R is for the Richards! The grey shrike-thrushes of Melaleuca #MelaleucaMiscellany

A Richard, checking the coast is clear, prior to scoffing some snacks.  Photo kindly supplied by Mavis

A Richard, checking the coast is clear, prior to scoffing some snacks. Photo kindly supplied by Mavis Wilkins.

Melaleuca is home to a variety of talented feathered songsters, but the Richards are perhaps the most famous.  They got a guernsey in Christobel Mattingley’s book “King of the Wilderness”, on the life of Deny King.  Apparently, Deny named them after Richard Tauber, a popular singer of the time, for their tuneful ways.

Grey shrike-thrushes (Colluricincla harmonica) are quite common in Tasmania, but that does not diminish their charm.  They’re relatively curious birds, and are often quite bold around humans.  They’ll eat just about anything – insects, lizards, frogs, spiders, birds eggs and sometimes nestlings, and occasionally, random bits of rotting dead things they find lying around.  Fruit and nuts may be eaten at a pinch.

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Wary Richard, concerned that someone is coming to steal his cheese! Photo by Mavis Wilkins.

I’d always assumed that the Melaleuca residents had called them Richards as a slightly more formal version of Dick Whitty – another common name, which sounds a little like the sound they make when calling.  Their songs are quite lovely, and apparently quite convincing, for Richards mate for life, living happily ever after in territories of up to 10 hectares.

The Richards are often seen hopping about the trees around the bushwalkers huts, and at the Fenton-King residence.  Rumour has it that they are also somewhat partial to cheese, although where they obtain such contraband is a mystery.

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A Richard eating more traditional food – in this case, an unfortunate frog. Photo received with thanks from John McDougall.

All of the photos featured in this blog post were gifted by some of the generous bird-people of the Facebook group Tasmanian Bird Sightings and Photography.  If you have even a passing interest in Tasmanian birds, it’s well worth joining.

If you’d like to hear some of the Richards’ greatest hits, I can recommend the inexpensive but excellent Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service’s Bird in the Hand app – this app, and others, can be found here.

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