Golden Whistler – Pachycephala pectoralis

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Male Golden Whistlers are one of our most beautiful birds and we are lucky on Bribie Island to have many of them living and breeding in our bushlands. Common places to see them are in the bush along Red Beach Road and Hornsby Road but are likely to be seen anywhere there is suitable bushland. They are constantly on the move and is difficult to have them stay still long enough to take a photograph. A flash of yellow darting through the trees or their loud ringing, melodious call is the clue to alert us that Whistlers are present. They are one of our loudest and most beautiful song birds. If you are lucky enough see the male while perched you will notice the beautiful, bright yellow on the under body and the back of the neck, black thick head, white throat and dark wings with yellow edged feathers. Females are ordinary grey birds with a yellow splash under the tail. Immature birds are like females but have rufous wings.

Golden Whistlers are quite small being only 16-18 cm in length and weighing just 25-35 g in weight. They have several different calls and are most likely to be heard during spring. During winter they are relatively silent. In Australia they are found in eucalypt forests, rain forests and in Mallee and Brigalow areas along eastern Queensland, NSW, most of Victoria, eastern South Australia, Tasmania and the south west of Western Australia. Norfolk and Lord Howe Islands, Fiji, Indonesia, PNG, and the Solomon Islands are also homes for Golden Whistlers. They like to stay in thick bush where there are lots of places to hide from danger. In Australia they are mostly sedentary with some movement in the south during winter.

There are seven species of Whistlers in Australia with two of the most attractive species residing on Bribie Island. The more common Rufous Whistler is the other whistler found here in similar habitats. Favourite foods are insects and their larvae, spiders and occasionally berries. Mostly they are lone feeders in the lower and middle parts of the forest picking their food from the foliage and under bark. Breeding is mostly between September and January. Males use a special song and much strutting to attract the females. When the deal is clinched both parents set to work to build a cup like nest of leaves or fern fronds and small roots bound together with cobwebs and lined with softer materials found in the area. Nests are mostly built in forks and are usually 50 cm to 6 m from the ground. 2-3 brownish-cream mottled eggs are laid and incubated by both parents for 14-17 days. Nursery duties are shared by both mum and dad. The young leave the nest after about 12 days. There is usually only one clutch per season.

Golden Whistlers were noticed in the early days of settlement in Australia and were first described by English Ornithologist John Latham in 1801. They belong to the family Pachycephalidae which means “Thick Head” after the large heads of this family. Similar species in PNG are actually poisonous, thought to be caused by eating poisonous beetles.

They are covered with a neurotoxin which will numb your skin if you touch them. Conservation is still secure in Australia with the ongoing habitat loss always a worry.