The Rufous-Bellied Niltava: The Mysterious Bird From Thailand

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The Rufous-Bellied Niltava is known as the black-and-orange niltava. It can also be called the blue-and-orange or orange-bellied niltava or appropriately the Sundara niltava which roughly translates to “beautiful” niltava. It was named by Hodgson in 1837. This mysterious bird comes from Thailand and was photographed at Ban Luang Resort in Chiang Mai.

Rufous-Bellied Niltava

This bird is quite similar to the small niltava with a similar coloring and pattern of the upper parts. The male Rufous-bellied Niltava has orange underparts while the small one has grey-blue underparts.

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The Rufous-Bellied Niltava prefers to stay in the bushy undergrowth in tropical forests that includes mixed, secondary, disturbed, and broadleaf lowland montane forests in the Himalayas. This species of bird can be found in parts of China, Myanmar, and Indochina, extending to Thailand. 

This is an adult male Rufous-bellied niltava, Niltava Sundara, a member of Muscicapidae, the Chats, and Old World flycatchers. This species is very similar to the small niltava, N. macgrigoriae, with nearly identical coloring and patterning of the upper parts, but the male Rufous-bellied niltava is considerably brighter and has orange underparts (small niltava has grey-blue underparts).

This bird perfectly demonstrates the great combination of complementary colors.

Rufous-Bellied Niltava

The bird measures 15-18 cm and can weigh around 19 to 25g. It has a large and stocky flycatcher with a round head, a short tail, and a broad-based bill.

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The Rufous-Bellied Niltava is insectivorous and can also consume fruits. The birds create an open next hidden in the dense vegetation. The females lay 3-4 eggs and incubate them alone. Both the parents look after the younglings who are fed with insects.

Understanding The Colors Of The Rufous-bellied Niltava

The males get such bright colors from the pigments and structural shades. The orange underparts are from a coloring pigment, carotenoids. These pigments are plant-based and collected by eating such plants. The pigments in these plants are stored until molt and the pigments get placed inside the new feathers.

Rufous-Bellied Niltava

The color blue is mixed with structural coloring and pigments. The dark blue color is due to the tiny air pockets inside the feathers that can scatter light. This scattering creates a blue shade. The feather contains melanins that strengthen the blue color. If you see this bird in low-light areas it will look black and orange to you, instead of the normal blue-and-orange. 

The Rufous-bellied Niltava is dimorphic. Females have olive-brown upper parts and a greyer crown. The rufous wings have white streaking and their tails are also rufous. The underparts are a shade of grey and olive with buffy throats. You can also see a white neckband in the middle of their neck with blue at both ends.


The habitat of Rufous-bellied Niltava ranges from the northern parts of Pakistan and touches the top of the Indian subcontinent before moving towards Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, and then to Thailand and Laos. These birds can also be found in small regions around Southern China.

The rufous-bellied niltava lives in the brushy undergrowth in a variety of moist and tropical forest types, including mixed, broad-leafed, secondary, and disturbed lowland montane forests throughout the Himalayas. The bird ranges from central China through Myanmar (Burma) and into northern Thailand and Indochina

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