Wednesday, 15 November 2006

Friars tuck in

I wasn't the only one out and about in the hail. At lunchtime, I spotted something that looked remarkably like a little friarbird (Philemon citreogularis). I suspect it was one of my standard misidentifications* because these odd-looking honeyeaters don't often pop up in this part of the world. But—with dry conditions encouraging rural birds to move into the urban areas—you never know. Anyway, my dubious sighting gives me the opportunity to talk about these lively animals.

Bald is beautiful in the world of friarbirds. Whereas little friarbirds have unremarkable bare faces, the noisy ones (P. corniculatus) have black-skinned, featherless heads that look as though they've been moulded from leather. Helmeted friarbirds (P. buceroides) sport an unlikely Mohawk of grey feathers on their pates. The silver-crowns (P. argenticeps) also have a smattering of feathers but they're much more refined (but still not elegant.)

When I lived in Townsville, every noisy friarbird in North Queensland gathered in my garden to feed on grevilleas (especially the cultivar Honey Gem). They'd cackle loudly as if laughing at their own jokes. (At night, the fruit bats would take over. My garden was a 24-hour party venue for the local wildlife.) You can't miss them when they're about.

Friarbirds are restricted to Australia, New Guinea and the islands of Wallacea. All regions have endemic species but the larger ones—noisy and helmeted especially—are widespread within the region.

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*Except for grebes. I'm good on those.

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