Australian golden whistler
|Australian golden whistler|
|Female, Queensland, Australia|
The Australian golden whistler (Pachycephala pectoralis) is a species of bird found in forest, woodland, mallee, mangrove and scrub in Australia (except the interior and most of the north) and in mountain forest in the Snow Mountains in the Papua Province of Indonesia. Most populations are resident, but some in south-eastern Australia migrate north during the winter. Its taxonomy is highly complex and remains a matter of dispute, with some authorities including as many as 59 subspecies in the golden whistler (one of the highest numbers of subspecies in any bird), while others treat several of these as separate species (as done here).
The male has a bright yellow underside and nape, olive-green back and wings, a black head and chest-band, and a white throat. A notable exception is the Norfolk golden whistler (P. p. xanthoprocta) where the plumage of the male is female-like. In Australia females are overall dull brownish-grey, though some have yellowish undertail coverts. In females of the Balim whistler (P. p. balim), which is the subspecies in the Snow Mountains in the Papua Province of Indonesia, the entire underparts (except the whitish throat) are deep yellow. Both sexes have a black bill, dark legs and red-brown eyes.
Australian golden whistlers have a strong, musical voice.
The taxonomy of the golden whistler complex is difficult, and remains a matter of dispute. Some authorities include a wide range of – often strikingly different – taxa from Indonesia, East Timor, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji as subspecies of P. pectoralis, in which case the combined species simply is known as the golden whistler (a common name sometimes also used exclusively for the Australian species). Species sometimes still treated as subspecies of P. pectoralis are:
- Rusty-breasted (fulvous-tinted) whistler (Pachycephala fulvotincta) from south-western Wallacea, Bali and Java in Indonesia.
- Black-chinned whistler (Pachycephala mentalis) from North Maluku in Indonesia.
- Yellow-throated whistler (Pachycephala macrorhyncha) from central and south-eastern Wallacea.
- Bismarck whistler (Pachycephala citreogaster) from the Bismarck and Louisiade Archipelagos in Papua New Guinea.
- Oriole whistler (Pachycephala orioloides) from the Solomons (except Santa Cruz Islands), and the islands of Bougainville and Buka in far eastern Papua New Guinea.
- Fiji whistler (Pachycephala graeffii) from central and northern islands in Fiji.
- White-throated whistler (Pachycephala vitiensis) from southern islands in Fiji, and the central and northern Santa Cruz Islands in the Solomons.
Additionally, all except the nominate subspecies of the Melanesian whistler (P. caledonica) are sometimes included as subspecies of P. pectoralis (in which case P. caledonica is known as the New Caledonian whistler). Historically even the New Caledonian, Tongan and Samoan whistler have been treated as subspecies of P. pectoralis. Strong published evidence in favour of either treatment is limited, and further study is warranted to resolve the situation.
The Norfolk golden whistler (P. p. xanthoprocta) declined for many years due to habitat loss and fragmentation and possible due to introduced predators such as the black rat. Most of the population is now restricted to the Norfolk Island National Park. This has resulted in it being listed as vulnerable by the Australian Government. Another island subspecies, the Lord Howe golden whistler (P. p. contempta) remains common, but was listed as vulnerable by the Australian Government due to its small range. It is not listed anymore.
The Australian golden whistler can be found in almost any wooded habitat, especially dense forests. It eats berries, insects, spiders, and other small arthropods. They usually feed alone and obtain food from the lower to middle tree level, or they may alternatively take part in mixed-species feeding flocks.
This species breeds between September and January. Male and female both work on the nest, which is a shallow bowl made of twigs, grass, and bark, and bound together with spider web. Only one brood is raised per season and both birds share incubation and care of young. Eggs hatch 15 days after they are laid and the young leave the nest after 12 days.
In Popular Culture
In Dougal Dixon's After Man: A Zoology of the Future, hypothetical descendants of the Australian golden whistler are shown living on the newly-formed tropical islands of Pacaus, located several thousand kilometers east of Australia, 50 million years in the future, long after humanity dies out. Australian golden whistlers were the first birds to arrive on the islands, blown across the ocean from Australia. The whistlers then began to diversify into the different species of Pacauan whistlers (Insulornis). They appeared when all the ecological niches were thrown open to them, so the whistlers really developed spectacularly, producing both insectivorous and seed-eating as well as highly predatory forms.
All the species within this Insulornis genus are now highly specialized and quite different from one another excepting I. harti, which is similar in form to the original ancestral bird.
The insect-eater, I. piciforma, develops a strong, chisel-like bill with which it tears into the bark of trees to get at burrowing insects. Its feet are modified to allow it to cling to the vertical trunks and the bird closely resembles the extinct woodpeckers.
Nuts and tough seeds are eaten by the nut-eater, I. macrorhyncha, a parrot-like species which has developed a massive bill and the powerful musculature to operate it. This bird has retained the perching feet of its ancestor and has grown a long tail to balance the weight of its large head.
Almost all the Pacauan whistlers are preyed upon by their hawk-like relative the hawk whistler, I. aviphaga, which shows the same adaptations that are found in birds of prey, irrespective of their ancestry (a hooked beak, binocular vision through forward-facing eyes, and a high degree of maneuverability in pursuit).
The new whistlers themselves can be preyed upon by snakes.
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- BirdLife International (2012). "Pachycephala pectoralis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
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- Boles, W. E. (2007). Golden Whistler (Pachycephala pectoralis). Pp. 421–423 in: del Hoyo, J., A. Elliot, & D. Christie. Eds. (2007). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 12: Picathartes to Tits and Chickadees. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. ISBN 978-84-96553-42-2
- Gill, F., & D. Donsker. Eds. (2010). IOC World Bird Names. Version 2.3. Accessed 10 February 2010.
- Dickinson, E. C. Eds. (2003). The Howard and Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World. 3rd edition. Christopher Helm. ISBN 0-7136-6536-X.
- Pachycephala pectoralis xanthoprocta — Golden Whistler (Norfolk Island). Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. Accessed 10 February 2010.
- List of Extinct, Threatened and Near Threatened Australian birds. The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000. Accessed 10 February 2010.
- EPBC Act: List of Threatened Fauna. DEWHA. Accessed 10 February 2010.
- Golden whistler videos, photos & sounds on the Internet Bird Collection