Bird O'clock

Birdwatchers Rejoice: Unraveling the Wonders of the Black-and-Red Broadbill

Birdwatching is one of the most fascinating activities that allow you to be immersed in the natural world. One of the many birds that birdwatchers who love the colors of nature enjoy observing is the Black-and-red Broadbill, Cymbirhynchus macrorhynchos.

This bird is distinctive for its beautiful plumage black and red, with shades of blue that blends well with the greenery of the rainforest. The following article aims to provide an overview of the identification, similar species, plumages, and molts of the Black-and-red Broadbill.


Field Identification

The Black-and-red Broadbill is a small, compact bird that measures between 14-16 cm in size. The bird has a distinctive broad and heavy bill that is bluish in color.

Its plumage is a combination of black, red, and blue. The head, upper parts, wings, and tail are black, while the throat is bright red.

The underparts are light blue-grey with a black breast-band. The bird’s eyes are red, and the legs are short and gray.

Similar Species

The Black-and-red Broadbill can be easily confused with other broadbill species, such as the Rufous-fronted and Dusky Broadbill. However, the Rufous-fronted Broadbill has a rufous forehead and crown, and the Dusky Broadbill has a dark brown head and underparts.

Additionally, the Black-and-red Broadbill has a wider bill than the other broadbill species.


The Black-and-red Broadbill has only one plumage, which does not differ between males and females. The plumage’s coloration does not change seasonally and is present throughout the year.


The Black-and-red Broadbill experiences two complete molts during the year, which take place after the breeding season. The breeding season begins in February and ends in July, with the molting period occurring from August to January.

The first molt commences in August, and the second molt begins in December. Juvenile birds resemble adult birds but have paler underparts with brown spotting.


The Black-and-red Broadbill is a remarkable bird known for its beautiful, contrasting plumage and distinctive bill. It is essential to be able to identify this bird from other similar species, as well as understand its plumages and molts.

Observing this bird in its natural habitat is an experience that one cannot miss. Whether you are an amateur or a skilled birdwatcher, the Black-and-Red Broadbill is a sight worth seeing.

Systematics History

The Black-and-Red Broadbill, Cymbirhynchus macrorhynchos, is a species in the family Eurylaimidae, which comprises the wide range of broadbills found throughout the Old World’s tropical regions. The first description of the species was by Johann Friedrich Gmelin in 1788, who named it Coracias macrorhynchos.

In the following years, several type specimens and subspecies were described and studied, leading to an understanding of the Black-and-Red Broadbill’s evolutionary history.

Geographic Variation

The Black-and-Red Broadbill is distributed mainly across Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Sumatra, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Borneo. The species prefers dense, moist lowland rainforests, although it’s also found in secondary forests, mangroves, and occasionally plantation and garden areas.

The Black-and-Red Broadbill is mostly sedentary, but there is evidence of local movements and altitudinal migrations.


The Black-and-Red Broadbill has several subspecies, some of which are confined to particular geographic areas. These subspecies differ in their morphological characteristics, vocalizations, and, to a lesser extent, coloration.

The following are the recognized subspecies:

C. m.

lepidus – The Luzon Broadbill, found in the Luzon Island of the Philippines

C. m.

xerophilus – The Sulu Archipelago Broadbill, found in Sulu Archipelago of the Philippines

C. m.

mindanensis The Mindanao Broadbill, found only in Mindanao Island of the Philippines

C. m.

nuchalis – The Nuchal Broadbill, found in Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, and the Malay Peninsula

C. m.

novaeguineae – The New Guinea Broadbill, found in New Guinea and neighboring islands

C. m.

macrorhynchos – The nominate race, found in Sumatra, the Malay Peninsula, and Borneo.

Related Species

The Black-and-Red Broadbill is part of the family Eurylaimidae, which comprises 17 species recorded across Asia and Africa. The family is divided into four genera, namely Calyptomena, Cymbirhynchus, Psarisomus, and Eurylaimus.

Cymbirhynchus is the only genus in the family that occurs in Southeast Asia. The Black-and-Red Broadbill is most closely related to the Rufous-crowned Broadbill, (Calyptomena Whiteheadi), which is endemic to Borneo.

However, the taxonomic position of the Black-and-Red Broadbill has been a subject of debate, with some studies suggesting that the species belongs to a separate family.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The Black-and-Red Broadbill has undergone significant changes in distribution history. It was once found across the Malay Peninsula, but historical deforestation and habitat fragmentation have led to the bird’s local extinction in many areas.

The bird’s populations are also threatened by hunting, especially in the Philippines, where it has some cultural significance. Recent surveys have shown that the species has a restricted distribution and faces severe habitat loss, leading to its categorization as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

However, conservation programs like the SUMATRA project in Sumatra have been successful in restoring degraded forests as habitats for the species. The species is also found in the protected areas of Borneo, such as the Lanjak-Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary and the Gunung Mulu National Park.

