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18

Little Friarbird feeding its chicks

(Philemon citreogularis)
Alternate name(s): "Little Leatherhead", "Yellow-throated Friarbird"
Size: 25-30 cm
Weight: 67 g (average)

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In January 2011 we had a good look into the nest of a pair of Little Friarbirds on our property, which revealed a few interesting details. The photos show, in chronological order, the activities of an adult bird when coming back to the nest to feed its young.

Step 1: After approaching the nest carefully, have a look around whether all is safe
[Eulah Creek, NSW, January 2011]

Step 2: Choose which of the chicks will get the feed
[Eulah Creek, NSW, January 2011]

Step 3: Stuff it in
[Eulah Creek, NSW, January 2011]

Step 4: Here is the interesting part; although it was clear to the chicks that there was nothing to be expected any more in terms of food, the adult bird stuck around, looking carefully - and then a little bottom was turned up, wiggling left to right (behind the head of the chick in front)
[Eulah Creek, NSW, January 2011]

Step 5: The adult bird waited for the load to be discharged (which took only seconds) and immediately grabbed it and carried it away
[Eulah Creek, NSW, January 2011]

Later, when the chicks were much bigger and therefore could not turn around easily any more without risking to fall off the edge of the nest, the adult bird checked from below whether somebody had the need drop a bomb... At the time the photo below was taken the most enterprising of the three chicks had already left the nest and was sitting on a branch about 2 metres away, in a well-chosen location to intercept the parents when they approached the nest to bring food.

Adult bird checking whether a chick needed to relieve itself
[Eulah Creek, NSW, January 2011]

This is probably more or less the same for many bird species, but in the case of Little Friarbirds we have been able to observe how the nest is protected. The birds defended not just the nest, but an area of a few metres around it against anybody else. Even obvious seed-eaters such as Crested Pigeons were attacked when coming too close to the nest, to a degree that pigeon feathers were flying in all directions. This possibly suggests that birds know about the danger of a (heavier?) bird sitting on the branch supporting their nest.