Friday, 11 October 2013

The figbird in yellow

Figbirds (Sphecotheres vieilloti) are raiding every berry- and fig-bearing tree they can find. They move around in small flocks, fly in straight lines and expect everyone else to give way. If you want to measure a distance between locations, forget crows as your avian of choice — figbirds do not muck around. I saw a trio of them make a road crew duck. And yet, if you try to get close to figbirds, they become shy and reluctant to pose for the camera.

I hid behind a curtain and used a long lens

I'm sure it will lodge a complaint

There are two forms of figbirds in eastern Australia: the southern nominate subspecies (S. vieilloti vieilloti), in which the male has a grey and olive breast, and a northern subspecies (S. vieilloti flaviventris), a male of which is pictured above. The changeover between the two forms occurs in mid-east Queensland, around Prosperpine and Bowen.

Figbirds are Old World orioles (Oriolidae), but within that family their closest relatives are not the Australian olive-backed and yellow orioles (Oriolus sagittatus and O. flavocinctus), but the pitohuis (Pitohui dichrous, P. kirhocephalus) of New Guinea. What makes pitohuis interesting is their toxic plumage. They store toxins harvested from beetle prey in their feathers, which makes them unpalatable to predators. (Although the nasty stuff obviously doesn't help the beetles when the pitohuis are around.) I don't know if figbirds nibble on the same beetles while they're raiding fruit trees, but it's probably best not to lick a figbird's feathers all the same.That's your health tip for the day.

J√łnsson, K.A. et al. (2010). Phylogeny and biogeography of Oriolidae (Aves: Passeriformes). Ecography 33: 232–241. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0587.2010.06167.x

1 comment:

Bernie H said...

We see them year round here. At the moment they're enjoying the seeds of the native Sterculia or Peanut Tree. Later on they'll devour the fruit of the Fig Tree. Their calls are a familiar background soundtrack at my place.