Ian’s Bird of the Week – (Norfolk Island) Golden Whistler

Ian’s Bird of the Week – (Norfolk Island) Golden Whistler ~ by Ian Montgomery

Newsletter: 5-4-12

My apologies for a belated bird of the week. When I was in Eungella recently chasing the so-named Honeyeater, I encountered a very obliging male Golden Whistler, below, so I’ve chosen it to introduce this week’s subject.

Australian Golden Whistler (Pachycephala pectoralis) by Ian

It’s one of the most gorgeous of the woodland birds of eastern and southern Australia and one of those unusual birds that, unlike Rainbow Lorikeets for example, both look and sound strikingly beautiful. It featured as bird of the week in January 2005, but I don’t suppose you’ll mind me repeating it and I want to share with you the interestingly different Norfolk Island equivalent.

Australian Golden Whistler (Norfolk Island) (Pachycephala pectoralis xanthoprocta) by Ian

Australian Golden Whistler (Norfolk Island) (Pachycephala pectoralis xanthoprocta) by Ian

The bird in the second photo, one of a pair we encountered, is, or could be, an adult male Norfolk Island Golden Whistler. I say ‘could be’ because there, the adult males do not develop the striking yellow and black plumage of the mainland races and remain ‘hen-plumaged’, to quote Schodde and Mason. This was recognised early on in the settlement of the island and it was original described as a separate species, the Norfolk Island Thickhead (Pachycephala means ‘thick-head’) P. xanthoprocta, where xanthoprocta refers to the yellow vent. Here is a painting of a pair by John Gould.

Australian Golden Whistler (Norfolk Island) (Pachycephala pectoralis xanthoprocta) by Ian Drawing

Australian Golden Whistler (Norfolk Island) (Pachycephala pectoralis xanthoprocta) by Ian Drawing

He has labelled the bird in the foreground as a male, and the one in the background as a female. There are subtle differences in plumage, with the female being more lemon-yellow underneath and the male being more buffish yellow and. having darker dark lores. I haven’t been able to find whether these differences are consistent, but it seemed to me that the bird in photo above (141464) looks more like the Gouldian male than its partner below (141440).

 Australian Golden Whistler (Norfolk Island) (Pachycephala pectoralis xanthoprocta) by Ian

Australian Golden Whistler (Norfolk Island) (Pachycephala pectoralis xanthoprocta) by Ian

Mainland juvenile Golden Whistlers have rusty margins on the wing feathers and this is the case with the Norfolk Island birds, as shown in the next photo taken on a different occasion when we were hanging around waiting for the Norfolk Island Parakeets to show up.

Australian Golden Whistler (Norfolk Island) (Pachycephala pectoralis xanthoprocta) Juv by Ian

Australian Golden Whistler (Norfolk Island) (Pachycephala pectoralis xanthoprocta) Juv by Ian

To this day, the taxonomic status of the Golden Whistler ‘complex’ remains unresolved. There are different races on the mainland and in neighbouring locations such as New Guinea, New Britain and Fiji. The mangrove-inhabiting Golden Whistler of northern and western Australia has been elevated to specific status but the others have remained in the too-hard basket and are still lumped together as a single species. It seems to me unusual for avian taxonomists to be stumped by a problem like this, but maybe they’ve met their match.

Best wishes

Ian

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Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 ian@birdway.com.au
Check the latest website updates:
http://www.birdway.com.au/#updates
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Lee’s Addition:

Very interesting and a beautiful bird. I couldn’t resist finding out what this “whistler” sounds like. It is very pretty sounding. Take a listen.

Sound of Golden Whistler

In that day the LORD will whistle for the fly that is at the end of the streams of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria. (Isaiah 7:18 ESV)

The Whistlers are found in the Pachycephalidae – Whistlers and Allies. There are 58 members of the family. This Australian Golden Whistler (Pachycephala pectoralis xanthoprocta) is one of those subspecies; there are at least 7 subspecies. The “Norfolks” are found on the Norfolk Island, as Ian mentioned.

The Norfolk Golden Whistler (P. p. xanthoprocta) declined for many years due to habitat loss and fragmentation and possible due to introduced predators such as the Black Rat. Most of the population is now restricted to the Norfolk Island National Park. This has resulted in it being listed as vulnerable by the Australian Government.

Links:

Check out Ian’s other Whistlers

Australian Golden Whistler – Wikipedia

Pachycephalidae – Whistlers and Allies

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