Re: An unusual day - bird food

To: "Geoffrey Dabb" <>
Subject: Re: An unusual day - bird food
From: "Jack & Andrea Holland" <>
Date: Wed, 15 Jun 2011 22:15:58 +1000
Geoffrey, very interesting.
While I have occasionally had red-broweds in the MFFs in my GBS site this autumn they have really been at the fringes, and certainly haven’t appeared to be eating the lerps which seem to be the main food for the pardalotes, silvereyes and weebills which have formed the nucleus of the MFF.  I’ve also checked HANZAB and can’t find lerps mentioned there as red-browed food, though like you I find the closely written text very turgid reading, and may be overlooking the word.
Away from my GBS on Cooleman Ridge and Narrabundah Hill the finch/firetail MFFs (red-broweds and double-barred and/or diamond firetail are often the most numerous species) are certainly very different in composition and habits than those in my GBS site in that the activity is largely on the ground compared with the foliage/shubbery.  I had imagined they were largely eating seed, but certainly there are almost always some insectivores amongst them, notably the superb fairy-wren.
Jack Holland
Sent: Wednesday, June 15, 2011 3:40 PM
Subject: FW: [canberrabirds] Re: An unusual day - bird food

An interesting observation, Denis, but in your thesis on foods of the Red-browed Finch, it might be wise to avoid the verb ‘munch’, to avoid giving a slightly misleading impression of how the average finch approaches its tucker.  Some years ago a work was produced by the CSIRO Division of Wildlife Research under the title ’The Food of Australian Birds’.  This was the result partly of investigating the stomach contents of specimens obtained by the Australian National Wildlife Collection (an exercise which might or might not be continuing in these financially straitened times) and also of a search of the avian literature for notes on bird food.  In the latter process a certain rigour was applied so, to quote, ‘statements such as “the galah was feeding in a turpentine bush” … do not indicate what the bird was eating and are thus not included’.  Whether your below report would pass muster from that viewpoint I would not presume to say.


HANZAB was the successor to that CSIRO production, and this, I am told, had a ‘Food Editor’ for each volume or group of species, an office that one would be more likely to associate with the Sunday edition of a national newspaper than a selection of material presented for the advancement of science.  I note that with respect to the Red-browed Finch nearly 3 pages of the discouragingly small print are devoted to ‘Food’.  The very second line of that section refers to ‘insects’ and in the seventh line we learn, pleasingly if surprisingly, ‘some insects taken by sallying’.  It is enough to make you stop to check that you haven’t turned over a few pages together and landed in the middle of the entry on the Grey Fantail. Without trying to summarise all the insects that this species is recorded as having sampled,  I might add that it is certainly on record that it forages in the company of committed insectivores from time to time.               


From: Denis Wilson [
Sent: Wednesday, 15 June 2011 2:10 PM
To: Philip Veerman
Cc: COG bird discussions
Subject: [canberrabirds] Re: An unusual day


Thanks for the reply and explanation, Philip.

I did not know they were happy to munch on insects, but it certainly fits the pattern of observed behaviour - "working" through foliage plants, in company with Silvereyes and Wrens.

Your comments are much appreciated.


On Tue, Jun 14, 2011 at 11:33 PM, Philip Veerman <> wrote:

Hi Denis,


I think pretty much all the finches eat insects, especially when breeding and feeding young. The Mannikins not so much, the Crimson and Star Finches a lot. The Red-brows (which are close to the Crimson and Star Finches) do too. Immelmann's book says of them "The insects are usually taken from foliage instead of caught on the wing as with the arid country species of grass finches." I had not thought of that at all in my comment that Red-browed Finches especially like joining in with Superb Fairy-wrens. I don't know how relevant that is.


-----Original Message-----
From: Denis Wilson [mailto:
m("","peonyden");" target=_blank>]
Sent: Tuesday, 14 June 2011 7:18 PM
To: wallaces
Cc: COG bird discussions
Subject: Re: [canberrabirds] An unusual day

Actually a MFF question, but the existing heading fits my topic too.

Further to Steve's note about active birds on a lousy day. in the middle of a heavy Robertson downpour, I observed (through  a wet window) a mixed feeding flock of Silvereyes, Superb Fairy-wrens, Red Browed Finches working their way through shrubbery seemingly looking for small insects.

Certainly they were not going down into the long grasses. The plants (mixed Natives and exotic shrubbery, including Maples (which are known to be favoured by Aphids for laying their eggs) and an early-flowered Viburnum. No "seed" bearing plants amongst these.

So the pertinent question is: Does anyone know if Red-brows are occasional insectivores?

This question has been approached, but I think, skirted around in recent discussions of MFFs. Otherwise, why are the Finches so happy to join in with Wrens and Silvereyes, on an insect-killing spree?
Or is it simply mass-hysteria amonsgst small birds, on a wet day?

Grateful advice. Pls.

Denis WIlson

Denis Wilson
"The Nature of Robertson"

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