These conservation efforts have improved the species’ chances of survival, although sustained logging and habitat fragmentation remain the primary threats.


The Black-and-Red Broadbill is an iconic bird in Southeast Asia, known for its striking colors and distinctive bill. The species’ evolutionary history, geographic variation, subspecies, and related species provide insight into the species’ natural history.

Although the species faces severe challenges to its survival, conservation programs and protected areas offer hope for its continued existence in the region.


The Black-and-Red Broadbill is a bird species primarily found in the dense, moist lowland rainforests of Southeast Asia. The species also inhabits secondary forests, mangroves, and occasionally plantation and garden areas.

The bird’s range extends from Thailand, Sumatra, Malaysia, the Philippines, to Borneo, where it prefers undisturbed forests with a closed canopy, dense understory vegetation, and a water source nearby. The bird’s habitat requirement leaves it confined to lowland tropical regions, where rainforests cover at least 10% of the land, and annual rainfall ranges from 2000-5000 mm.

Black-and-Red Broadbills are most commonly seen in areas with large trees that extend above the canopy and are especially attracted to the plant family Arecaceae, including rattan, which provides sites for nest building. This plant family is present in most lowland forests of the region.

Movements and Migration

The Black-and-Red Broadbill is mostly sedentary, remaining within its breeding range throughout the year. However, there is evidence of local movements and altitudinal migrations.

Local movements may occur due to changes in food availability or nesting resources, while altitudinal migrations are influenced by seasonal fluctuations in temperature and rainfall. Local movements are more pronounced in conditions of food scarcity, drought, or forest clearance.

The bird is known for its ability to forage in the mid-to-high canopy of mature forests, making it possible for it to move between fragmented habitats in the region. Additionally, the species can switch between primary and secondary forests, depending on the availability of resources.

Altitudinal migration is not significant, but there is some evidence of the bird occurring at higher elevations in the non-breeding season. During the breeding season, the species may occur at elevations of up to 1000 meters.

This altitudinal range expands to about 1400 meters during the non-breeding period. Migration is not common among Black-and-Red Broadbills, and no regular migration routes have been identified yet.

However, some data suggest that some birds may move to Thailand from their northern breeding grounds in the Philippines towards the southern non-breeding range.

Conservation and Threats

The Black-and-Red Broadbill faces significant conservation challenges due to habitat loss, hunting pressure, and urbanization. The species is categorized as Near Threatened (NT) due to a population decline of around 20% in the last three generations.

Much of the bird’s natural habitat has been converted to monoculture plantations, pastures, and increasing urbanization.

Habitat loss also leads to habitat fragmentation, a significant threat to the bird’s survival. The bird’s low productivity and demanding habitat requirements make its populations vulnerable to even slight alterations to the forest habitat.

Hunting is also a significant threat in the Philippines, where it is captured and traded in pet markets. Several conservation efforts aim to mitigate the threats to the Black-and-Red Broadbill.

Protected areas such as Gunung Mulu National Park and Danum Valley Conservation Area offer some relief to the species from habitat loss. Additionally, restoration programs like the SUMATRA project have recorded gains in Black-and-Red Broadbill populations in Sumatra.

The presence of the bird in some botanical gardens has sparked the creation of protected breeding programs, further boosting conservation efforts for the species.


The Black-and-Red Broadbill is a valuable species in Southeast Asia, known for its striking colors and distinctive bill. It faces significant threats due to habitat loss and fragmentation, urbanization, and hunting.

Local movements and altitudinal migrations are essential factors to understand in mitigating the threats to the bird’s survival. Conservation efforts such as habitat restoration and protected areas are vital in the survival of the species and require the concerted effort of all stakeholders.

Diet and Foraging


The Black-and-Red Broadbill is an insectivorous bird species that forages mainly in the mid-to-upper canopy levels of dense tropical rainforests. The birds search for prey items motile, like ants, flies, grasshoppers, and beetles.

The birds also occasionally feed on fruits, particularly figs and palm fruits, but this component of their diet is very small. The bird’s bill has a broad base and is flattened sideways, which allows it to catch prey items effectively.

It has bristles at the base of the beak that prevent insects from escaping by sticking them to these bristles while maneuvering the insects inside its gaping bill.


The Black-and-Red Broadbill has a specialized diet that includes mainly insects and some fruits. According to studies, it feeds selectively, depending on the availability of prey, and not on the diversity of prey.

The bird’s diet may vary geographically and seasonally, but the preference for motile insects remains constant. It is common to observe these birds foraging on the undersides of leaves and at the tip of branches.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

The Black-and-Red Broadbill is a heterothermic bird species that maintains a body temperature range of 37-39C, which is typical for most birds. Heterothermism allows the bird to lower its body temperature during periods of inactivity, such as roosting, to conserve energy.

