Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Bird of the month: White-winged Chough

Posted on 25 November, 2021 by Ivan

Welcome to our twentieth Bird of the month, a partnership between Connecting Country and BirdLife Castlemaine District. Each month we’re taking a close look at one special local bird species. We’re excited to join forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome suggestions from the community. We are lucky to have the talented and charismatic Jane Rusden from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, with assistance from the brilliant Damian Kelly and photos by Ash Vigus and Damian. 

White-winged Chough (Corcorax melanorhamphus)

Favouring open Box woodland with leaf litter and fallen timber in which to forage, the White-winged Chough is yet another fascinating species of bird with complex and unusual family dynamics. They will use a variety of habitats such as wetter forests, farmland, pine plantations and urban areas, but need to drink daily so a water source is vital. They have interesting inter-species communication including unique displays with bulging bright red eyes fully engorged with blood, and wing and tail fanning, which exposes the white on the wing of this otherwise black bird.

Their broad diet is omnivorous, including insects, spiders, fruit, plant tubers and, on occasion, eggs of nesting birds. I have witnessed them attempting to take a newly fledged Grey Shrike-thrush (I don’t know if they succeeded) and Damian’s photo shows a White-winged Chough about to swallow a large frog.

Mmmmm tasty, a very large frog for dinner (photo by Damian Kelly)

 

DNA studies show the White-winged Chough is closely related to the Apostle Bird. Both live in large gregarious groups and are sedentary cooperative breeders. A bird banding study showed 94% of White-winged Choughs moved no further than 10 km from the banding site, and the maximum distance was 31 km. Mobs of White-winged Choughs vary from four birds, the minimum viable breeding group, to 20 birds. Breeding groups consist of a dominant breeding pair with generally sons and daughters from previous broods, including young birds, helping at the nest. The dominant pair will often be the sole breeders, over multiple years. Research shows that a group of four birds will only be able to raise one young, a group of seven can raise more than one young, and a group of seven or more can raise four fledglings. The nest is a neat mud bowl like construction, firmly attached to a horizontal branch high in a eucalypt.

An adult sitting on the bowl shaped mud nest of the White-winged Chough (photo by Ash Vigus)

 

It takes four years for a bird to reach maturity and they live up to 14 years in the wild, and longer in captivity. Mobs of White-winged Choughs break up on occasion, usually when the dominant breeding pair dies or becomes too old. Other than during the breeding season, there can be some mingling and overlapping of groups. Depending on the habitat, they need a home range of up to 50 hectares.

White-winged Choughs LOVE to bathe, both in fine dust and a good splash in water. They often turn the fresh water in my bird bath to opaque yuckiness, as all dozen of them try to cram in at once. I recommend spending the time to sit and watch a mob of White-winged Choughs – you’ll most likely be thoroughly entertained with their interactions.

The blood filled eye, red gape (mouth) and the (usually hidden) white on the wing of a displaying White-winged Chough (photo by Damian Kelly)

 

To hear the call of a White-winged Chough, please – click here

Jane Rusden
BirdLife Castlemaine District

 

 

 

 

 

 

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