A perilous time to be a woodswallow

In a summer notable for the almost complete absence (so far) of White-browed and Masked Woodswallows, Dusky Woodswallows are more than compensating.

‘Duskies’ commenced nesting in mid-November, usually the time when their migratory cousins appear in large numbers throughout the box-ironbark country. The first youngsters are now facing a perilous period post-fledging – it takes them a week or so to become capable aerialists and during this time they perch, often noisily, waiting for their parents to arrive with food. Surely many are ‘picked off’ by predators, such as currawongs, kookaburras and raptors, as nature takes its course.

This group of four was observed earlier in the week along Sullivans Track in the Muckleford bush. The adults were arriving with food every few minutes – cicadas, wasps and bees, captured on aerial sorties high above or taken from the ground nearby. Initially three of the four were huddled close together but over a period of thirty minutes or so they became separated as each youngster made short, faltering flights to test its newly acquired powers.

Dusky Woodswallows are partially migratory in my experience. The majority of birds have left the district by late autumn, but I have seen the species in all months – either small numbers are resident or these may be birds from further south spending the winter in warmer climes. Dusky Woodswallows are the only woodswallow to include Tasmania as part of their normal range.

Juvenile Dusky Woodswallows, Sullivans Track, Muckleford State Forest, 29th December 2020

Juvenile Dusky Woodswallows have distinctive blotchy plumage to provide some camouflage during a vulnerable part of their life-cycle

Adult arriving with cicada prey

The appearance of the adults nearby elicits a frantic burst of wing fluttering from the juvenile 

II

Wing and tail stretching by the juveniles was observed regularly – this aids the rapid development of their flight feathers.

… another cicada!

One response to “A perilous time to be a woodswallow

  1. johnalexcarruthers

    We continue to be grateful, @Geoff, for your indefatigable commitment to charting lifecycles. Without it, we’d be poorer 🙏

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