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Recent literature about North Queensland birds

Don Franklin | Guest contributor

Black-throated Finch: Southern Form

“Between November 2014 and April 2018, 15 field surveys for Black-throated Finches were conducted on Toomba Station, a cattle property west of Charters Towers, North Queensland. Black-throated Finches were detected during five of these surveys, indicating the presence of a small and possibly isolated population. They were detected on 16 of the 65 survey days over a 3.5-year period. All but two detections were within 400 m of one of two water sources, one a cattle trough and the other a small farm dam. The habitat consisted principally of open woodland dominated by Narrow-leaved Ironbark Eucalyptus crebra and other Eucalyptus and Corymbia species. Black-throated Finches were observed attending the two water sources, foraging and resting. The largest number seen was 13. Other observations detected 1–11 birds. These numbers, along with the limited number of sites at which the species was detected despite considerable search effort, suggest that the total population of the district is very small.” (Grice et al.)

Van Osta et al. report successful use of artificial intelligence to interrogate song meter records of this subspecies.

Grice AC, Large T, Kahler CP, Heading R. 2023. Surveys of a small population of the Endangered Black-throated Finch Poephila cincta cincta in North Queensland. Australian Field Ornithology 40: 152-164. 

van Osta JM, Dreis B, Meyer E, Grogan LF, Castley JG. 2023. An active learning framework and assessment of inter-annotator agreement facilitate automated recogniser development for vocalisations of a rare species, the southern black-throated finch (Poephila cincta cincta). Ecological Informatics 77: Article Number 102233. 

Painted Button-quail calls

Webster et al. (2023a) provide an analysis of the calls of this species. “These vocalisations were identified as advertising ooms, drumming and contact calls.” In a separate paper (2023b), the same authors re-analyse calls reported to be those of Buff-breasted Button-quail and suggest they are in fact those of Painted Button-quail.

Painted Button-quail. Photo: ©John Barkla 2011

Webster PTD, Leseberg NP, Murphy SA, Watson JEM. 2023a. Descriptions of the vocalisations of the Painted Button-quail Turnix varius in North Queensland. Australian Field Ornithology 40: 111-119.

Webster PTD, Leseberg NP, Murphy SA, Watson JEM. 2023b. Unravelling the mystery of the Mt Mulligan ‘mystery call’: analysis of a reported record of a Buff-breasted Button-quail vocalisation suggests misidentification with Painted Button-quail. Corella 47: 36-44.

Bird assemblages

Morrison & Franklin report on the birds detected in woodland at Koah using 2-ha 20-minute surveys along with incidental observations. Scambler & Burchill report birds detected in the Lake Eacham rainforest during six years of monthly surveys by volunteers.

Morrison SC, Franklin DC. 2023. Bird counts in eucalypt woodland at Koah, Far North Queensland. North Queensland Naturalist 53: 109-114.

Scambler EC, Burchill SB. 2023. Birds of a ‘hyper-disturbed’ rainforest remnant: volunteer surveys at Lake Eacham on the Atherton Tablelands, Far North Queensland, 1993-1998. North Queensland Naturalist 53: 88-105.

Parrots and cockatoos

Golden-shouldered Parrot

Penny Olsen provided a very readable overview of current management of the Golden-shouldered Parrot on Artemis Station, in which landholders have joined forces with a conservation team to manage habitat and predators in a last-ditch attempt to save this critically endangered species.

Male Golden-shouldered Parrot on termite mound, Cape York Peninsula. Photo: ©Peter Valentine.

Palm Cockatoo

Use of tools by Palm Cockatoos to enhance their displays with drumming was once surprising, but now well documented. “Males in northern Australia make two types of tool from sticks and seed pods, which they tap rhythmically against a tree during display. We analysed 256 sound tools retrieved from 70 display trees. Drumsticks (89% of tools) were used more often than seed pod tools; most males manufactured only drumsticks, but some made both types. Individual males differed significantly in the design of their drumsticks including the length, width and mass but we found no evidence that neighbours copied each other.” (Heinsohn et al.)

