Brown-backed Whistlers

The Brown-backed Whistlers (Pachycephala modesta) – also known as Grey Mountain Pachycephalas – are endemic to Papua New Guinea in Indonesia, where they are locally fairly common.

These sedentary (non-migratory) birds inhabit humid montanes and are occasionally seen on small trees in alpine grassland. They occur at altitudes from 5,000 – 11,000 feet (1,525 – 3,450 meters) – up to the timber-line.

Subspecies and Ranges:

  • Pachycephala modesta modesta (De Vis, 1894) – Nominate form
    • Range: Herzog Mountains and mountains of southeast New Guinea
  • Pachycephala modesta telefolminensis (Gilliard and LeCroy, 1961)
    • Range: Victor Emanuel Mountains and Hindenburg Mountains in east-central New Guinea.
  • Pachycephala modesta hypoleuca (Reichenow, 1915)
    • Range: Mountains of Western, Southern and Eastern Highlands, Schrader Range, and Huon Peninsula (Saruwaged Mountains) in eastern New Guinea.


Brown-backed Whistlers measure about 5.5 inches (14 cm) in length. The upper plumage is mostly sooty brown with an olive wash. The crown is dark grey and the ear coverts (feathers covering the ears) are brown. The upper side of the face to below the eyes is dark greyish. The throat and the plumage below is whitish, with a grey tinged chest and flanks.

The eyes (irises) are dark brown or red-brown; the sturdy bill, legs and feet are black.

Males and females look alike.

Juveniles have a mostly chestnut-brown to dark red-brown mottled plumage.

Diet / Feeding

Their diet mostly consists of various insects; but will also take fruits. Foraging occurs in the canopy or mid-story.

Breeding / Nesting

Breeding is believed to occur in the latter part of the dry season and early in the wet season.

Calls / Vocalizations

Alternate (Global) Names

Chinese: ???? … Czech: Pištec horský … Danish: Brunrygget Fløjter … Dutch: Bruinrugfluiter … German: Braunrücken-Dickkopf … Finnish: Vuoriviheltäjä … French: Pachycéphale à dos brun, Siffleur modeste … Italian: Zufolatore dorsobruno … Japanese: komozuhitaki … Norwegian: Brunryggplystrer … Polish: fletówka brazowogrzbieta, fletówka br?zowogrzbieta … Russian: ??????????? ??????? … Slovak: hlavácik hnedochrbtý, hlavá?ik hnedochrbtý … Spanish: Chiflador de Espalda Castaña, Silbador Modesto … Swedish: Brunryggad visslare … Tai: Martin-Divan

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