4 - Arabian Babblers: the quest for social status in a cooperative breeder  pp. 103-130

Arabian Babblers: the quest for social status in a cooperative breeder

By A. Zahavi

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The bird and the study area

The Arabian Babbler (Turdoides squamiceps) is a member of the Paleotropic family Timallidae. Only a few forms of the genus Turdoides have penetrated into the Palaearctic arid zone north of the tropics (Meinertzhagen 1954). These Palaearctic forms are distributed over hot deserts from India to Morocco and south to the arid deserts of East Africa. T. squamiceps occurs in the Arabian and Sinai peninsulas, extending into the hot deserts of Israel. In Israel it is common along the Rift Valley, north to Jerico; it is also found west of the rift in several of the large wadis.

The Arabian Babbler weighs 65–85 g; it is about 280 mm long, of which over half (145–55 mm) is tail. Its color is a dull gray-brown and very cryptic against the desert background. Young birds have dull gray irises that change in color during the first year to pale yellow in most males and dark brown in females. Babblers are quite terrestrial and hop and walk more than they fly. When they fly, they do so slowly and consequently are vulnerable to predation when they cross open terrain. This may be the reason why they usually stay near bushes and trees, where they may escape into cover, with their strong legs and long tail enabling them to dodge and outmaneuver any predator.