Heinsohn R, Zdenek CN, Appleby D, Endler JA. 2023. Individual preferences for sound tool design in a parrot. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences 290: Article Number 20231271. 

Olsen P. 2023. A golden opportunity. Australian Birdlife 12(3): 28-31. (Golden-shouldered Parrot)

Other birds

Southern Cassowary

The role of Cassowaries in dispersing fruit in fragmented and more intact patches of rainforest was investigated by Campbell et al. “We developed a tri-axial acceleration logger integrated with a motion sensor and VHF radio transmitter. The telemetry device was small enough to be hidden inside a native fruit. The cassowaries ingested it, transported it and defecated it up to 24 h later with the seeds from the fruits they had ingested during the tracking period. The telemetry device was then located by VHF radio and collected with the scat. The distance travelled, activity profile, consumed fruit diversity, and scat energy content were assessed for cassowaries inhabiting regions with different degrees of urbanization. We found that cassowaries inhabiting more urbanized areas consumed the greatest proportion of fruits from exotic plants (~30%) but still incorporated a significant proportion of fruits from native plants in their diet. These individuals existed in higher states of activity and rested less than individuals inhabiting more intact swathes of rainforest, actively moving between urban gardens and the rainforest.”


Lovely Fairy-wren

In the Lovely Fairy-wren “females and males had similar song structure, complexity and natural song rates and both sang more during nonbreeding than breeding periods. Within each breeding stage, males sang more than females during incubation, a period of female-only investment in parental care. Both sexes sang more when they were more than 5 m apart than when close together in their dense tropical habitat. Females and males responded similarly to simulated intrusion and coordinated their responses. They responded more strongly to male than female song playbacks and to simple playback songs after they were exposed to complex songs, during both breeding and nonbreeding periods.” (Leitão et al.)

Adult male and female Lovely Fairy-wren. Photo: ©Doug Herrington Birdwatching Tropical Australia.

Red Goshawk

MacColl et al. have raised further concerns about the decline of the Red Goshawk. “We compile a comprehensive dataset of 1,679 occurrence records spanning the species’ historical range, develop a novel method that overcomes reporting biases centred around nest locations, then identify population trends between 1978 and 2020 at national, state, and regional scales. Our results suggest that the species has declined significantly across eastern Australia and is likely locally extinct in many regions. We estimate the Red Goshawk has disappeared from 34% of its breeding range over the last four decades, and probably persists at extremely low density, if at all, over an additional 29.7% of its breeding range.” Though north Queensland remains a relative stronghold for the species, slight declines were detected for both north Qld rainforests and the Einasleigh Uplands bioregion. However, reporting trends for the species increased on Cape York Peninsula, which the authors attribute “largely to better knowledge of breeding sites and subsequent visitation by bird watchers”.


Parasitic Cuckoos

“Many hosts of brood-parasitic cuckoos reject foreign eggs from the nest. Yet where nests commonly receive more than one cuckoo egg, hosts might benefit by instead accepting parasite eggs. This is because cuckoos remove an egg from the nest before adding their own, and keeping cuckoo eggs in the nest reduces the odds that further host eggs are removed by subsequent cuckoos. This 'clutch dilution effect' has been proposed as a precondition for the evolution of cuckoo nestling eviction by hosts, but no previous studies have tested this in a host that rejects cuckoo nestlings. We tested the clutch dilution hypothesis in large-billed gerygones, Gerygone magnirostris, which are multiply parasitized by little bronze-cuckoos, Chalcites minutillus. Gerygones evict cuckoo nestlings but accept cuckoo eggs. Consistent with multiple parasitism favouring egg acceptance, we found gerygone egg survival was higher under scenarios of cuckoo egg acceptance than rejection. Yet gerygones were also flexible in their egg acceptance, with 61% abandoning clutches if they contained only cuckoo eggs.” (Noh et al.)

