Thursday, November 12, 2009


Apostlebirds always come in small groups of 12 or 13 birds following a charismatic leader.

OK so the bit about the leader isn't true, but they do seem to form communal groups of around 10 to 12 birds. The group has a dominant male and several females and young birds.

In its own genus (Struthidea cinerea) it is placed in the family known as the mud-nest builders or Corcoracidae, with the White-winged Chough (Corcorax melanorhamphos), which differs in appearance but exhibits many behavioural similarities. The two birds are often found foraging near each other along country roadsides. The natural range is across inland eastern Australia, in dry forests or woodland near water. As a kid I knew them as Happy Jacks, they were also called CWA Birds, though I can't think why.

Apostlebird facts:

  • Apostlebirds are a communal species with each family group generally containing only one breeding pair, the rest being their helper offspring.

  • All family members help construct a labour-intensive mud nest.

  • If a previous season’s nest is in good condition, it is re-lined and used again.

  • Emu dung is used as a substitute for mud in dry years.

  • Apostlebirds become excited after rain even outside the breeding season, picking up mud and running about with it.

  • Chick raising tasks including brooding, feeding and removing faecal sacs are evenly shared by all birds.

  • The group can begin a second clutch in another nest within one week of the first brood leaving the nest.

  • They engorge their irides with blood when excited.

  • Groups remain within their territories, which averaged 25 ha though during the heat of summer, several groups congregate close to a permanent water supply.

  • Apostlebirds feed on the ground, gathering a variety of insects such as grasshoppers, weevils, shield-bugs and ants; they also eat a wide range of small seeds

  • Allopreening is common within the groups and several birds frequently sit side by side on a branch, preening both themselves and one another.

  • They roost side by side, usually touching.

Chapman, G., The Social Life of the Apostlebird Struthidea cinerea Emu. Vol. 98, no. 3, pp. 178-183. Sep 1998.

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