Taxon Attribute Profiles
Taxonomy and Ecology
Falcunculus frontatus is an endemic passerine bird measuring some
17 cm in length. The genus is monotypic and the species is divided into
three isolated forms, sometimes considered full species, all of which
are characterised by bold plumage, large crested head, and stout powerful
bill. The head of the Crested Shrike-tit is striped black and white, with
a broad median crown stripe and black eyelines setting off its otherwise
white cheek patches. The head pattern of females is similar to but less
bold than that of males, and males have a black chin and throat patch,
whereas that of females is olive or olive-brown. Birds of the eastern
race frontatus have dark olive backs and are pale yellow to yellow
beneath; those of the northern race whitei have yellow-olive backs
but are similar to eastern birds below. Individuals of the southwestern
form leucogaster also have yellow-olive backs but below they are
mainly white, with yellow only on the breast, vent, and undertail coverts.
In the east, F. frontatus is found mainly in southeastern Australia, ranging from southeastern and south-central Queensland through much of New South Wales (especially in the east) and most of Victoria and into southeastern South Australia; isolated Queensland populations additionally occur as far north as the Atherton region (HANZAB 2001; Barrett et al. 2003). There are scattered records of the northern race whitei from the Top End, Northern Territory, and this race also occurs in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. The race leucogaster is confined to southwestern WA. The distribution of the Crested Shrike-tit in western NSW is very distinctive: the species is widespread in woodlands along the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range, but further west is found mainly along the larger rivers, especially the Murray and the Darling, although it is rarely seen in NSW west of Wentworth (Cooper and McAllan 1995).
All subspecies of F. frontatus occupy eucalypt woodlands and forests. Populations in the Murray-Darling Basin, especially those to the west, are strongly associated with the river red gum Eucalyptus camaldulensis. In this region, the Crested Shrike-tit appears to be reliant on extensive stands of this species. F. frontatus is rarely found in areas in which black box E. largiflorens is predominant and river red gums form only a fringing strip along riverbanks and backwaters. The Shrike-tit can more easily glean prey from the loose ribbon-like bark of E. camaldulensis than from the deeply furrowed bark of E. largiflorens (Joseph and Reid 1981).
Role in community
F. frontatus is largely an insectivore; it also feeds on spiders and other invertebrates and occasionally takes plant matter such as fruit or seeds. Insects most often eaten near Armidale, NSW, were Coleoptera, especially Chrysomelidae (Ford 1985). This species specialises in prising peeling bark from large branches or tree-trunks and extracting prey from underneath. It is active at all forest strata, but is typically found in the sub-canopy or canopy. This species also gleans insects from foliage and can use its powerful bill to open woody galls of insects. Despite its bill, the Crested Shrike-tit prefers to forage on gums, stringybarks, and other trees with flaky ribbon-like bark, rather than those with rough bark, from which it is more difficult to extract prey items.
Reproduction and Establishment
Breeding occurs in the eastern race frontatus from August through January and 2-3 eggs are laid. The nest is a deep cup or cone woven from grass fibres and strips of bark, lined with fine strips of bark and grass and covered outside with filaments of spider webs. The nest is typically placed in a vertical fork high in a eucalypt tree or sapling, and the birds trim or nip off leaves in the vicinity of the nest. Two broods are generally raised. The incubation period is 18-20 days; both sexes incubate although the female moreso than the male (HANZAB 2001).
The Crested Shrike-tit is a diurnal bird that occupies large territories during most of the year. The species appears to be resident in most parts of its range, although local or seasonal movements have been reported in some areas. For example, F. frontatus has been described as nomadic in the Inverell, NSW, area (Baldwin 1975), and the species occurs in Rockhampton, Qld, only in late winter and spring (Longmore 1978). This species can be found in pairs, in small groups of 3-5 birds (often family groups of parents and young), and as single individuals. F. frontatus occasionally joins mixed-species flocks.
Young of the Crested Shrike-tit are altricial (completely dependent on parents) and remain in the nest for some time after hatching. Time from fledging to independence is some 15-20 days (HANZAB 2001). Juvenal plumage is typically worn until late summer or early autumn.
Hydrology and Salinity
This species will be affected by differing flooding regimes to the extent that they change the distribution of river red gums or the abundance of invertebrates under their bark.
The eastern subspecies is of least conservation concern, although the western form leucogaster is near-threatened and the northern form whitei is endangered (Garnett and Crowley 2000). Populations of the northern form are severely fragmented, and individuals may now be at such low density that many local populations are no longer viable. The western form has declined primarily due to habitat loss, particulary clearing of habitat for agriculture. Nests of F. frontatus have been reported to be depredated by cats (Chisholm 1915).
The Crested Shrike-tit Falcunculus frontatus is closely associated in much of the Murray Darling Basin with stands of the river red gum Eucalyptus camaldulensis. Changes in the distribution or abundance of F. frontatus in the Murray Darling will likely be linked to alterations in distribution of river red gums or to changes in abundance of their bark-dwelling invertebrates. Declines of the northern form of this species may be linked to changes in the frequency of fires, which now occur too often for insects to become established beneath the bark of gum-barked trees (Robinson and Woinarski 1992).
Baldwin, M. 1975. Birds of Inverell district, NSW. Emu 75:113-120.
Barrett, G., Silcocks, A., Barry, S., Cunningham, R., and R. Poulter. 2003. The new atlas of Australian birds. Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union, Hawthorn East, VIC.
Chisholm, A. H. 1915. Notes on the Yellow-bellied Shrike-Tit Falcunculus frontatus. Emu 15:78-85.
Cooper, R. M. and I. A. W. McAllan. 1995. The birds of western New South Wales: a preliminary atlas. New South Wales Birds Atlassers, Albury.
Ford, H. A. 1985. The bird community in eucalypt woodland and eucalypt dieback in the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales. Pp. 333-340 in Birds of eucalypt forests and woodlands (A. Keast et al., eds.), Surrey Beatty & Sons Pty and Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union, Chipping Norton, NSW.
Garnett, S. T., and G. M. Crowley. 2000. The action plan for Australian birds 2000. Natural Heritage Trust/Environment Australia, Canberra.
HANZAB. 2001. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds. Volume 5: tyrant-flycatchers to chats. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
Joseph, L. and J. Reid. 1981. The Crested Shrike-tit on the Darling and Murray Rivers. South Australian Ornithologist 28:157-159.
Longmore, N. W. 1978. Avifauna of the Rockhampton area, Queensland. Sunbird 9:25-53.
Robinson, D., and J. C. Z. Woinarski. 1992. A review of records of the Northern Shrike-tit Falcunculus frontatus whitei in north western Australia. South Australian Ornithologist 31:111-117.