A visitation of figbirds

Figbirds (Sphecotheres vieilloti) are rowdy gregarious fruit-eaters which visit our garden quite often – not for the fruit they are named for, because we haven’t got any big fig trees, but for the palm seeds.

A large group turned up a few days ago to feed on the Alexandra palm and stayed long enough to be photographed. Long enough, in fact, for a Bowerbird to join them and then wander off again.

Adult females and the young of both sexes are brownish with speckled bellies and grey eye-rings. Adult males are colourful, their red eye-ring and vivid yellow belly contrasting brilliantly with their olive-green back and black head. Young males grow through a transitional stage in which all the adult colours gradually show through the camouflage.

Figbirds on palm seeds
Six figbirds, some not easy to see
Figbirds on palm seeds
Adult male (lower) with sub-adult male

I have caught two different adult males. The first has a grey collar, the second doesn’t. Slater’s Field Guide notes a ‘Southern form’ with grey collar and green belly, and a ‘Northern form’ with no collar and a yellow belly, with ‘intergrades’ in between. The second of my photos clearly shows a Northerner and the individual in the first is a Southerner or intergrade; we can’t be sure without more photos.

Figbirds on palm seeds
Great Bowerbird (lower left) with most of the Figbirds

Bowerbirds, Chlamydera nuchalis, are significantly bigger than the Figbirds. We see them often, usually feasting on Mock-Orange (Murraya paniculata) berries.

Yes, the Mock-Orange is a declared weed and birds spread the seeds but the shrub is so widely grown in Townsville gardens that uprooting the specimens we found here when we moved in has not yet risen to the top of our “to do” list.

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