Australian Chats: Epthianuridae
AUSTRALIAN CHATS: EpthianuridaeCRIMSON CHAT (Epthianura tricolor): SPECIES ACCOUNT
Australian chats are small birds that range in length from 4.3 to 5.5 inches (11 to 14 centimeters), and weigh between 0.3 and 0.6 ounces (9 and 18 grams). These birds have long and delicate legs. Some species have bills that are decurved, curve downward. The bills of all species are fine, or smooth. Like their relatives, the honeyeaters, their tongues are brush-tipped, which allows some species to eat nectar.
Male Australian chats are very brightly colored, especially during breeding season, with yellow, orange, or red undersides. Females, juvenile, immature birds, and some species of non-breeding male chats have plumage, feathers, which is colored but not very bright. The male white-fronted chat is black, white, and gray.
Australian chats can be found all over Australia, except in the tree-covered north and east coasts, or in southwestern Tasmania, an island off the southeastern coast of Australia. The different species of chats tend to live in different areas of their range. The orange chat and the crimson chat tend to live throughout the center of the continent from the west coast to the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range, and from the south coast to the tropics. They prefer the more arid land, dry, and are seldom found in the wetter areas. White-fronted chats can be found across southern Australia. They are also the only species that inhabit Tasmania. Gibberbirds live in the stony deserts of central Australia.
Australian chats are usually linked to various kinds of shrublands. They also live in the nearby semi-arid woodland areas full of acacias (uh-KAY-shahz). Gibberbirds live in areas that have come to be known as "Gibber plains" and are stony deserts, with a light grass and saltbush cover. Yellow chats prefer the low vegetation that grows close to swamps, floodplains, and bore drains.
Australian chats are primarily insectivores, eating insects and spiders that they grab on the ground or from low shrubs. White-fronted chats sometimes eat snails, other invertebrates (animals without backbones), and seeds—grabbing their prey from either dry or wet ground, or from shallow water. They sometimes run after aerial prey, but almost never capture flying insects. Gibberbirds eat a lot of seeds on a regular basis. Crimson chats will consume nectar, just like their honeyeater relatives.
BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION
Australian chats tend to gather in small flocks. During breeding season they pair off and some species defend breeding territories. Observations have suggested that white-fronted chat males are more likely to defend their mate than a territory. The birds show off while on perches, or in flight, dipping their tails and raising the colorful feathers on their heads or back ends. Orange and crimson chats tend to be nomadic, with a north-south seasonal migration, travel, and also in response to local rainfall. When it is dry, the birds move toward the coasts.
The calls of the Australian chats are simple and metallic. Their songs are pretty with a twittering or piping sound. When they sense danger, they issue a harsh churring call.
White-fronted and crimson chats have been observed more than the other species when breeding. White-fronted chats have long breeding seasons, peaking in late winter and spring, August to November, and breeding again after the rainy season in later summer and fall, March to April. They are known to make up to five attempts at raising young during each season. Their cup-shaped nests are made from grass, rushes, twigs, and plant fiber, and sometimes mammal hair or fur and feathers. Nests are placed 1 to 4 feet (0.3 to 1.2 meters) from the ground in small bushes and sometimes on the ground. Clutches have two to four eggs, with at most five eggs, that are fleshy or pinkish white with small reddish spots at the larger end. Both male and female incubate, sit on, the eggs, hatching after thirteen to fourteen days. Both parents protect and feed the young. Each parent averages seven visits per hour. White-fronted chats fledge, grow the feathers necessary for flight, after about fourteen days; a couple of days earlier for the orange and crimson. About 30 percent of nests succeed. Most fail due to predators such as cats, foxes, snakes, and ravens. The infamous Horsefield's bronze cuckoo parasitize a small portion of the nests. Cuckoos lay their eggs in other birds' nests, a host nest, and when cuckoo chicks hatch host parents care for the cuckoo chick, sometimes neglecting their own smaller chicks.
AUSTRALIAN CHATS AND PEOPLE
Desert travelers and bird watchers enjoy the colorful orange and crimson chats.
Two subspecies of yellow chats are Endangered, facing a very high risk of extinction, dying out, in the wild, and one species is Critically Endangered, facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild. They are at risk due to the loss and degradation of their habitats.
Physical characteristics: Crimson chats average about 4.7 inches (12 centimeters) in length, and 0.4 ounces (11 grams) in weight. Males have dark brown backs, with a white throat and white center belly, and white undertail coverts, small feathers that cover the base of longer tail and wing feathers. Their eyes are a creamy white, and they display a vivid crimson, red, crown and undersides. Females have light brown upperparts and head, with a white throat and belly, and pale red and buff patches on the breast, flanks, and rump. Juveniles look like females except that they do not have any red on their breast.
Geographic range: Crimson chats can be found throughout the inland, western, and southern coasts of Australia, and occasionally in southeastern and eastern Australia.
Habitat: Crimson chats tend to prefer to live in arid and semiarid shrubland. They sometimes can be found in grassland or farmland.
Diet: Crimson chats are omnivores, eat animals and plants, primarily eating insects and other invertebrates, animals without backbones, off the ground and from low shrubs, and sometimes from the air. They also eat seeds and probe flowers for nectar.
Behavior and reproduction: Crimson chats tend to be nomadic in nonbreeding season. They call with a metallic, harsh deep tone, whistling and twittering call. Because they usually come out and breed after rains, their breeding range can differ greatly from one year to the next.
Crimson chats form seasonal breeding pairs. Their cup-like nests can be found in low shrubs no higher than 3 feet (0.9 meters). They have clutches with two to five eggs. Both male and female incubate the eggs for ten to fourteen days, with fledges at ten days. Both parents also protect and feed the young, and show distraction displays that draw predators away from the young.
Crimson chats and people: Desert visitors enjoy observing the colorful bird.
Conservation status: Crimson chats are common in Australia, and are not threatened. Their numbers in various locations may differ. ∎
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Blakers, M., S. J. J. F. Davies, and P. N. Reilly. The Atlas of Australian Birds. Carlton, Australia: Melbourne University Press, 1984.
Campbell, Bruce, and Elizabeth Lack, eds. A Dictionary of Birds. Vermillion, SD: Buteo Books, 1985.
Simpson, Ken, and Nicolas Day. The Birds of Australia. Dover, NH: Tanager Books, 1984.
"Australian Chat, Epthianuridae." Bird Families of the World. http://montereybay.com/creagrus/Australian_chats.html (accessed on June 18, 2004).
"Australian Chats." World Bird Guide. http://www.mangoverde.com/birdsound (accessed on June 18, 2004).
"Bird Checklist of the World—Australia (continental including Tasmania)." Avibase—The World Bird Database. http://www.bsc-eoc.org/avibase/avibase.jsp?region=auct&pg=checklist&list=clements (accessed on June 18, 2004).