Chris Watson

Birding Central Australia #37

Chris Watson

Black-faced Woodswallows Artamus cinereus, huddled against the cold.

Some Centralians struggle with the frosty nights we get in winter. While that is quite understandable, imagine if you only weighed as much as a Woodswallow. At around 35g, woodswallows aren’t even close to some of our smallest birds (some are as tiny as 5g) but with so little meat on their bones, the cold presents a very real danger. These little birds are not-too-distantly related to the crows and ravens – some of the most intelligent birds known. They exhibit this intelligence in their communal solutions to problems like the cold.

You can often see these little birds huddling together against the cold in the early morning or late afternoon. This photograph, of Black-faced Woodswallows, has 16 sharing the shelter of their friends and family but you might see them huddling in much larger flocks of 50 birds or more.

Cooperation in woodswallows doesn’t end with body warmth either. These birds will help each other raise young and defend nests against predators. Some woodswallow species are also known to be accomplished mimics in addition to having their own slightly scratchy song.

The Centre has produced some great sightings of Flock Bronzewing this week. It seems any decent body of open water to the north of town is a chance of attracting this knockout of the pigeon world. Usually in the hour before sunset they have been reported at Kunoth Bore, McGrath Creek, Hamburger Creek, and Warburton Memorial. One visiting birder had some fleeting views of Grey Honeyeater and Varied Sitella about 40kms along the Tanami Rd. Spotted Harriers are still around in good numbers with some accompanied by youngsters from a successful breeding season.