (H. a. azurea) – (Boddaert, 1783): Also recognised as the black-capped monarch & Philippine black-naped blue monarch. Located in the Philippines (except Camiguin Sur Island)
- H. a. aeria – Bangs & Peters, JL, 1927: First reported as a separate species, found on Maratua Island (off east Borneo)
- H. a. catarmanensis – Rand & Rabor, 1969: Located on Camiguin Sur Island (south Philippines)
Black Naped Monarch Description
The mature male black-naped monarch is approximately 16 cm long. It is mainly pale azure blue aside from a whitish lower belly. It has a black nape & a narrow black gorget. The female is duller & lacks the black markings.
Its wings & back are grey-brown. Nevertheless, several geographically isolated breeding populations vary in the extent & shade of markings.
The Indian peninsula has subspecies H. a. styani , in which males possess very distinct black markings & a whitish abdomen. Males of the Sri Lankan population H. a. ceylonensis lack the black nape & gorget & the colour is more purplish.
The subspecies of the Andaman Islands, H. a. tytleri, possesses the underparts blue grey. The species on Car Nicobar Island, H. a. idiochroa, has a greyish white belly, while H. a. nicobarica of the southern Nicobars has a shorter & finer bill. The colour of the gape is yellowish to green.
Black Naped Monarch Distribution and Habitat
The black-naped monarch reproduces across tropical southern Asia from India & Sri Lanka east to the Philippines & Indonesia. This variety is regularly found in thick forests & other well-wooded environments.
The calls are a sharp & abrupt skrip. The primary breeding season in India is in the summertime from May to July. Two to three eggs are deposited in a cup nest located in the fork of a tree. The nest is adorned with spider-egg cases.
Black Naped Monarch Behaviour and Ecology
The beautiful bird has short legs & sits very upright whilst roosted prominently, like a shrike. It feeds on insects, worms, & other invertebrates, often hunting by flycatching. When frightened or alert, the nape feathers raise up into a pointed crest.
They join mixed-species foraging flocks, being amongst the most significant members of such communities in the Western Ghats, & are active in the understory of forest canopies. A research study in Sri Lanka revealed that they are influenced by human disturbance causing them to recede from disquieted edges by about 75 m.
Although they are mostly residents, local seasonal movements are acknowledged. The breeding period in India is March to August, and the nest is a neat cup set in a fork. The cup is lined with filaments of webbing & fungi including those of the mushroom-forming fungi which are known to provide antibiotics & may benefit the birds by shielding the young birds from infection.
The nest is built by the female whilst the male guards. The average clutch is three eggs, which both parents incubate & both feed the offspring, which hatch after approximately 12 days.
The webs of large spiders such as Nephila maculata have been known to ensnare the bird. An astrovirus was identified in a black-naped monarch in Cambodia, a virus that was earlier unknown from passerines.
The feather parasite Proterothrix hypothymis (Pterodectinae: Protophyllodidae) has been reported from black-naped monarchs in Vietnam.