The perilous life of the Pardalote

Australia has four species of Pardalote, and they occur nowhere else in the world. Here in Noosa, we enjoy both the Spotted Pardalote and the Striated Pardalote. They are only the size of a human thumb, around 8-10cms long and weighing just 6 grams, making them one of the smallest of our native birds.

Pardalotes may be tiny, but they have big voices. Some people refer to them as headache birds, on account of their incessant, repetitive calling. While they are heard frequently, they are rarely sighted, as they tend to hang about in the upper canopy of large trees.

Well adapted to the Australian bush, they feed largely of the sweet manna that seeps from eucalypt foliage, and the sugary excretions of Psyllid insects. Psyllid nymphs suck sap from eucalyptus trees and exude excess sugar as sticky, yummy lerp. This is the same stuff that Bellbirds feed on, bringing Pardalotes and Bellbirds into conflict wherever their territories rub up against one another.

It’s a perilous life being a little Pardalote, not just because Bellbirds may gang up and kill you. Raptors and other large predators like Currawongs also view Pardalotes as a take-away snack. What’s more, episodes of Pardalote mass mortality have been recorded during winter when the carbohydrate secretions of eucalypts and lerps are diminished. 

A wide range of animals also rob their nests. That’s because these treetop-loving birds must become earth-bound to breed. They dig tunnels into the earth, often a sandy dune, roadside embankment or the dirt clinging to the roots of a fallen tree. I’ve witnessed them nesting in the breakwall at the Noosa River mouth.

Occasionally they take a short cut and co-opt human-made structures like roll-a-doors, pipes, or carpet rolls. The tunnel is between one and one-and-a-half metres in length. Plainly the nests are susceptible to goannas, wild dogs, and anything else willing to do a spot of digging for a quick meal.

Tasmania’s Forty-spotted Pardalote is listed as endangered, while our local species are considered to be of low concern. However, nationally, around 40% of Pardalote habitat has been destroyed by humans. A further 10% of their habitat burnt in the 2019-20 bushfires.

Here in Noosa, with almost 45% of the shire in national park or under some form of conservation covenant, they have a strong foothold. Both Pardalotes and humans can thank six decades of effort by Noosa Parks Association for that.

Tony Wellington

Writer & Photographer

Former Mayor of Noosa, author, photographer, artist, film-maker, lecturer, musician, social commentator and environmentalist. Welcome to Tony’s stunning view of what makes Noosa special.

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