Birds Sheltering On The Ground From The Heat

In February 1996 I travelled with two friends from Brisbane on a birding trip to Monkey Mia, Carnarvon and elsewhere.  The first couple of days coincided with very hot weather and strong hot dry easterly winds.  I was very surprised to find a lot of birds sheltering on the ground.

We stopped for lunch at the Galena Bridge where the North West Coastal Highway crosses the Murchison River.  It was 11am and the temperature was 48C by noon.  In the shade on the ground of the river bank we found four Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes, three Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters, two Rufous Whistlers, one Crested Bellbird and one Sacred Kingfisher roosting quite close together on the ground.  There were also about ten Yellow-rumped Thornbills and two White-winged Fairy-wrens moving around in the shade close by.  On the other bank we also saw a male Mistletoebird roosting on the ground in the shade.

At about 2pm we were travelling from the Overlander Roadhouse to Denham when we stopped a few times.  The temperature was only about 42C but there was still a hot dry easterly wind.  At one point we found a male Hooded Robin in the base of a mulga tree.  Shortly after we found another male in the base of a mulga tree, with the female and six Varied Sittellas in the sand next to the base of the tree.

The next day on our way to Carnarvon we stopped for lunch at the Hamelin Pool Caravan Park.  It was cooler than the previous day but there was still a hot dry breeze.  There was a sprinkler running and nearby in the shade on the ground we found two Pied Butcherbirds, two Diamond Doves, one Black-eared Cuckoo and several Richard’s Pipits.  We approached the cuckoo to about five metres without too much difficulty.  We finally got too close but when we backed off it returned.

At about 13:30 we stopped at an artesian bore close to the highway on Carbla Station.  The bird life was fantastic with 34 species although only a few were roosting on the ground.  These included a male White-winged Triller, about six Mulga Parrots, a few Black-faced Woodswallows and some Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters (which were abundant).  Other interesting birds coming in to drink included a male Orange Chat, two Masked Woodswallows and two Budgerigars.

A couple of days later we again stopped at Carbla Station.  It was much cooler and the wind had dropped.  There were far fewer birds although a Black-eared Cuckoo flew in and sat in a tree for a long time.

I assume that the birds were sheltering from the heat and the hot wind although I have not seen this behaviour in similar conditions at the Argyle Diamond Mine in the Kimberley or in areas around the south west.  I wouldn’t have previously considered seeing Varied Sittellas, Mistletoebird or Black-eared Cuckoo on the ground.

Copyright Frank O'Connor 1997-2002 Visits Last Modified 31st January 2002