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Scientific classification

Pardalotes are very small, brightly coloured birds native to Australia, with short tails, strong legs, and stubby blunt beaks. They form part of the family Pardalotidae. The name derives from a Greek word meaning "spotted".

Pardalotes spend most of their time high in the outer foliage of trees, feeding on insects, spiders, and above all lerps[?] (a type of sap sucking insect). Their role in controlling lerp infestations in the eucalyptus forests of Australia may be significant.

They generally live in pairs or small family groups but sometimes come together into flocks after breeding.

All four species nest in deep horizontal tunnels drilled into banks of earth. Externally about the size of a mouse-hole, these can be very deep, a metre or more. (Some species also nest in tree-hollows; see below for details.)

There are four species in the genus Pardalotus, with several sub-species.

Spotted Pardalote. show full-size

  • The Spotted Pardalote (Pardalotus punctatus) is one of the smallest of all Australian birds at 8 to 10cm in length, and one of the most colourful; it is sometimes known as the Diamondbird. Although moderately common in all of the reasonably fertile parts of Australia (the east coast, the south-east, and the south-west corner) it is seldom seen up close enough to enable identification. All Pardalotes have spots and all nest in tunnels at least sometimes: the Spotted Pardalote has the most conspicuous spots and (like the Red-browed Pardalote) always nests in tunnels. Pairs make soft, whistling wheet-wheet calls to one another throughout the day which carry for quite a distance: one of the difficulties in locating a Pardalote is that the contact call is in fact two calls: an initial call and an almost instant response, and thus can come from two different directions. Spotted Pardalote numbers appear to be declining but the species in not considered endangered at this time.

  • The Forty-spotted Pardalote (P. quadragintus) is by far the rarest, now being confined to the south-east corner of Tasmania. About 9 to 10cm long, it lacks the dark, white-spotted crown of the Spotted Pardalote, being largely light olive green above and grey underneath, but with similar striking black wings with white spots—rather more than 40. It forages more slowly than the Spotted Pardalote, almost exclusively in the foliage of the Manna Gum[?], and usually nests in tree-hollows rather than tunnels. It is classified as endangered.

  • The Red-browed Pardalote (P. rubricatus) occupies the northern two-thirds of the continent, is a fraction larger at 10 to 12 cm, and the least conspicuously coloured, being paler and combining the spotted skull-cap of the Spotted with the striped wings of the Striated Pardalote. Rare in the eastern part of its range, it is common in the north-west, where it prefers dry woodlands, mulga, and the trees growing along creekbeds.

  • The most common of the four species is the Striated Pardalote (P. striatus), which was formerly regarded as four separate species but is now classified as a single species with five distinct races: the Yellow-tipped, race striatus, found mainly in Tasmania but from time to time crossing the 200 miles of Bass Strait to the mainland; the Striated, race substriatus, central and western Australia; the Eastern Striated, race ornatus, from the sub-tropical east coast; and two races of the Black-headed, melanocephalus and uropygialis, from north-eastern NSW to north-eastern Queensland, and across the top end[?] to the Kimberley[?]. All five forms have a black cap which may be striated but never spotted, a white wing stripe and a small, conspicuous wing spot—bright red in all except striatus, which has a yellow spot.

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