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Recent literature about North Queensland birds

Don Franklin | Guest contributor

Ten of 14 papers / articles reviewed in this note were published in either Australian Birdlife, Australian Field Ornithology or the North Queensland Naturalist, sources all readily available to BLNQ members. This is an unusually high proportion.

Golden-shouldered Parrot

In a remarkably detailed review of records, Crowley & Garnett (2023) investigated the distribution of the Golden-shouldered Parrot (GSP) from 1845 to 1990. After rejecting many records as being dubious identifications, having insufficient locational accuracy, or as duplicates, they accepted 212 unique records from 103 locations. “Until the early 20th century, GSPs were abundant across CYP, breeding wherever grassland or open tea tree woodland contained suitable magnetic or conical antbeds for nesting, including across extensive alluvial and coastal plains. Nesting progressively contracted to the flat edges and seepage area in hills, where conical antbeds predominate. This decline followed the displacement of First Nations Peoples and the establishment of the cattle industry, and the resultant loss of food plants, vegetation thickening and deterioration of the magnetic antbeds. The birds disappeared within 20–70 years of property development, remaining only in areas with access to rocky country with a lower level of disturbance (particularly grazing pressure), in which the birds can most easily find food in the early wet season.”

Rainforest birds and climate change

Using count data from 124 Wet Tropics rainforest sites over 16 years, Williams & de la Fuente have previously demonstrated change to bird assemblages mostly consistent with the effects of climate change (see Contact Call 11(3): 22–24, 2022). Now the authors have analysed the same dataset to identify the effect of particular climate drivers on these changes (de la Fuente et al. 2023). “We find a strong effect of warming and changes in rainfall patterns ... with lowland populations benefiting from increasing temperature and precipitation, while upland species show an inverse strong negative response to the same drivers. Additionally, we find a negative effect of heatwaves on lowland populations ... In contrast, cyclones and droughts have a marginal [species-specific] effect ... .”


Patrick Webster & colleagues (2022a) reviewed all specimen records of the Buff-breasted Button-quail. “... the holotype was collected in 1899, while the last collected specimens (six skins, four clutches of eggs) were collected by William Rae McLennan near Coen in 1921 and 1922. We found a total of 15 specimens: seven skins and eight clutches of eggs. Two specimens collected by McLennan previously documented as ‘missing’ were located in the Natural History Museum, Tring. An additional four clutches of eggs not previously reported were located. Two represented verified specimens while the other two require further analysis to determine identity. All specimens were collected in the Cape York Peninsula bioregion. ... The species should be listed as critically endangered in both state and federal legislation.”

In contrast, Painted Button-quail occur further north (Webster et al. 2022b) than has been previously reported. “... we present observations of Painted Button-quail at four locations throughout southern and central Cape York Peninsula, representing a northern range extension of at least ~150 km. Breeding was confirmed at one location. Whether these observations represent a recent northern expansion or a portion of their distribution that has until now been unrealised is uncertain. ... This northern range extension for the Painted Button-quail has implications for reports of Buff-breasted Button-quail from Cape York Peninsula.” Further and contrary to a previous report, Painted Button-quail in north Queensland commonly make platelets (circular scratched depressions) (Webster et al. 2022c). “Platelets were scarce from January to April ... and increased in abundance throughout the dry season, with a peak at the end of the dry season (September–December).”

Image by Patrick Webster


“Cranes are opportunistic omnivores, sometimes considered to be primarily vegetarian. ... From field records in 2006–2021, we report novel foods including fish and crabs taken by adult Australian Sarus Cranes ... and the first records of the foods of their dependent young (crabs and grasshoppers). For Brolgas ... we report the first records of ducklings as prey, and of crabs, beetles and grasshoppers fed to dependent young. Both species have learnt to prey on rodents displaced or killed by sugar cane harvesting machinery in northern Queensland. A review of diet records since 1810 also reveals ... a sighting of a Brolga ingesting a whole Cane Toad ...” (Scambler et al. 2023).

Egrets in the Intermediate group present an identification challenge, with the possibility that more than one species (or subspecies) may be present in Australia. Walsh & Chafer (2022) present evidence that this is indeed the case, with five individuals from Cairns identified as the migratory form that breeds in Asia. The Asian form has a shorter bill and a longer tail, and there are also differences in bill, lores, facial and leg colour when breeding, and in calls (not often heard).

Photo by Peter Valentine

Problem-solving birds (and other wildlife)

Using a variety of food-baited puzzles set in forest at Smithfield and monitored by trail cameras, Rowell & Rymer (2023) recorded the response of a variety of wildlife including seven species of bird that approached the puzzles. Four bird species investigated the puzzles – Black Butcherbird, Brush Turkey, Orange-footed Scrubfowl and Noisy Pitta – and of these all but the Noisy Pitta solved at least one of them. Bush Stone-curlew, Pacific Emerald Dove and Red-necked Crake approached but did not investigate the puzzles.


Crowley GM, Garnett ST. 2023. Distribution and decline of the Golden-shouldered Parrot Psephotellus chrysopterygius 1845–1990. North Queensland Naturalist 53: 22–68.

de la Fuente A, Navarro A, Williams SE. 2023. The climatic drivers of long-term population changes in rainforest montane birds. Global Change Biology 29: 2132-2140.

Rowell MK, Rymer TL. 2023. Problem solving of wild animals in the Wet Tropics of Queensland, Australia. Austral Ecology 48: 313-322.

Scambler EC, Nevard TD, Grant JDA. 2023. New records and a review of animal foods in the diets of the Brolga Antigone rubicunda and Australian Sarus Crane A. antigone gillae. Australian Field Ornithology 40: 34–45.

Walsh AC, Chafer CJ. 2022. Taxonomic revision, occurrence, and identification of Intermediate Egret Ardea intermedia in North Queensland, Australia. Australian Field Ornithology 39: 174–194.

Webster PTD, Leseberg NP, Murphy SA, Joseph L, Watson JEM. 2022a. A review of specimens of Buff-breasted Button-quail Turnix olivii suggests serious concern for its conservation outlook. Emu 122: 121–130.

Webster PTD, Leseberg NP, Murphy SA, Watson JEM. 2022b. New records of Painted Button-quail Turnix varius in North Queensland suggest a distribution through southern and central Cape York Peninsula. Australian Field Ornithology 39: 199–205.

Webster PTD, Murphy SA, Leseberg NP, Watson JEM. 2022c. Retaining the ‘art’: Painted Button-quail Turnix varius do make platelets in north-eastern Queensland. Australian Field Ornithology 39: 206–210.

Other recent literature

Dooley S. 2022. The gulf between. Australian Birdlife 11(4): 2429. [Differences in related species across the Gulf of Carpentaria]

Frith C. 2022. Chasing Chowchillas. Australian Birdlife 11(4): 22–23.

Frith CB, Hammersley J. 2022. Victoria’s Riflebird feeding on Banksia robur floral nectar. North Queensland Naturalist 52: 75–77.

Grant J. 2022. Ancient survivor in a new world. Australian Birdlife 11(4): 18–21. [Fernwren]

Noske R, Niland D. 2022. Queensland Bird Report 20182019. Sunbird 49: 1–152.

[Contains sections on: Cape York, Torres Strait Islands, Wet Tropics, Gulf Plains, Einasleigh Uplands and Northwest Highlands including Gulf Fall Uplands]

Zdenek CN, Cacho CV, Searle JB, Nevard HD, Dibben LR. 2022. Field methods to identify Palm Cockatoo nest hollows. Australian Field Ornithology 39: 113–124. [In absence of the cockatoos].


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