The Princess and the Lerp
During April, you might be lucky enough to be invited to a royal garden party by your lovely host, the Spotted Pardalote.
This gorgeous bird may visit your backyard this month, 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. Their little white spots give them the regal look of wearing a crown and gown decorated by diamonds.
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. Thanks!
At only 9 cm long, Spotted Pardalotes can sometimes be hard to, well, spot.
However, this is also partly because of where they build their nests. You might think,
like most birds, Spotted Pardalotes nest in trees…but you'd be wrong!
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 neighbours 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, coming back home to warm their eggs.
Both parents sit on the eggs to keep them warm for about 19 days, and feed the chicks once they hatch inside this pitch black little sanctuary. You might wonder how this dark, cave-like nest stays clean for the 21 days that the chicks are in the nest. The answer is that they have very diligent parents, who carry many faecal sacs (droppings surrounded by a mucous membrane) out of the nest and deposit them far away.
Aside from building, Spotted Pardalotes have another talent hidden up their wing, which is singing. They have a distinct bird 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.
TIPKeep your cat indoors or install a cat run so your cat can go outside without hurting any animals, reptiles or birds, like the gorgeous Spotted Pardalote.