Proposal (#368) to South American Classification Committee


Recognition of Tricolored Munia as the English common name for Lonchura malacca


The simple case for recognizing Tricolored Munia as the English name for Lonchura Malacca is that the former widely used name, Black-headed Munia applies to Lonchura atricapilla. The confusion arose originally because the two were once considered to be conspecific. Of course, the matter is a no-brainer in one sense, but in another, it implies that the separation of the two species be recognized by the Committee as well.


That malacca and atricapilla were intrinsically different was explicitly recognized by Goodwin (1982) who treated them separately, and as separately (English) named subspecies, but retained conspecificity in the absence of published data to prove otherwise. During 14 years of living and traveling in Asia, I dedicated my bird activities to researching the genus Lonchura in the field, and in the process visited local museum collections, bird trappers and dealers, and studied birds in the field whenever possible. I first kept a pair of malacca in a garden aviary in 1947, and have four locally trapped specimens in the laboratory here in Caracas today. My findings in relation to Malacca and atricapilla were first published in 1994 and again in 1995. They were expanded upon in1996 where additional information was presented.


Dickinson (2003) chose not to recognize malacca and atricapilla as separate species. When asked (post publication) why, it turns out that he was unaware of any of the references given here, but supported his decision by stating that Rasmussen (2005) found specimens of intermediates from the eastern side of the range in India, and that was sufficient evidence for him to maintain a separation based on doubt. I wrote to Pamela about this, in some confusion, because while she did indeed find some specimens in the AMNH that might be taken for intermediates, she did recognize the two as separate species, citing in part, Restall (1996) as good enough evidence. In summary, malacca is polymorphic with one of the morphs looking as one might imagine a hybrid to appear (see plate 18d, Restall 1996). In contrast, atricapilla is extremely polytypic, but absolutely monomorphic.


If anybody would like a complete list of the differences between the two species, including sonograms of calls and songs, nestling gape patterns, etc., and does not have access to "Munias and Mannikins", please let me know. The final point in support of what to me is indisputable evidence that malacca and atricapilla are distinct is that Bob Payne has apparently found a DNA separation in his ongoing monumental study of Estrildidae (unpubl., pers. com.).


Finally, this is important for us in the New World, because both species are solidly established exotics on some Caribbean Islands, Central and northern South America. On Jamaica, both occur. One is in Colombia and Venezuela, the other in Ecuador, and were they to meet, it is essential (as in Jamaica) that field notes and reports get the species right.



Dickinson, E.C. (Editor) 2003. The Howard & Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World 3rd edition. Princeton U.P., New Jersey.

Goodwin, D. 1982. Estrildid Finches of the World, Brit. Mus. Nat. Hist., London.

Rasmussen, P.C. and J.C. Anderton. 2005. Birds of South Asia. The Ripley Guide. Smithsonian/Lynx Editions.

Restall, R.L. 1994. The Tri-coloured Munia and the Black-headed Munia - two good species? Avic. Mag. 100: 192-194.

Restall, R.L. 1995. Proposed additions to the genus Lonchura (Estrildidae). Bull.B.O.C.,115: 140-157.

Restall, R.L. 1996. Munias and Mannikins. Pica/Yale U.P.


Robin Restall, September 2008