Noisy Friarbird and its cousins

brown bird in yellow flowers
Noisy Friarbird in a raintree

A recent visit to a property between Mingela and Ravenswood introduced me to the Noisy Friarbird, Philemon corniculatus – more correctly, to dozens of them feeding in a profusely flowering golden raintree. And yes, they were indeed noisy. Then again, all their cousins are noisy too, so they didn’t have any special claim on their name.

brown bird with yellow flowers
Noisy Friarbird enjoying raintree blossom

Friarbirds are a small group of large honeyeaters (family Meliphagidae) and I have gradually been meeting them all. The Noisy and Little Friarbird are both about 25-29cm, the same size as the familiar Blue-faced Honeyeater, according to Slaters, while the Silver-crowned (27-32cm) and Helmeted (30-37cm) are somewhat bigger. They are all basically brown with bare skin on their heads. To tell them apart, you have to look at their heads: all except the Little have knobs on their beaks, the Noisy is almost completely bald and has an obvious whitish bib, the Silver-crowned has the bib and a cap, while the Helmeted has the cap but not such an obvious bib.

Helmeted Friarbirds have long been frequent visitors to my garden and I have posted photos and a description here. Little Friarbirds are more recent arrivals – I first saw them here at the end of August; you will find photos here and here  as well as below. I have yet to see the Silver-crowned, a Top End species, although its range is said to extend as far South as Townsville.

brown bird on branch
A Little Friarbird in my poplar gum

I was watching this Little Friarbird, Philemon citreogularis, foraging in our poplar gum a couple of days ago when it suddenly swooped down to the base of one of our big hibiscus bushes. When it flew back up I was able to snap this shot of it juggling its prey, a cicada. That, incidentally, was my first cicada of the season; I have seen two more since then.

Helmeted Friarbird

Helmeted Friarbird in Poplar Gum
Helmeted Friarbird hunting insects in our Poplar Gum

Helmeted Friarbirds (Philemon buceroides) are regular visitors to our garden. They make good use of our birdbath and share the poplar gum with Peaceful Doves, Rainbow Lorikeets, Blue-faced and White-gaped Honeyeaters, and several other species which visit less often.

Friarbirds are closely related to the honeyeaters, being grouped with them in the family Meliphagidae (see this page on Birdway for the whole Australian and New Zealand family). They are larger than most of the family and are characterised by bare skin on the face and a knob on top of the beak. Like other honeyeaters, they feed on insects as well as nectar.

Friarbird on banana trunk
Friarbird on banana plant

I have been surprised to see them feeding on the flowers of Yellow Bells, also known as Yellow Oleander (Thevetia peruviana). Is the nectar the only part of the plant which isn’t poisonous?

brown bird on yellow flowering tree
Friarbird in Yellow Bells (Yellow Oleander)
Bird with beak in flower
Yes, it really is feeding on the Yellow Bells’ flowers

A stroll around the Palmetum

The Palmetum is one ‘campus’ of Townsville’s botanic gardens. Its special focus is palm trees, as its name implies, but palms range across so many habitats, from rainforest to desert, that the gardens are very varied. I found lots of wildlife to photograph on a Saturday afternoon stroll, even well into the Dry season.

grey honeyeater
Little Friarbird, Philemon citreogularis.

There were plenty of birds – Rainbow Lorikeets, Ibis, Black Duck and a few other familiar species, plus one which I had to look up. My first thought that it was a honeyeater, since it was about the size of our Blue-faced Honeyeaters and had a similar patch of bare skin on its face, but it turned out to be a Little Friarbird. I hadn’t been far wrong, however, since friarbirds are members of the same family (Meliphagidae) as honeyeaters.

But insects claimed most of my attention, although numbers were down in the park just as they are at home. I found a peculiarly-equipped bug,  several species of orb-weaving spiders, damselflies around the lagoon and in the rainforest, a few dragonflies and a few butterflies.

two brown butterflies on a leaf
Getting acquainted? Two Orange Bush-brown butterflies, Mycalesis terminus.

These butterflies are seen year-round but their colours, like those of other leaf-mimics,  depend on the season. Melanitis leda, the Evening Brown, is my favourite example of how they change – look at this collection.