Ian’s Bird of the Week – Chowchilla

This week’s photo wouldn’t win any photographic competitions, but the Chowchilla – http://www.birdway.com.au/orthonychidae/chowchilla/index.htm – is an interesting bird and there’s a story to go with the photo.

Chowchilla - Orthonychidae family - by Ian

Chowchilla – Orthonychidae family – by Ian

The Chowchilla is one of two Australian members of a rather obscure family, Orthonychidae, or Logrunners. The Chowchilla, which used to be called the Northern Logrunner, is a wet tropics endemic and is reasonably common in dense rainforest between Paluma, north of Townsville – where this photo of a male was taken – and Cooktown, north of Cairns. They’re best known for their loud, ringing calls – ‘chow, chowchilla, etc’ – made by family groups at dawn and dusk to maintain their territories. It’s one of the great sounds of the wet tropics rainforest.

When they aren’t loudly proclaiming their sovereignty, they use their very strong legs to rummage around in leaf litter looking for food. If you’re lucky, you can hear them scratching around and you may seem them dart across the path in front of you. They are reasonably approachable, but usually stay well hidden in the tangled undergrowth of the rainforest which – in combination with the poor light – makes them very hard to photograph. The females, incidentally, are brighter than the males and have a rufous breast and white belly, though in the gloom of the rainforest, rufous is perhaps less conspicuous than white.

On this occasion, I was waiting – flash at the ready not long before sunset – in the hope that one or other of a small group of Chowchillas would cross the path, when I felt a faint wriggling sensation on my lip and then on my upper gum. ‘Yuk, leech!!!’ I thought and was then faced with the dilemma of whether I should remain still in the hope of getting some photos or try to get rid of the leech. Clearly, the photo opportunity won the tussle and I then had the problem of extracting the leech. It’s hard enough to grab hold of one at the best of times, but quite impossible when its covered in saliva and out of sight. In the end, I had to make my way back to the car, half a kilometer away so I could use the mirror to find and get rid of it.

Anyway, back to the Ornthonychidae. The other Australian species is the (Southern) Logrunner – http://www.birdway.com.au/orthonychidae/logrunner/index.htm – which has a limited distribution in coastal forests in southeast Queensland and New South Wales as far south as the Illawarra – common in SE Queensland, much rarer in NSW. There is a third species in New Guinea, the New Guinea Logrunner, which looks like the Southern Logrunner. There are also a few other little known species in New Guinea – the Greater and Lesser Melampittas and the Blue-capped Ifrita – which may belong to this family too, but little is known about them.
I’m at last reasonably up-to-date in posting birds to the website, so I’ve now started adding photos of other wildlife, starting with Australian mammals. This doesn’t mark any great change in emphasis, but I do photograph other wildlife when I stumble across them and I do get requests for photos of things other than birds. So far, I’ve added Platypus and Echidna and Antechinus (marsupial mouse) – http://www.birdway.com.au/dasyuridae/index.htm – and will soon add more marsupials. The new section is accessible via a new navigation button called ‘Other Wildlife’ that replaces the old ‘Contact Details’, now combined with the ‘About Ian’ section. Watch this space, as they say.
Best wishes,
IanPreferred Email: ian@birdway.com.au

Website: http://birdway.com.au

Lee’s additions:


To Hear a Chowchilla – Click Here

Several nice videos  from Internet Bird Collection: Chowchilla (Orthonyx spaldingii) especially the first one “A male removing dry leaves and feeding”

LOGRUNNERS Orthonychidae from Bird Families of the World, 9th ed.

2 thoughts on “Ian’s Bird of the Week – Chowchilla

  1. I believe we have a chowchilla at our property in Atherton, we hear him but never see him. We didn’t hear him in summer, but it sounds as if he has returned recently.I whistle back to him and he returns the compliment!

    Liked by 1 person

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