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Tiny, Colourful, Locally Common… Spotted Pardalotes

By Keith Hutton on December 29, 2014 in Other

Photo: JJ Harrison

Photo: JJ Harrison

Pardalotes are restricted to Australia and it is generally accepted that there are four distinct species. Two are found in the Sydney region, and of these, Spotted Pardalotes are more likely to be seen or heard in the Eastern Suburbs, where they are locally common in suitable habitats. Centennial Park, where they feed in mature eucalyptus trees, is a good place to look and listen for them.

Spotted Pardalotes are among the smallest and most colourful Australian birds. Tiny, intricately patterned little jewels, they are elusive and hard to see, and usually go unnoticed despite distinctive high-pitched calls. They are solidly built little birds with short tails, strong legs and stout, blunt black bills. Adult males have dark upperparts with pale buff underparts. They have a black, white-spotted crown and tail, prominent white eyebrows and black wings with rows of conspicuous white spots. The areas under the tail and the throat are brilliant yellow, and the lower back is chestnut and red. Females are similar but smaller, with less distinct buff eyebrows, a cream throat and yellow crown spots.

Spotted Pardalotes occur mainly in eastern and southern Australia, including Tasmania, from Cairns to Adelaide and across to the southwest corner of WA, to Perth but not as far as Geraldton. They are scarce and local close to the coast between Adelaide and southwest WA, but elsewhere within their range are generally common, migratory, seasonal nomads or residents associated with eucalyptus forests and woodlands. They also inhabit scrubs, suburban shade trees, golf courses, parks and gardens.

Spotted Pardalotes are specialist feeders that forage mostly in the outer canopy, high up in tall eucalypts, sometimes searching different trees for spiders and insects including moths and ants. However, they eat predominately lerps, which are the sweet, white, waxy secretions produced by little insects – also called lerps – that live on the leaves and twigs of some gum trees. Around 90 percent of all food items are obtained from gleaning with 10 percent from sallying. In winter, Spotted Pardalotes may be seen in small feeding groups, sometimes of hundreds, often in mixed flocks with other small birds and large numbers of young pardalotes, as they move around in search of food.

Populations of Spotted Pardalotes are adversely affected by logging of mature forests. They disappear following clearing and remain less common in logged or regenerated areas than in undisturbed forests. Nevertheless, there were apparently large and significant increases in numbers of Spotted Pardalotes nationally towards the end of last century, associated with significant regional variations. It has been suggested that they may be declining in some areas, but remain relatively common in those with high densities of mature eucalyptus trees. They are currently recognised as being of least conservation concern despite logging, predation by cats, collisions with windows in urban areas, and possible deleterious effects of pesticides.