Tawny-breasted Wren-babbler Spelaeornis longicaudatus


Justification of Red List Category
This poorly known babbler qualifies as Vulnerable because it has a small, declining, severely fragmented population and range owing to the clearance and degradation of moist evergreen forest.

Population justification
The population is estimated to number 2,500-9,999 mature individuals based on an assessment of known records, descriptions of abundance and range size. This is consistent with recorded population density estimates for congeners or close relatives with a similar body size, and the fact that only a proportion of the estimated Extent of Occurrence is likely to be occupied. This estimate is equivalent to 3,750-14,999 individuals, rounded here to 3,500-15,000 individuals.

Trend justification
A moderate and on-going decline is suspected, owing to the continuing degradation of habitats across the species's range, although data on resilience to habitat change and recent population trends are lacking.

Distribution and population

Spelaeornis longicaudatus is endemic to hills south of the Brahmaputra river, north-east India. Its range was thought to include the Khasi Hills of Meghalaya, North Cachar Hills of Assam, and Naga Hills of Nagaland (BirdLife International 2001); but while it was formerly quite common and widespread within this limited range (particularly in the Khasi Hills), there are very few recent records, and the species may now be restricted to higher elevation areas of Mehalaya (P. Singh via T. Price in litt. 2016). However, the lack of records may partly reflect a paucity of ornithological fieldwork because of security problems.


It is probably sedentary in dense undergrowth of moist broadleaved evergreen (particularly oak Quercus and Rhododendron forests) or pine Pinus forests, favouring ravines and steep, rocky, boulder-strewn hillsides covered with moss, ferns and orchids, between 1,000-2,000 m. It is insectivorous, mainly terrestrial, occurring solitarily or in pairs, and is silent and unobtrusive. Breeding takes place during April-June.


The main threat is presumed to be forest clearance, degradation and fragmentation, primarily as a result of shifting cultivation, but also through burning, cutting for fuelwood collection and, more locally, commercial timber extraction. This occurs both within and outside protected areas, where enforcement of regulations is often absent or impossible. Overgrazing of forest undergrowth by domestic livestock (which is a problem throughout its range) may pose a serious threat, given its reliance on understorey habitats.

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
None are known. There are some protected areas in its foremerly known range (e.g. the Barail, Pulie Badge and Intanki protected areas), though it is not currently known from these localities.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct comprehensive surveys for the species in north-east India, to establish its range, distribution and population status, whilst assessing its habitat requirements and identifying threats. Make recommendations for conservation, based on survey findings, including the establishment of protected areas around any new sites found to support populations (probably in the Khasi Hills, potentially near Cherrapunji) (Choudhury 2014, P. Singh via T. Price in litt. 2016), and link these to existing reserves where appropriate. Ensure stronger regulation of any future large-scale montane timber extraction within its range. Conduct widespread conservation awareness initiatives in hill and mountain communities, aimed at reducing shifting agriculture and promoting sustainable exploitation of natural resources.


11-12 cm. Small, long-tailed wren-babbler with slightly scaled brown underparts. Pale orange-buff underparts with indistinct pale flecking. Grey lores and ear-coverts. Similar spp. Long-tailed Wren-babbler S. chocolatinus has more rufous underparts with conspicuous buff-and-brown flecking.


Text account compilers
Taylor, J., Gilroy, J., Westrip, J., Benstead, P.

Choudhury, A., Singh, P. & Price, T.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Spelaeornis longicaudatus. Downloaded from on 11/07/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 11/07/2020.