Family Thrushes (Turdidae)

Least Concern

Island Thrush (Turdus poliocephalus)


French: Merle des îles German: Südseedrossel Spanish: Zorzal insular

Turdus poliocephalus


, 1801,

Norfolk Island


Taxonomy highly complex. Attempts to isolate taxa or groups as separate species largely frustrated by mosaic distributions of taxa with allied characters. Recent detailed preliminary review assigned 52 subspecies to one of 12 plumage types, then used distributional and limited morphometric data to suggest that 31–38 (concept-dependent) species might be recognized#R, but our own review in AMNH of 48 subspecies suggested that plumage types porous (i.e. some taxa in one group being very close in morphology to others in another); moreover, genetic analysis of Philippine subspecies#R reveals that plumage similarities do not necessarily reflect close relationships. Thus, there continues to be no better solution to this long-standing source of taxonomic discomfort than to leave the species as the most diverse assemblage of subspecies of bird known on earth. Another genetic analysis#R, however, suggests that geographically outlying and morphologically unique T. niveiceps, hitherto treated as conspecific with present species, is well removed from other taxa sampled, and this single form is given species rank here (see that species). Subspecies name erebus is a replacement for carbonarius, which is preoccupied#R. Proposed race biesenbachi (from Mt Papandayan, in W Java) considered not reliably distinguishable from fumidus. Additional populations, as yet undescribed, apparently exist in Indonesia, Philippines and possibly New Guinea. Races †mareensis, †vinitinctus and nominate †poliocephalus extinct. Forty-seven extant subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • T. p. loeseri Meyer de Schauensee, 1939 – N Sumatra.
  • T. p. indrapurae Robinson & Kloss, 1916 – SC Sumatra.
  • T. p. fumidus S. Müller, 1844 – Mt Papandayan and Mt Gede Pangrango, in W Java.
  • T. p. erythropleurus Sharpe, 1887 – Christmas I, S of W Java.
  • T. p. javanicus Horsfield, 1821 – mountains of C Java.
  • T. p. stresemanni M. Bartels, Jr, 1938 – Mt Lawu, in EC Java.
  • T. p. whiteheadi (Seebohm, 1893) – mountains of E Java.
  • T. p. thomassoni (Seebohm, 1894) – N Philippines (N Luzon).
  • T. p. mayonensis (Mearns, 1907) – S Luzon.
  • T. p. mindorensis Ogilvie-Grant, 1896 – Mindoro (NC Philippines).
  • T. p. nigrorum Ogilvie-Grant, 1896 – Negros (SC Philippines).
  • T. p. malindangensis (Mearns, 1907) – Mt Malindang, in NW Mindanao (S Philippines).
  • T. p. katanglad Salomonsen, 1953 – C Mindanao.
  • T. p. kelleri (Mearns, 1905) – Mt Apo, in SE Mindanao.
  • T. p. seebohmi (Sharpe, 1888) – N Borneo (mountains of Kinabalu, Trus Madi and Tambuyukon).
  • T. p. hygroscopus Stresemann, 1931 – S Sulawesi.
  • T. p. celebensis (Büttikofer, 1893) – SW Sulawesi.
  • T. p. schlegelii P. L. Sclater, 1861 – W Timor.
  • T. p. sterlingi Mayr, 1944 – Timor Leste (E Timor).
  • T. p. deningeri Stresemann, 1912 – Seram.
  • T. p. versteegi Junge, 1939 – mountains of W New Guinea.
  • T. p. erebus Mayr & Gilliard, 1952 – mountains of EC New Guinea.
  • T. p. keysseri Mayr, 1931 – mountains of Huon Peninsula, in NE New Guinea.
  • T. p. papuensis (De Vis, 1890) – mountains of SE New Guinea.
  • T. p. tolokiwae Diamond, 1989 – Tolokiwa I, in Bismarck Archipelago; reportedly also New Britain.
  • T. p. beehleri Ripley, 1977 – New Ireland.
  • T. p. heinrothi Rothschild & E. J. O. Hartert, 1924 – St Matthias.
  • T. p. canescens (De Vis, 1894) – Goodenough I, in D’Entrecasteaux Archipelago.
  • T. p. bougainvillei Mayr, 1941 – Bougainville I.
  • T. p. kulambangrae Mayr, 1941 – Kolombangara I, in C Solomons.
  • T. p. sladeni Cain & I. C. J. Galbraith, 1955 – Guadalcanal.
  • T. p. rennellianus Mayr, 1931 – Rennell I, in S Solomons.
  • T. p. vanikorensis Quoy & Gaimard, 1830 – Santa Cruz Is (Utupua, Vanikoro) and N Vanuatu (Espiritu Santo, Malo).
  • T. p. placens Mayr, 1941 – Ureparapara and Vanua Lava, in Banks Group.
  • T. p. whitneyi Mayr, 1941 – Gaua I, in Banks Group.
  • T. p. malekulae Mayr, 1941 – Pentecost, Malakula and Ambrym, in Vanuatu.
  • T. p. becki Mayr, 1941 – Paama, Lopevi, Epi and Emae, in Vanuatu.
  • T. p. efatensis Mayr, 1941 – Éfaté and Nguna, in Vanuatu.
  • T. p. albifrons (E. P. Ramsay, 1879) – Erromango, in Vanuatu.
  • T. p. pritzbueri E. L. Layard, 1878 – Tanna (in Vanuatu).
  • T. p. xanthopus J. R. Forster, 1844 – New Caledonia (apparently surviving only on Yandé).
  • T. p. mareensis E. L. Layard & Tristram, 1879 – Maré, in Loyalty Is.
  • T. p. vinitinctus (Gould, 1855) – Lord Howe I.
  • T. p. poliocephalus Latham, 1801 – Norfolk I.
  • T. p. layardi (Seebohm, 1891) – W Fiji (Viti Levu, Ovalau, Yasawa, Koro).
  • T. p. ruficeps (E. P. Ramsay, 1875) – #RKadavu, in S Fiji.
  • T. p. vitiensis E. L. Layard, 1876 – Vanua Levu, in E Fiji.
  • T. p. hades Mayr, 1941 – Gau, in E Fiji.
  • T. p. tempesti E. L. Layard, 1876 – Taveuni, in E Fiji.
  • T. p. samoensis Tristram, 1879 – Samoa (Savaii, Upolu).
  • Also (race unknown) E Sulawesi#R, Taliabu (Sula Is)#R, Philippines on Sibuyan, Panay and Mindanao (Mt Busa)#R, and possibly New Guinea.

    Descriptive notes

    17–25 cm; 77–79 g (nigrorum), 75–86 g (malindangensis), 69–78 g (keysseri), 48–52·5 g (beehleri), 52... read more


    Song, usually delivered in early morning or evening, a series of loud, clear melodious phrases that... read more


    Woodland and forest of almost any type with mature trees and fairly open understorey, edges of... read more

    Food and feeding

    Snails, slugs, worms, insects (including beetles, fly larvae), myriapods, mites, spiders; also small fruits, berries and seeds, including (... read more


    Apr–May in Philippines, with breeding-condition birds Feb, Mar, Jun and Oct; Feb–Mar on Borneo; Feb–Sept on Java; Aug on... read more


    Resident throughout range. Some local elevational movements; Bornean population (on Gunung Kinabalu... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). This species has a very large range within which it is described as common to rare. Several races, mostly low-lying populations... read more

    Recommended citation

    Collar, N., Christie, D.A. & Kirwan, G.M. (2019). Island Thrush (Turdus poliocephalus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 5 December 2019).