The name of this thrush refers to the male, which has rich orange-chestnut plumage on its belly that extends up to the throat. The rest of its plumage is a very dark blue, except for a conspicuous short, white eyebrow. The pale bill turns black when the male is breeding. The female not only lacks the rust-coloured belly, but also differs by being slaty-brown above, with a dark brown face, a pale rufous throat, and a pale belly. The plump, rounded body, with short wings and tail, is supported by long, pink legs (2).
The rusty-bellied shortwing is a somewhat skulking and inconspicuous bird, which may contribute to the impression of its rarity and the lack of information on its biology. They forage on low vegetation and on the ground, and are known to consume beetles, but possibly other items as well. It is presumed that the breeding season stretches between April and June, when their high-pitched song is heard most frequently (2)(3).
Endemic to the eastern Himalayas, where it has been found in West Bengal, Sikkim, Assam and Arunachel Pradesh in India; north Myanmar and north-west Yunnan in China. It is also likely to occur in Bhutan, although it has not yet been recorded there (3).
The rusty-bellied shortwing has been recorded from the base of hills up to 2,900 meters. Breeding territories are situated over 1,800 meters above sea level, preferentially in steep, damp, and densely vegetated gullies. Wintering birds have been found in dense reeds, bamboo, thick scrub, forest undergrowth and thickets, and small valleys (2)(3).
Numbers of rusty-bellied shortwing are thought to be declining as a result of deforestation and forest degradation (2)(3). Legal and illegal logging rapidly clears large areas of forest in north-east India and is even taking place within some protected areas. Shifting agriculture and grazing livestock has degraded the forest in many areas. These threats are exacerbated by the pressure of increasing human populations (4).
This vulnerable thrush is known to occur in the Nu Jiang Nature Reserve in Yunnan, and it has also been recorded in or adjacent to a number of other protected areas. This offers the rusty-bellied shortwing some degree of protection, but to understand more about this poorly known bird, and thus to be able to effectively conserve it, further research is required to locate populations, determine ecological requirements, and identify important sites that require protection (3).
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