The Drought, the Fires: some observations on plumage and feeding behavio

To: Philip Veerman <>
Subject: The Drought, the Fires: some observations on plumage and feeding behaviours
From: Steve Read <>
Date: Tue, 10 Mar 2020 11:17:27 +0000
I saw something similar to Con over the weekend. In a MFF at Newline, the several Striated Thornbill all looked scruffy, untidy, almost bedraggled although dry. However, birds of other species in that flock, including all the other thornbills and especially a young White-throated Gerygone, were very well groomed, neat and tidy. I put the difference down to the stage of moult, but interesting to hear that there are alternative explanations.


On Tue, 10 Mar 2020 at 10:06 pm, Philip Veerman <> wrote:
Sometimes birds (I know of this from raptors) show weakened sections of feathers if they go through hardship (normally lack of food) at the time that those feathers are growing. So it is something that happened weeks or months ago. It shows as thinner bands across the feathers, or if you are holding the bird or the feather you can sometimes feel the difference. Sometimes if bad then presumably the feathers might break or fray at that point. That could easily be what Con has seen. To be able to see it on free small birds would appear to be extreme. This is different from the bird currently being in moult.


-----Original Message-----
From: Con Boekel [
Sent: Tuesday, 10 March, 2020 7:59 PM
To: canberrabirds chatline
Subject: The Drought, the Fires: some obsservations on plumage and feeding behaviours

While we were at Bowra Station we were told that the plumage of
White-plumed Honeyeaters was impacted by the Drought.

Today I saw White-eared Honeyeaters and Striated Thornbills near Billy
Billy Creek on Corin Road. One bird of each species had what might be
called untidy plumage. One White-eared Honeyeater was moulting but had
lost some of its forehead feathers. Another just looked tatty. One
Striated Thornbill had an untidy set of uneven tail feathers. It
occurred to me that at least some of the birds that have survived the
Drought and the Fire may still having to struggle to overcome the
consequences and that this is showing as they moult. I noticed three
species feeding in atypical habitats in burned areas: White-eared
Honeyeater on the ground, Rufous Whistler feeding among Granite
boulders. Striated Thornbills feeding through clumps of blackened and
burned sticks and also fossicking among leaves that had died in the fire
but were still hanging on the branches. I noticed a pattern by which
White-throated Treecreepers nearly always chose to feed on unburned bark
when there was a choice to do so.

Other observations: pairs of Scarlet Robins appeared to be defending
territories. A solitary Brown Falcon appeared to appreciate the newly
opened ground layer.

Birds were generally in extremely low numbers.

One or two Yellow-faced Honeyeaters were moving about. The only other
honeyeaters were the White-eared.



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