Ian’s Bird of the Week – Green Catbird ~ by Ian Montgomery
Newsletter – 12/18/12
My trip to Sydney produced another bird on my wanted list that I had taken only poor photos of before, the Green Catbird. It’s not rare or, given its calls, hard to find in its favourite habitat of temperate and sub-tropical rainforest, but most birds apart from things like Brush-Turkeys are hard to photograph in rainforest. It’s call is not as one might expect a gentle miaowing but more like a cat being given an injection at the vets or those rude sounds make with balloons and as such, is one of the delights of east coast rainforest.
Australian Catbirds, unrelated to American Catbirds, are members of the Bowerbird family. Unlike their flamboyant cousins, they form pair-bonds and the males help in domestic chores like nest-building. So, eschewing wild mating behaviour, they don’t build wonderful bowers or collect flashy toys. Everything has its price, one supposes, but the call is some compensation. At 24-32cm/10-13in in length, they’re comparable in size to Satin Bowerbirds and, if silent in foliage, can be confused with female or immature members of that species.
The generic name Ailuroedus comes from the Greek ailouros for cat and odos for a singer, which is stretching the definition of singer slightly, but maybe singing embraces yodelling. The range of the Green Catbird extends from the south coast of New South Wales (Narooma) to near Gladstone on the central coast of Queensland. In tropical Queensland it is replaced by the very similar-looking and similar-sounding Spotted Catbird which featured as Bird of the Week in 2006 (below).
The ‘Spotted’ presumably refers to the stronger markings on the breast as the Green Catbird has more obvious white spots on the back (second photo) but the main difference is the darker markings on the face of the Spotted Catbird. As their ranges don’t overlap, distinguishing between them isn’t an issue. The Spotted Catbird extends from Paluma Range National Park, near Bluewater where I live to Cooktown and there is a separate population, recognised as a different race with darker face markings, on Cape York (e.g. Iron Range). In the past, both Green and Spotted were treated as a single species and some of the splitters would like to make the Cape York race a full species, another tick I suppose. There are other races of the Spotted in New Guinea and another species, the White-eared Catbird, A. buccoides.
Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 firstname.lastname@example.org
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The Green Catbird is part of the Ptilonorhynchidae – Bowerbirds Family which has three Catbirds, the White-eared Catbird (Ailuroedus buccoides), Green Catbird (Ailuroedus crassirostris) and the Spotted Catbird (Ailuroedus melanotis). Ian has the family as Australian Catbirds & Bowerbirds.
Dan and I were able to see a White-eared Catbird (Ailuroedus buccoides) this year at the Zoo Miami. Most of the time when I think of a Grey Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis), it is ours which is in a completely different family. (Mimidae – Mockingbirds, Thrashers) The Black Catbird (Melanoptila glabrirostris) is also part of that family. The 6th Catbird, Abyssinian Catbird (Parophasma galinieri) is in yet another family (Sylviidae – Sylviid Babblers).
See more of Ian’s Bird of the Week adventures.