Little Bronze-Cuckoo. Photo: ©Doug Herrington Birdwatching Tropical Australia.

Red-tailed Tropicbird

“Annual nesting success for Red-tailed Tropicbirds was low at Raine Island, estimated as between 24.3% and 30.6%”. (Richardson et al.)

Red-tailed Tropicbird adult in flight. ©Colin Driscoll 2016


Somewhere between 1909 and 1912, naturalist and collector William Rae McLennan found a roost of about 1,000 Brolgas, but the location and date were uncertain. Historical detective work by Scambler et al. suggests that the roost was on a swamp near Crooked Creek about 35 km west of Georgetown. If so, the concentration of Brolgas there was likely due to recently harvested maize crops grown nearby.


Australian Swiftlet

“At Chillagoe, 57 colonies [of Australian Swiftlet] were located during the period 2012–2021: four colonies went extinct during this time, 19 declined, 24 increased and we located eight newly discovered colonies, resulting in a total of 8065 birds counted in 2021. The extinctions were probably caused by increased flooding, as were most of the declines, but the extermination of feral Cats Felis catus reduced Australian Swiftlet losses from predation. In 1 year (2017-2018), three pairs in one colony raised three fledglings, an event not previously recorded at Chillagoe.” (Tarburton et al.)


Pied Imperial-Pigeon (Torresian Imperial-Pigeon)

“Eleven years after Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Yasi caused extensive structural damage to coastal rainforest of north-eastern Queensland, Pied Imperial Pigeons Ducula bicolor, counted in the evening return flight to their North Brook Island breeding colony from their mainland feeding grounds, are still significantly fewer. Counts were made from a boat anchored off the north-western spit of the island, starting at 1530 h and continuing until dusk. We consider that the most likely explanation is that the rainforest in the Pigeons’ mainland feeding grounds has not recovered to pre-Yasi maturity, thus reducing the crop of fruit, which is the primary food source for the Pigeons.” (Winter et al.)

Adult Pied (aka Torresian) Imperial-Pigeon in flight Cairns Queensland. ©Ian Wilson 2018


Campbell MA, Lawton T, Udyawer V, Bell-Anderson KS, Westcott D, Campbell HA. 2023. The southern cassowary (Casuarius casuarius johnsonii) remains an important disperser of native plants in fragmented rainforest landscapes. Austral Ecology 48: 787-802. 

Leitão AV, Mulder RA, Hall ML. 2022. Song functions for joint territory defence and within-pair communication in female and male lovely fairy-wrens. Animal Behaviour 192: 145-157.

MacColl C, Leseberg NP, Seaton R, Murphy SA, Watson JEM. 2023. Rapid and recent range collapse of Australia’s Red Goshawk Erythrotriorchis radiatus. Emu 123: 93-104. 

Noh H-J, Gloag R, Langmore NE. 2023. Multiple parasitism promotes facultative host acceptance of cuckoo eggs and rejection of cuckoo chicks. Animal Behaviour 202: 1-8. 

Richardson LS, Fuller RA, Stewart DA, McDonald JA, Robertson K, Oswald SA. 2023. Saving our seabirds: variable breeding success of Red-tailed Tropicbirds in the Great Barrier Reef reveals the need for robust monitoring. Emu 123: 345-356.

Scambler EC, Barram M, Barram M, Enright R. 2023. Tracing William Rae McLennan’s 1,000-brolga swamp in north-west Queensland. Queensland History Journal 25: 511-524.

Tarburton M, Tarburton S, Emeny M, Jenkins S. 2023. Australian Swiftlet Aerodramus terraereginae colony stability between 2012 and 2021 and new behaviour patterns at Chillagoe and Finch Hatton, Queensland. Australian Field Ornithology 40: 196-202.

Winter J, Murphy J, Dawson N. 2023. Pied Imperial Pigeon numbers on North Brook Island, Queensland, after Cyclone Yasi: Do they reflect forest recovery on the Australian mainland? Australian Field Ornithology 40: 260-268. 


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