Ian’s Bird of the Week – Flock Bronzewing

Flock Bronzewing (Phaps histrionica) by Ian 1

Flock Bronzewing (Phaps histrionica) by Ian 1

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Flock Bronzewing ~ by Ian Montgomery

Newsletter – 6/30/13

This photo of a Flock Bronzewing featured as bird of the week in June 2006. This male was one of several flocks that we saw flying across the Flinders Highway near Julia Creek late one afternoon as we were heading west towards Mount Isa and the birds, presumably, were doing their evening ritual of visiting waterholes. He obligingly decided that a pool near the road was good enough for him and landed quite close to us. This was my first, and until recently only, encounter with this enigmatic, rarely seen, nomadic pigeon of central Australia.

In 2008, this photo was published in the book 100 Birds to See Before You Die by Chandler and Couzens,, where the Flock Bronzewing featured as No 50 in the global list (No. 1 was the Ivory-billed Woodpecker). The book was one of many of this kind written after the success of the 2007 movie The Bucket List (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vc3mkG21ob4), the title referring to the list of things one wants to do before one ‘kicks the bucket’.

Flock Bronzewing (Phaps histrionica) by Ian 2

Flock Bronzewing (Phaps histrionica) by Ian 2

On the recent trip along the Birdsville Track, I was approaching Bedourie, the last town before Birdsville driving south from Mount Isa via Boulia, when I saw a small flock of brown birds flying swiftly near the airstrip. Their size, colour and habitat made me think, incorrectly, Australian Pratincole. A little while later, I stopped to watch two much larger flocks merge into one of about 300 individuals and start flying around the two dams near Bedourie ‘Outback’ Golf Course when I realised that the were Flock Bronzewings.

I gather that an outback golf course has natural sand bunkers – Bedourie is on the edge of the Simpson Desert – and, instead of greens, oil scrapes which make ‘a great putting surface’.The dams incidentally are called Lakes Larry and Simpson ‘after their creator’, so presumably are, unlike the bunkers, not natural.

Flock Bronzewing (Phaps histrionica) by Ian 3

Flock Bronzewing (Phaps histrionica) by Ian 3

The flock, containing flew close enough to me get a reasonable shot in the evening sunlight: photos 3 and 4 are details from the same photo. Photo number 3 has two adult males with their characteristic black and white faces, while the third bird is a female or juvenile. The field guides indicate that the facial pattern of the has varying amount of black, and the juveniles are yet paler and photo number 4 shows 3 males and two other birds, one of which has only very faint markings. The scientific name histrionica refers to the harlequin pattern on the head, though histrionicus is the Latin for ‘theatrical’. (The Harlequin Duck of North America is Histrionicus histrionicus.)

Flock Bronzewing (Phaps histrionica) by Ian 4

Flock Bronzewing (Phaps histrionica) by Ian 4

Flock Bronzewings feed in the vast and sparse grasslands of the arid interior and have a history of being seen in huge numbers with 100,000 being recorded in 1931 at one waterhole and 50,000 in one flock in 1972. More recently, such large flock have not been recorded and this gave rise to concerns that the species was in steep decline. If that was the case, this decline seems to have ended, though it has been suggested that the lack of very large flocks is due to the provision of more sources of water on grazing properties. Either way, it is the case that the Flock Bronzewing is an all or nothing bird: you either see many (very rarely), or none (usually).

Does one do things on a bucket list twice or is that considered excessive? I don’t know, but I’m going to use it as an excuse for making it bird of the week a second time.

Best wishes
Ian

**************************************************
Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 ian@birdway.com.au
Bird Photos http://www.birdway.com.au/
Recorder Society http://www.nqrs.org.au


Lee’s Addition:

Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food”; and it was so. (Genesis 1:30 NKJV)

What an interesting Pigeon. Their heads are so fascinating. Plus, they do favor the Harlequin Duck’s coloration and markings. If I had a “bucket list” and there was some bird I really enjoyed seeing, I wouldn’t have any problems revisiting that bird again.

Harlequin Duck (Histrionicus histrionicus) ©WikiC

Harlequin Duck (Histrionicus histrionicus) ©WikiC

The Flock Bronzewing (Phaps histrionica), also known as the Flock Pigeon, Harlequin Bronzewing and the Harlequin Pigeon is a species of pigeon in the Columbidae family. It is endemic to drier parts of Australia. The Flock Bronzewing is the most nomadic of the Australian pigeons, and it is difficult to mistake for other Australian species. Fully-grown Flock Bronzewings can range in length from 280–305 mm with a wingspan of 189 – 216 mm. Its weight can range from 260 – 320 grams.

More than any other Australian species of pigeon, the Flock Bronzewing is adapted to the arid plains of the continent. The preferred habitat is open grassland plains, clumped grasses and small shrubs with open spaces. A major area for this type of habitat where the Flock Bronzewings are present is within the grass plains of the Barkly Tablelands.

The main source of food is the seeds of grasses, herbs and shrubs, whilst occasionally browsing on green shoots. With the introduction of cattle into the interior of Australia, the Flock Bronzewing has adapted to eating the undigested seeds from cattle dung. Some species of seed eaten include the Desert Spurge, Camel Bush, Yellow Daisy and River Grass.

The breeding season is variable and relies heavily on the availability of food. In the south of its range, they tend to breed from spring to early summer and in the north, breeding occurs from early to the middle of the dry season. The nest is a scrape in the ground, which is lined with grass and twigs, usually between the shelter of clumps of grass or shrubs. Two white eggs are incubated for 16 days, with the young capable of leaving the nest after a week. (Wikipedia with editing)

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