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.

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Lorikeets and figbirds in North Queensland

parrot on red flowers
Rainbow Lorikeet on Umbrella Tree flowers

We regularly visit a “bush block” on Hervey’s Range, 40 minutes’ drive inland from Townsville. Six weeks ago we saw lots of Rainbow Lorikeets feeding on the bright red blossoms of the Umbrella Trees (Schefflera actinophylla) there, but when we returned a couple of days ago the flowers had become fruit and the lorikeets had shifted to a tall gum tree, 50 metres away, which had burst into blossom in the meantime.

A family of Figbirds (Sphecotheres vieilloti) had taken their place on the Umbrella Tree, feeding gregariously on the dark brown fruit. There was certainly plenty of it it to share!

brown bird on brown seed-head
Figbird on the mature fruit, early April
green and brown birds on the same flowers
The whole family feeding together

The Umbrella Tree is native to this part of the world and is not a problem here: it grows well but “has maintained a balance with other native species,” as this DAF page says. The page goes on to add, however, that “when it is grown in southern Queensland, this fast-growing invader out-competes local native species,” and this other Queensland government fact sheet simply calls it a weed (but has better pictures of it).

That’s unfair, since a weed is, when you come down to it, simply a plant where you don’t want it. Even Lantana, loathed up here, is not a weed everywhere.

Figbird feast

red fruit in cane bowl
Not cherry tomatoes, but about the same size

The rain a month ago encouraged all of our palm trees to produce flowers and, in due course, seeds. Insects (mostly flies and bees) and birds visit the flowers, and birds and possums feed happily on the seeds.

speckled bird amongst red and green seeds
Figbird in the Alexandra Palm

Like all birds, Figbirds (Sphecotheres vieilloti) follow the food supply and our suburban (Mundingburra) garden only attracts them sporadically. A family group visited our Alexandra Palm a fortnight ago for their share of the seeds. The one above is an adult or near-adult male, as the yellow breast shows, while the one below, with a speckled breast and grey-brown back, is a female.

speckled bird in palm
Interrupting lunch to check out the threat below

Visit this page for my story about Figbirds feeding beside Ross River on the fruit they are named for.