Western Yellow Gems of the Bush
Spring is upon us and the bird calls are becoming more ardent, none more so than the Western Whistler, whose piping whistle is a familiar call in our woodlands. The male is a striking bird with a gleaming jet-black cap, white chin, black bib and a bright yellow breast. They can often be brought towards the observer by “phishing”, which is kissing the back of your hand or making a fist and kissing the fleshy part of the hand next to the first knuckle of the thumb.
The female Western Whistler is much duller, with a grey back, dappled grey breast and buff belly; strangely it is often the female whistler that is observed chasing the male.
The Western Whistler used to be known (more aptly) as the Golden Whistler, however the isolation of our forests from their eastern counterparts for many millennia has resulted in sufficient genetic differences that they have now become recognised as a different species.
The Taxonomist’s razor has also fallen upon the rarer Crested Shrike-tit and as a result the western form is now also recognised as a separate species; the Western Shrike-tit. It is a similar looking bird to the Western Whistler; the male is again striking in yellow, black and white, but has a black chin and white patch above the eye. It also has a black crest, but has a similar yellow breast and olive green back to the Western Whistler. The male and female Shrike-tit are somewhat similar, but the female has a dark olive-green chin.
They prefer eucalypt forest, such as Karri they have a more robust bill than the Whistler and can often be heard before they are seen, tearing at loose bark to expose beetles or other arthropods. The male chooses the nest site, usually high in the fork of a eucalypt and attracts the female to it by quivering his wings. It is then the female who builds the deep cone-shaped nest from dry grass and bark strips, covering the outside with spider web, moss and lichen. Two broods are often raised, despite this they remain scarce which may be due to fewer insects being available to them under tree bark compared to their eastern cousins.