Backyard Buddies
Spotted Pardalote

Photo: Peter Jacobs

Spotted Pardalote

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If you live in eastern or southern Australia, you may be lucky enough to be visited by the tiny Spotted Pardalote, Pardalotus punctatus.

The Spotted Pardalote may visit your backyard as it heads down from higher elevations in search of warmer weather over autumn and winter.

Spotted Pardalotes have distinct white spots that cover their black head and wings, a bright yellow throat, undertail and red rump. This unique plumage has earned Spotted Pardalotes the fashionable nickname Diamondbird.

Look out for Spotted Pardalotes flittering through the canopy of Blue Gums, Pink Gums or River Red Gums in search of lerps, which are their favourite food. A lerp is the crystal-like honeydew casing that a psyllid insect creates as a kind of shelter for its body.

Spotted Pardalotes are not only beautiful, but they are useful creatures too. By feeding on lerps and psyllids, they help keep our forests healthy.

Psyllids are plant lice that suck the sap from eucalypts, which isn't a problem for a healthy tree. But when a forest is under stress because of weeds, drought, logging or changed fire patterns, high numbers of psyllids can cause eucalypts to become sick and eventually die. So by eating lerps and psyllids, Spotted Pardalotes are playing their part to lessen the stress on our native plants.

At only 9 cm long, Spotted Pardalotes can sometimes be hard to spot. However, this is also partly because of where they build their nests.

Spotted Pardalotes nest in burrows underground. From the outside, a Spotted Pardalote's burrow may just look like a little hole in the ground. Spotted Pardalotes also sometimes nest in pipes, carpet rolls and garage roll-a-doors, so don't be too surprised if you find one in an odd spot.

Look out for little burrows, as Spotted Pardalotes sometimes build their burrows near our homes. During the breeding season from July to January each year, Spotted Pardalote parents diligently drill a narrow, circular tunnel into an earth bank, sandbank or creek bank. At the end of a long tunnel, they excavate a large nest chamber, and line it with strips of bark. It's in here that the Spotted Pardalote mother lays 3-5 eggs.

These tiny buddies are fascinating to watch as they build their homes. They take turns exiting the burrow in a blur of colour to gather bark strips and other soft material to line their nests and warm their eggs.

Both parents sit on the eggs for about 19 days, and feed the chicks once they hatch. They keep the nest clean by carrying fecal sacs (droppings surrounded by a mucous membrane) out of the nest and deposit them far away.

Spotted Pardalotes have a distinct song, which is a high, musical three-note call, 'weep-weeip-weeip'.

Did you know?

During the breeding season, the Spotted Pardalote changes its tune. From June until January, they sing: "Sleep-may-be, Sleep-may-be." This monotonous, repetitive call has earned the Spotted Pardalote another, less appealing, nickname: the Headache Bird.

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Photo: OEH