The Oriental Magpie Robin is a small passerine bird. They are distinctive black and white birds with a long tail that is held upright as they forage on the ground or perch conspicuously. Distributed in many parts of tropical South and Southeast Asia, they are common birds in urban gardens as well as forests. They are particularly well known for their songs and were once popular as cagebirds.
This species is 20 cm long, including the long tail that is usually held cocked upright. It is similar in shape to the smaller European Robin, but is longer-tailed. The male has black upperparts, head and throat apart from a white shoulder patch. The underparts and the sides of the long tail are white. Females are greyish black above and greyish white. Young birds have scaly brown upperparts and head.
It is mostly seen close to the ground, hopping along branches or foraging in leaf-litter on the ground with cocked tail. Males sing loudly from the top of trees or other perch during the breeding season.
Magpie Robins breed mainly from March to July in India and January to June in Southeast Asia. The display of the male involves puffing up the feathers, raising the bill, fanning the tail and strutting. They nest in tree hollows or niches in walls or building. The female is involved in most of the nest building that happens about a week before the eggs are laid. Four or five eggs are laid in intervals of 24 hours and these are oval and usually pale blue green with brownish speckles. The eggs are incubated by the female alone for 15 days. The nests have a characteristic odour.
Females spend more effort on feeding the young than males. Males are quite aggressive in the breeding season and will defend their territory and respond to the singing of intruders and even their reflections. Males spend more time on nest defense. Studies of the bird song show dialects with neighbours varying in their songs. The calls of many other species may be imitated as part of their song. This may indicate that birds disperse and are not philopatric. They appear to use elements of the calls of other birds in their own songs. Females may sing briefly in the presence of male. Apart from their song, they use a range of calls including territorial calls, emergence and roosting calls, threat calls, submissive calls, begging calls and distress calls. The typical mobbing calls is a harsh hissing KRSHHH.
The food of Magpie Robins is mainly insects and other invertebrates. They are known to occasionally take lizards, leeches, centipedes and even fish. They are often active late at dusk. They sometimes bathe in rainwater collected on the leaves of a tree.