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Small Niltava - BirdForum Opus

Alternative name: Black-breasted Niltava

Subspecies N. m. signata male
Photo © by Ayuwat J
Doi Inthanon, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Niltava macgrigoriae


11-14 cm. A small version of Large Niltava.


Subspecies N. m. signata female
Photo © by nothinghill
Thailand, 7 March 2012
  • Deep blue on mantle and breast
  • Bright shining blue rump, neck-patch and brow
  • Paler grey underparts almost whitish on belly
  • signata has greyer belly to undertail-coverts


  • Dark olive-brown head and upperparts
  • Small azure-blue neck-side patch
  • Dull olive-brown lower throat and breast, becoming whitish on belly and lower flanks

Juveniles have mostly brown upperparts, heavily heavily flecked or streaked with orange-buff on head and face and larger buffish spots on mantle and scapulars. Tail and wings like adults but with pale buff spots.

Similar species

Large Niltava is much larger. The male is more black than deep blue, the female has a grey hindcrown and a noticeably paler centre of throat. Female Rufous-bellied Niltava has a distinctive whitish gorget.
Male Hainan Blue Flycatcher has darker forehead to eyes, lacks the bright blue patch on side of neck and is slightly less blue on breast and flanks.


Found in the Himalayas from Nepal east to Burma, Thailand, Indochina and south China. Vagrant in Bangladesh.
Fairly common in the Himalayas and China, uncommon in northwest Thailand, uncommon to fairly common in Burma, Laos and Vietnam.


Nominate subspecies
Photo © by Rajsurin
Ramnagar, Uttarakhand, India, 25 February-2017


Two subspecies recongized:

  • N. m. macgrigoriae in the Himalayas from Nepal to south Tibet and northeast India (Darjeeling)
  • N. m. signata in the eastern Himalayas from Bhutan to north Burma, northwest Thailand and north Indochina; also south China (southeast Xizang and west and south Yunnan east to south Guangxi)

The scientific name is sometimes mispelled macgregoriae.


Moist montanes. Often along forest edge and clearings and also in shrubberies and bushes along paths and tracks.
Occurs from 1000 to 2000 m in the Himalayas (higher in the east), from 900 to 2400 m in China and 1000 to 2560 in southeast Asia. In non-breeding season also in dense reed and grassy stands with some trees, down to 300 m or lower.


A rather shy and inconspicuous species, especially during breeding season. Most active very early and late in the day.


Feeds on small invertebrates. Takes also some fruit.
Forages solitary or in pairs in shady undergrowth and bushes, sallying out in pursuit of prey from low perch.


Breeding season from March to August. The nest is a cup made mainly of moss and placed in a hollow in a streambank or between boulders, well hidden by vegetation. Nest also recorded up to 3 m in a thin sapling. Lays 3 to 5 eggs. Parasitized by Lesser Cuckoo, Hodgson's Hawk-Cuckoo and Large Hawk-Cuckoo.


A resident and short-distance altitudinal migrant. Recorded in winter in Hong Kong, passage migrant in northern Vietnam, a vagrant in northeast Bangladesh.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, T. A. Fredericks, J. A. Gerbracht, D. Lepage, S. M. Billerman, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2022. The eBird/Clements checklist of Birds of the World: v2022. Downloaded from https://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Gill, F and D Donsker (Eds). 2015. IOC World Bird Names (version 5.2). Available at http://www.worldbirdnames.org/.
  3. Rasmussen, PC and JC Anderton. 2005. Birds of South Asia: The Ripley Guide. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. ISBN 978-8487334672
  4. Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive (retrieved June 2015)

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