In Search of the Bornean Bristlehead

Bornean Bristlehead (Pityriasis gymnocephala)

Bornean Bristlehead (Pityriasis gymnocephala)

The Bornean Bristlehead (Pityriasis gymnocephala) is probably the most sought-after species by birders visiting Borneo, it is endemic to the lowland forests of Borneo. It is the only member of the passerine family Pityriaseidae. It is an enigmatic and uncommon species of the rainforest canopy of Borneo.
Their occurrence in the Danum Valley and Lambir Hills National Park Sarawak, is unpredictable, suggesting that birds may wander large distances in search of food, and prolonged observations of a group of 3-6 birds at distance of 700-800 m has suggested this.

The distinctive calls of the Bristlehead are heard more frequently than the bird itself is seen. Feeding groups call to one another in a near continuous manner. It produces a variety of noises, the most frequently heard of which are a nasal, whining contact call and a constantly uttered ‘pit-pit-peeoo’ interspersed with a corvid-like chatter. Calls are described as being nasal and highly distinctive. Other calls noted include a single loud whistle that each bird in the group utters in the space of 2-3 seconds.

It is an active canopy species that occasionally descends to the sub-canopy, c. 40-60 m above the ground, and for this reason it has proved very difficult to photograph. According to the Oriental Bird Club UK 2 photoes taken in year 2000 and are thought to be the first known images of the species.

During my last trip to Borneo I was spending the last afternoon/evening with Cede Prudente, who recognized the distinctive calls, and we spend 15 minutes running up and down the canopy walk trying to get into shooting position with our heavy 600 mm gear, and finally had 30 seconds spot where one of the birds more or less settled down.


All smiles after the ‘capture’ of the Bornean Bristlehead!


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