How small is my honeyeater

Scarlet Honeyeater Myzomela sanguinolenta
Scarlet Honeyeater hanging from Yellow Bell

We know, of course, that some birds are smaller than others but we aren’t often close enough to them to put their size into context. This female Scarlet Honeyeater (Myzomela sanguinolenta, aka Scarlet Myzomela) charmingly demonstrates her minuscule size and weight by hanging from the petals of a Yellow Bell to feed on its nectar.

She was deep within a tangle of Yellow Bells on the bank of a creek on Hervey’s Range – too cute to resist but too far away, really, for a good photo.  Males are responsible for the species name, by the way. Females and juvenile males are brown with perhaps a small blush around the cheeks, but adult males (see one in this older post) are very colourful.

Yellow Bells (Cascabela thevetia) are a weed. This fact sheet from James Cook University says that all parts of the plant are poisonous, but the nectar seems not to be, since I have seen other birds feeding on the flowers although I have never seen a fruit or seed that has been pecked or chewed by wildlife.

Birdlife of Rollingstone Creek

Last week’s post celebrated the dragonflies of Rollingstone Creek, just North of Townsville, but the birdlife deserves its share of attention, too. I saw most of the same species as on my first visit but some were more obliging this time.

Portraits …

Forest Kingfisher, Todiramphus macleayii
Forest Kingfisher, Todiramphus macleayii

Continue reading “Birdlife of Rollingstone Creek”

Crows, Currawongs and Choughs

This post parallels my recent Extended Honeyeater family essay and is prompted by the same holiday experiences: visiting Canberra and Victoria before Christmas I saw birds which don’t live around Townsville and wanted to fit them in to my existing knowledge.

It turned out that the birds I was curious about are not all members of the same taxonomic family but all belong to three families within the superfamily Corvoidea, i.e.,

  • Corvidae: crows, ravens (and jays, which don’t occur in Australia)
  • Artamidae: woodswallows, butcherbirds, currawongs and Australian magpie
  • Corcoracidae: white-winged chough and apostlebird

Continue reading “Crows, Currawongs and Choughs”

White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike finds a meal

White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike
White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike with lunch

Cuckoo-shrikes, both White-bellied and Black-faced, are occasional visitors to our garden. This one is the former, Coracina papuensis. 

Yes, it has a black face, but the real Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes, C. novaehollandiae, have more black on their face – compare them here. And no, it is neither a cuckoo (Cuculidae) nor a shrike (Laniidae) but is in another family, Campephagidae,  with the Trillers; Wikipedia (previous link) speculates that the ‘cuckoo’ part of their common name may come from a superficial resemblance to some cuckoos.

Common names are unreliable guides to appearance, behaviour or family affiliations, particularly here in Australia where the first European settlers met hosts of strange birds and animals and applied the nearest old-world names to them.

Extended Honeyeater family

What do you think of when you think of an extended family? Cousin Julie, Uncle John, Nanna and the rest? Or a group of related birds or mammals which is broader than a species but narrow enough to be a natural grouping?

Christmas is fresh in my mind as I write, as it may be in yours, but here I’m concerned with the taxonomic extended family, not the rellies. In particular, I have been thinking about  honeyeaters and their next-nearest kin, Continue reading “Extended Honeyeater family”