This metabolic process allows the birds to maintain a stable body temperature in spite of the variable environmental temperature fluctuations characteristic of tropical forests.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior


The Black-and-Red Broadbill is known for its colorful plumage; however, it also has a diverse range of songs, calls, and vocalizations. The males call throughout the breeding season from a prominent perch to attract females or to advertise their territory.

The typical male song is a series of clear, whistling notes that are melodious and pleasant to the ear. The song involves several repeated notes, and it is thought to be one of the more complex songs among bird species in the region.

The female also produces a characteristic vocalization that is shorter and simpler in structure than the male’s song. It consists of a few notes, and it is used to communicate with the male during the breeding season or to indicate the presence of danger or food.

Black-and-Red Broadbills are considered vocal birds, and they use different vocalizations to communicate with each other throughout the year. While the bird’s songs may vary geographically, the characteristics of the notes tend to remain consistent, supporting the idea of sexual selection driving the bird’s evolution of its vocalizations.


The Black-and-Red Broadbill is known for its beautiful plumage and distinct bill, but the species has a specialized diet and unique metabolic and temperature-regulating abilities. By understanding the bird’s feeding habits and vocal behaviors, we can gain deeper insights into the species’ evolutionary history.

Further research on the Black-and-Red Broadbill’s songs and calls, including an analysis of the bird’s vocal repertoire and syntax, could expand our knowledge of the species’ communication. Protecting the Black-and-Red Broadbill’s habitat and conserving populations are essential in ensuring that this iconic bird species remains a vital part of tropical ecosystems.



The Black-and-Red Broadbill is a perching bird that moves primarily by hopping from branch to branch. It also flies, but not for long distances, usually to escape predators or to move from one area to another.

The bird is mostly resident in its breeding range and is observed foraging in the mid-to-high canopy levels of dense tropical rainforests.


The Black-and-Red Broadbill is known for its nictitating membrane, which is a translucent third eyelid that protects the bird’s eyes. The membrane allows the bird to maintain lubrication of the cornea and protect it from dust, debris, and insects.

The bird’s plumage is well-kept and usually appears in good condition, with birds taking time regularly to clean and maintain their feathers.

Agonistic Behavior

The Black-and-Red Broadbill is not an aggressive bird and usually does not show much aggression towards conspecifics or other species. However, during the breeding season, males defend their territory against other males.

The males display aggression by spreading their wings, fanning their tail feathers, and calling loudly to defend their territory.

Sexual Behavior

The Black-and-Red Broadbill is monogamous, and pairs form during the breeding season, usually lasting for the whole season and often for life. Both males and females build a nest using bamboo and leaves, typically on the branch of a tree in the dense canopy.

The birds usually lay two to three eggs, which are incubated by the female while the male helps to bring food.


The Black-and-Red Broadbill breeds from January to June, with peak activity in March and April. The males attract females by singing from prominent perches, and pairs form just before the start of the breeding season.

During courtship, the males display by puffing out their chest feathers, spreading their wings, and hopping across branches.

The female incubates the eggs for around 15 days, and the eggs hatch asynchronously.

The chicks are altricial and remain in the nest for approximately three weeks before fledging. The male provides the food for the female and chicks during the incubation and nesting period.

After the nesting period, the young disperse, often moving short distances from their natal site. Some juvenile birds remain with their parents for an extended period as helpers, assisting with nest building and rearing the following season’s young.

Demography and Populations

The Black-and-Red Broadbill population has declined due to habitat loss, fragmentation, and hunting. The bird’s population is estimated to be declining at a rate of 1.9% per year, with a global population estimated between 100,000 – 499,999 individuals.

The bird’s resilience to different forms of habitat changes depends on the degree of degradation and fragmentation of its habitat. Studies indicate that the bird’s resilience correlates with the density and quality of the understory vegetation in fragmented habitats.

Consequently, human-induced land-use changes, like forest fragmentation and degradation, climate change, and the expansion of agriculture and urbanization, pose significant challenges to the species’ continued survival. Conservation efforts for this species are focused on restoring degraded habitats, promoting sustainable land-use policies, and establishing protected areas where the bird can thrive.

While conservation efforts have shown promising results, continued efforts are necessary to prevent the species’ decline and ultimate extinction.


The Black-and-Red Broadbill is a unique bird species in Southeast Asia, displaying distinctive behaviors that add to its interest and beauty. Monogamous behavior and the male’s involvement in helping incubate and feed the young is a characteristic of this bird’s breeding behavior.

Conservation efforts are essential to preserve this iconic bird’s populations, species’ viability, and the integrity of its ecosystems. Despite facing several threats to its survival,

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